This time last year, head coaches Jim and John Harbaugh were preparing for the exact same situation. Win one game, and face each other in the Super Bowl.
After both suffered defeat in 2012, these two brothers won't do so again in 2013.
That's right folks, we're headed for a "Harbro's" Super Bowl.
The San Francisco 49ers are preparing to travel to Atlanta for this weekend's showdown with the Falcons. The No. 2 seed coached by Jim Harbaugh made the bold move to insert Colin Kaepernick into the starting lineup in place of Alex Smith.
All it's done has beat the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round and made the San Francisco offense more explosive than it was with Alex Smith under center.
John Harbaugh has guided the Baltimore Ravens to the AFC Championship Game yet again, and in doing so, he and his brother now have some impressive statistics to throw around when it comes to their coaching chops.
The first one is about Jim and the elite, err interesting, company he joins by taking his team to the conference championship game in his first two seasons. ESPN's Stats and Information on Twitter has the scoop:
Jim Harbaugh: 4th coach to reach AFC/NFC Championship in each of first 2 seasons (George Seifert, Barry Switzer, Rex Ryan)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 14, 2013
John is also making headlines, as reported by ESPN's Mike Tirico:
I know he has Ray and Ed, but playoff wins: John Harbaugh's 7 are more than Fox, McCarthy, Payton (6) Fisher, Tomlin (5).— MikeTirico (@miketirico) January 14, 2013
Those stats don't jump out at you as big-time indicators of how the Ravens and 49ers will play this weekend. That's fine, because the way they two teams are playing is indication enough of how these coaches have impacted their respective teams, and by the same token, why each won't come up empty with a Super Bowl appearance on the line.
We'll start with the 49ers, who, behind Harbaugh's leadership, replaced the guy that got them to this position last season (Smith) with a second-year pro from Nevada without the proven ability to lead an NFL offense.
All he's done so far this season is cast doubters aside, and he's done so with an above-average running game and a stellar defense—the same defense that was roaming the field for Smith's attack.
For some physical evidence on the matter, the 49ers are a hot team, just beat an offense that scores a ton of points just like Atlanta is capable of and create a major matchup problem with one of the league's worst teams at stopping the QB run. Here's an excerpt from ESPN's Stats and Information about how bad the Falcons have been against Kaepernick-types this year:
Including the playoffs, the Falcons have allowed 8.9 yards per rush to quarterbacks this season, the worst rate in the NFL (excluding kneel-downs). The Falcons twice got shredded by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries in two meetings this season.
That's a scary thought for Atlanta fans.
Let's move to Baltimore, which is really taking the mantra of being a "team of destiny" as reported by ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
Despite adversity on all fronts (injury, personal, on the field) this team continues to persevere. Here's an excerpt from Hensley's article:
The Ravens have bonded this season over adversity, from the passing of owner Art Modell just before the start of the season to the death of Torrey Smith's younger brother in Week 3. They have been able to overcome injuries to linebackers Lewis and Terrell Suggs, and watched both return to the team when many initially thought both would be lost for the season. And don't forget about the Ravens' other miracle this season -- Rice converting fourth-and-29 in San Diego.
Despite losing four of its last five games, Baltimore responded with two wins over teams that had been over the 11-win threshold. Indianapolis couldn't muster up enough offense to contend with the Ravens, and Denver couldn't come up with one play to put them away.
The two-game winning streak coincides with the return of All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis, who announced he will be retiring at the end of the season—no matter the outcome. The Ravens now have a newfound motivation, and that is keeping Lewis a winner in the NFL at the moment he retires.
Need more evidence?
Jim's team already knocked off the New England Patriots this season in a 41-34 thriller that showcased Kaepernick nationally for the first time. You can bet he'll get John on the phone to spread a little wisdom about how to slow down the Pats attack.
New England will also be without TE Rob Gronkowski. When that happened last year, the offense wasn't the same in the postseason, and the New York Giants walked away with a victory.
Look at the Falcons—they are in uncharted territory. Winning last week at the last second was great, but can they replicate that success again with the pressure of a Super Bowl now in their sights?
Additionally, both teams have striking similarities that are good to have when you look at Super Bowl teams.
Both defenses are also led by All-Pro linebackers—Lewis and Patrick Willis. Both defenses are also built on pride, a direct result of the head coach. Both teams have QBs from smaller schools that are breaking the mold each week and running backs that can carry the load if necessary.
Both teams are also coached by a man named Harbaugh.
It won't be easy for either, but the experience of last season's heartbreak and this year's success will be one of the factors that helps these two men reach the Super Bowl for the first time—and face each other for the second.
The "Harbowl" certainly has a nice ring to it.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.