Both the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are often pigeon-holed as defensive teams, but both squads boast a number of game-breakers on offense, too. Joe Flacco may finally be cementing himself as an elite quarterback, and Colin Kaepernick is making everyone re-write the book on conventional quarterbacks.
With 15 Pro Bowlers on display, there promises to be plenty of exciting plays in New Orleans. Let's take a look at the top x-factors in the 49ers-Ravens showdown.
Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers
How quickly things can change.
A year ago, Colin Kaepernick was a little-known second-round pick out of Nevada who put up prolific numbers in college but was considered a project.
Fast forward to Week 11, and all the 25-year-old signal-caller has done is lead the 49ers to seven wins and the team's first Super Bowl berth since 1995. A true dual threat, Kaepernick is capable of taking a game over with both his rocket right arm or his legs.
Facing an older Ravens defense, it'll be interesting to see whether Harbaugh unleashes his fantastic playmaker or reels him in to prevent turnovers.
In nine starts, Kaepernick has thrown just four interceptions—an impressive number for a young QB.
Allowing Kaepernick to test the edges of the Ravens defense would be an ideal mode of attack for the 49ers, as it would open up the passing game and give Frank Gore more room in the running game.
Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Considered to be the best middle linebacker since Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis keys one of the NFL's best defenses.
A ferocious hitter, reliable tackler and all-around playmaker, the 6'1", 240-pound Willis has earned All-Pro honors every year since the 49ers made him the 11th overall selection in 2007. Blessed with rare athleticism and impressive strength, Willis is capable of shutting down a team's running attack. However, what separates him from most linebackers is his ability as a pass defender and blitzer.
San Fran will rely on its best defender in Super Bowl XLVII to take Ray Rice out of the equation.
Baltimore's work horse didn't do much against the Patriots (19 carries for 48 yards and a score), but you can bet the Ravens will want to try and establish the run early against the 49ers' aggressive defense.
Willis will be tasked with making the Ravens one-dimensional, and the second coming of Ray Lewis has the talent to do just that.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Anyone who watched the NFC Championship Game can attest to how bad the 49ers pass defense looked early on. In the first half, Matt Ryan torched Donte Whitner and Co. for three touchdowns, targeting second-year superstar Julio Jones early and often.
While fellow receiver Torrey Smith, also in his second year, doesn't have the same all-around skill set as Jones, he's still a game-changer.
Blessed with 4.41 speed and a solid 6'0", 205-pound frame, Smith has quickly developed into a premier deep threat. The former Maryland star torched the Denver Broncos in the divisional round for two long touchdowns and caught four passes for 69 yards Sunday against the Patriots.
The 49ers safeties aren't particularly strong in pass coverage, so expect Joe Flacco to test them deep with the speedy Smith.
Haloti Ngata, DE, Baltimore Ravens
Haloti Ngata doesn't always fill the stat sheet, but the 6'4", 340-pound defensive end sure knows how to make his presence felt.
The five-time All-Pro anchors a stout front seven for the Ravens that held the Patriots to just 13 points in the AFC Championship Game. Ngata failed to take Tom Brady down, but he did manage three hits on the Patriots quarterback.
With unparalleled strength and surprising quickness, Ngata is nearly impossible to block one-on-one.
His ability to line up both as a defensive tackle and head up on an offensive tackle makes him a matchup nightmare. Baltimore's best defensive lineman will face his toughest test in the Super Bowl, as San Francisco boasts the NFL's best front five.
If Ngata can dictate the line of scrimmage and collapse the pocket, it could be a long night for Colin Kaepernick and Co.
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