(2) SAN FRANCISCO (13-4-1) vs. (4) BALTIMORE (13-6). 6:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The primary storyline heading into Super Bowl XLVII is Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh facing his younger brother Jim and the San Francisco 49ers.
The siblings coached against each other in the 2011 regular season, but this will be the first time any head-coaching brothers have matched up against each other in a postseason contest in any major professional sport — NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL.
"I don't know if we had a dream this big," John Harbaugh said. "We had a few dreams, we had a few fights, we had a few arguments, just like all brothers."
San Francisco’s road to New Orleans featured wins over Green Bay in the divisional round and Atlanta in the NFC Championship. Against the Falcons, the Niners rallied for the 28-24 win from a 17-point first-half — the third-largest road deficit overcome in NFL playoff history.
"I take my hat off to Atlanta,” 49ers RB Frank Gore said after the win. “They played hard. They've got a great team. But we fought, man. We fought and we deserved it."
QB Colin Kaepernick has been the spark behind San Francisco’s late-season dominance. After garnering his first NFL start in Week 11, the second-year signalcaller produced a 5-2 record in the Niners' final seven regular-season games. In the divisional matchup vs. Green Bay, No. 7 torched the Packers defense for 263 yards in the air and 181 yards on the ground — the most rushing yards by a QB in any NFL game, playoff or regular-season.
While Kaepernick certainly deserves all the praise he’s received, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco has also been impressive this postseason. At Denver against Peyton Manning and the AFC’s top-seeded Broncos in the divisional round, Flacco completed 18 of 34 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns. The next week against Tom Brady and the always dangerous Patriots, he once again threw three TDs. The 28-year-old leads the NFL in the playoffs with a 114.7 passer rating.
“Joe has transformed us in a lot of ways,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been a process and Joe has been hugely successful doing it.”
Flacco considers these opponents evenly matched.
“It’s not always the team that’s the best all season, it’s the team that endures the most and can get everybody healthy and can get going right at the right time,” the Ravens QB said. “I think we had a little bit of that with us, I think they have a little bit of that with them also.”
The foes pride themselves on stellar defensive units. Led by LB Ray Lewis, the Ravens held the Patriots, the NFL’s No. 1 offense, scoreless in the second half of their AFC Championship Game victory. The 49ers did the same thing in the second half of their NFC Championship win over the Falcons.
Prior to the playoffs, Lewis announced he will be retiring at the end of the season. After a historic 17-year career, he is hoping to exit the game a champion. So far this postseason he leads the NFL in tackles with 44 in the Ravens’ three games.
“I am going to give my teammates everything I have,” he said this week, “not just on Sunday, but starting today. I am not going anywhere. I am sitting in my room and I am studying, studying, studying, because I owe them something as a leader, and that is to have myself totally prepared.”
One thing that’s not being discussed a lot but clearly will play a factor in this contest is the play of both teams’ offensive lines. The Niners' O-line is one of the tops in the league and that was demonstrated with 149 rushing yards and one sack allowed in the NFC title-game win.
“You’ve got a whole bunch of weapons in San Francisco,” Ravens S Ed Reed said. “A great line, Randy Moss, [Michael] Crabtree, Vernon [Davis], my boy Frank Gore — the best running back I’ve ever played against. They have so many weapons.”
Meanwhile, a key reason Flacco has been so productive during Baltimore’s postseason run is the protection his line has provided him. It’s essential he continues connecting with his key receivers such as WRs Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, TE Dennis Pitta and RB Ray Rice, when opportunities arise.
“We feel confident as a group,” Flacco said. “We can’t come in here and try to do too much or try to do what we’ve done in the past. We don’t have to be perfect; we just have to play our game and be loose and we’ll be alright. That’s my mindset and I think that’s the mindset of our guys.”
San Francisco holds a 5-0 all-time Super Bowl record and will be playing in its sixth SB. In their franchise history, the Niners captured Super Bowls XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV and most recently XXIX after the 1994 season.
“We know that we’re 5-0 in the Super Bowl,” G Alex Boone said. “Those were those teams, and this is our team. And we’re going to try to make it 6-0 by giving it our best shot.”
Baltimore won its lone championship in Super Bowl XXXV, defeating the Giants, 34-7.
In 2011, both teams’ seasons ended in their conference's championship games. Baltimore was defeated by New England, 23-20, while San Francisco was beaten at home by the eventual Super Bowl-champion Giants, 20-17 in OT. The loss to the G-Men fueled the Niners in the offseason.
“Life is full of bitter disappointments, and that was one,” Jim Harbaugh said. “We were not defeated. You can kill a man but you can’t defeat him, not as long as he has hope. We started from ground zero to approach a new season.”
Baltimore leads the all-time series vs. San Francisco, 3-1. They most recently met on Thanksgiving 2011. The Ravens won that meeting, 16-6, behind a defensive performance that limited the 49ers' offense to 170 yards. It could well be another low-scoring affair this time around.
“It’s just one of those games where I really, genuinely feel that there’s a lot of great teams in the NFL," Rice said, "but the two teams that deserve to play in the Super Bowl are in it.”
San Francisco C Jonathan Goodwin, the Jets' fifth-round draft pick in 2002 and a four-year backup O-lineman, has had a fine career in the NFC since leaving the Green & White after the '05 season. He started for three seasons, including all 19 games in his Super Bowl/Pro Bowl season with the Saints in '09, and for the last two seasons he's started every game in the pivot for the 49ers.
Some long-time Jets nemeses are on the Frisco roster, including Donte Whitner (Bills), WR Randy Moss (Patriots), and Ted Ginn, who had those two KO-return TDs in the third quarter of the Dolphins win at the Jets in 2010.
As for coaches, two on Jim Harbaugh's staff have ties to Pete Carroll's 1994 staff with the Jets — Brad Seely, the 49ers special teams coordinator and assistant head coach, who guided the Jets' teams in '94, and secondary coach Ed Donatell, who made his NFL coaching debut as the Jets' DBs coach from 1990-94 and returned to the Green & White in '07 as a special assistant.
S James Ihedigbo left the Jets for the Patriots last year, then the Pats made him a final cut this year, so he moved over to the Ravens, for whom he played in all 16 games (three starts) this season. Ravens WRs coach Jim Hostler was the Jets' QBs and WRs coach in 2003-04.
Prior to joining the Jets in 2009, head coach Rex Ryan was a member of the Ravens coaching staff from 1999-2008. Secondary coach Dennis Thurman was also in Baltimore for six of those seasons.