The 13 Biggest Storylines in Super Bowl XLVII
You might find a Super Bowl with this many storylines every 10 or 15 seasons. This year is one of those seasons.
When the Baltimore Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers to determine the winner of Super Bowl XLVII, there are countless storylines to watch. Some of them are obvious. For example, I don't think there will be a person in American who doesn't know that head coaches Jim and John Harbaugh are brothers.
And we all know that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is retiring, win or lose, following the Super Bowl.
But how many fans have thought about the possibility of not one, not two, but three future Hall of Famers retiring after this game?
What about the fact that neither team has ever lost a Super Bowl?
In fact, there are 13 significant storylines for what will likely be one of the most hyped Super Bowls in recent memory. Here they are.
13. Battle of the Kickers
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The past five Super Bowls have come down to a final winner-take-all drive. Three of the quarterbacks (Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eli Manning) succeeded, and two failed (Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger).
Don't be surprised if a sixth straight Super Bowl comes down to the final drive. If it does, both kickers should be ready.
For the Ravens, they will send out rookie Justin Tucker, arguably a top three kicker in the league in 2012. Tucker converted a 49-yard field goal in double overtime against the Denver Broncos in the divisional round and has already earned a reputation as a clutch kicker.
For the 49ers, veteran five-time Pro Bowler David Akers used to be the best kicker in the NFL. In fact, he was the game's best kicker in 2011, when he broke single-season records for field goals made and attempted. But he's missed 13 kicks in 2012, and he missed a routine 38-yard field goal against the Atlanta Falcons in the conference championship game.
With the game on the line, I'd trust Justin Tucker. I would not trust David Akers.
12. No. 1 Draft Pick Alex Smith Finally in the Super Bowl... as a Backup
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If you told 49ers fans back in 2005 that Alex Smith took the team to the conference championship game in 2011 and the Super Bowl the following year, they likely wouldn't have been too surprised. After all, Smith was selected first overall, ahead of Aaron Rodgers.
But Smith's career turned into a major disappointment. Six different offensive coordinators in his first six seasons didn't help, but neither did an inability to lead his team to a winning season.
Smith turned into a very efficient game manager under new head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011 but he was ultimately benched for an unproven second-year player in the middle of the 2012 season. The move paid off though, as the Niners are just a single victory away from a championship.
It just hasn't come from the quarterback that Niners fans likely expected. Football is a team game though, so Smith will collect a ring if his team wins.
11. Retirement For... Ed Reed?
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The entire world knows that Ray Lewis is retiring following Super Bowl XLVII, but don't be surprised if he is joined by safety Ed Reed.
Reed, 34, has openly talked about retirement in recent offseasons so it would make total sense for Reed to retire after appearing in his first Super Bowl.
Reed, a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer, would join Lewis in the Hall of Fame in a few years.
12. Harbaugh Handshake
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In 2011, Jim Harbaugh and Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz were involved in one of the more memorable handshakes in NFL history following the 49ers' victory over Detroit.
Schwartz and Harbaugh got into an altercation after Schwartz felt that Harbaugh was too rough with him during the handshake. This isn't exactly the same scenario during the Super Bowl, since the coach of the other team is Jim's brother, John.
But don't think that there won't be approximately 1.31 million pictures taken of the Harbaugh brothers shaking hands after the game. In fact, will they even shake hands? Will they pound fists? Will they high five? Chest bump? Hug?
What will they do?
9. First Super Bowl Title for Randy Moss?
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Randy Moss, one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history, is just 60 minutes away from collecting his first Super Bowl title.
Moss just missed out on his chance to earn a ring against his former team, the New England Patriots. Instead he will need to defeat Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens. Like Lewis, don't be surprised if Moss announces his retirement after the game. He's almost 36 years old and was mostly a non-factor for the 49ers during the regular season.
Moss played in the Super Bowl with the undefeated Patriots in 2007, catching a go-ahead touchdown with 2:42 remaining. But Eli Manning, David Tyree, and the Giants ruined the Patriots' chances for a perfect season.
Moss also came close to a Super Bowl title in 1998, as a rookie, when he caught 17 touchdown passes during the regular season and led the Vikings to a 15-1 record. But the Vikings suffered a shocking home loss in the conference championship game to the Atlanta Falcons.
This will likely be the final opportunity for Moss. I don't think he will be in the NFL in 2013.
8. End-of-Season Momentum Overrated
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The 2011 New York Giants entered the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the league and used that momentum to collect their franchise's fourth Super Bowl title. The 2010 Green Bay Packers also entered the playoffs on a tear, as did the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers.
But the Ravens limped into the playoffs after losing four of their final five games, and were given virtually no chance to even advance to the conference championship game, let alone win the Super Bowl. Yet here they are.
The same goes for the 49ers, who were crushed at home on national television by the division rival Seattle Seahawks in December. No team has ever suffered a beatdown by at least 28 points that late in the season and rebounded to reach the Super Bowl.
So much for a team needing to enter the playoffs hot. This is the NFL. Anything can happen.
9. First Super Bowl Loss
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The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens have combined to appear in six Super Bowls: five by the Niners and one by the Ravens.
They've won all six of those games.
That obviously has to come to an end this season.
Either the 49ers will collect their sixth Lombardi trophy or the Ravens will replace the 49ers as the only team with multiple Super Bowl titles and no defeats.
8. 49ers a Potential Dynasty?
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The word dynasty is thrown around, especially for Super Bowl champions, and usually it's not accurate.
The Green Bay Packers were thought to have dynasty potential following their Super Bowl title two years ago but they have recorded just one postseason victory in the past two seasons.
The 49ers, however, have the look of a potential dynasty.
With a young stud at quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, a phenomenal defense and a brilliant head coach, the 49ers really do have all the pieces a team needs to make a push for multiple Super Bowl titles.
The NFL has had a dynasty for almost every decade of its existence. You had the New England Patriots in the 2000s, the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s, the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s, the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s and the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s.
The 49ers could be this decade's dynasty. But they need to win on Sunday.
6. Is Joe Flacco Now Elite?
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You can't leads your team to a Super Bowl anymore without the rest of the NFL asking if you've become an elite quarterback, especially if you complete a particularly memorable postseason run. That's what is happening to Joe Flacco.
He posts fairly average regular season numbers but he's experienced lots of success in the postseason, particularly in recent years. Now he's outdueled Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady again in his last four postseason starts.
So has Flacco become elite? Does he need to win the Super Bowl to become elite? Is he just a good quarterback? Or is he merely an average quarterback who got hot at the right time?
6. Joe Flacco Playing for New Contract
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The 28-year old Ravens quarterback is a free agent following the 2012 season and it's basically a fact that he has been playing for a new contract this year.
His agent must be loving the last few weeks, as Flacco has outplayed rookie sensation Andrew Luck and future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady en route to an improbable Super Bowl appearance.
If the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVIII, Flacco's new contract could exceed nine figures. That's just a guess but quarterback is the most important position in sports and Flacco is on the verge of his first Super Bowl title.
There's no way the Ravens will let him walk, which is the speculation earlier this season as Flacco struggled.
5. Read Option Here to Stay?
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Colin Kaepernick is not your typical NFL quarterback. Neither is Robert Griffin III. Or Russell Wilson.
Yet all three led their team into the postseason in their first season as a starter, thanks largely to an offense centered around a strong offensive line, a powerful running game, and the deadly combination of running and passing from the quarterback. Even Tim Tebow excelled running this type of offense with the Denver Broncos in 2011.
We know it as the read option and it's becoming the talk of football. Defenses simply cannot stop it.
So is it here to stay? Or is it just a new phase in the NFL, like the Patriots' two-tight end offense over the last three seasons?
The next few years will obviously tell the story but for now, running quarterbacks and the read option don't appear to be going anywhere.
4. Elite Quarterbacks Overrated?
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There are four elite quarterbacks in my book: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees. I'm talking about quarterbacks who could take over the Cleveland Browns or Jacksonville Jaguars and lead them to nine or 10 victories in their first season.
Yet elite quarterbacks have won just two Super Bowls in the past six seasons: Brees in 2009 and Rodgers in 2010.
Look at this postseason as an example.
Brees and the Saints missed the playoffs, largely the result of a horrific defense and the loss of their head coach for the season.
Rodgers and the Packers and Manning and the Broncos were both bounced in the divisional round. Their defense did turn in a poor performance but they were both outplayed by a significantly inferior quarterback: Rodgers by Kaepernick and Manning by Flacco.
And we all saw Brady and the Patriots turn in just 13 points of offense against the Ravens after recording one of the greatest single-season offensive performances in league history.
So do elite quarterbacks still win Super Bowls? Or is the read option, coupled with a running quarterback, taking over? Has it become more about the head coach than the quarterback, as Jim Harbaugh proved this season?
Time will tell but it appears that the game of football may be changing from one centered around a quarterback to one centered around an entire offense, which combines running and passing. After all, we are about to witness what is the first-ever Super Bowl (yes, ever) where neither quarterback has been selected to the Pro Bowl.
3. Most Super Bowl Titles in History
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I'm surprised nobody is talking about it, but the San Francisco 49ers can tie the all-time record for most Super Bowl titles if they defeat the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, with six championships, hold a slight edge over the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, both with five. The 49ers haven't lost in the Super Bowl, however, winning all four appearances with Joe Montana and one with Steve Young.
Kaepernick, Harbaugh and company have some pretty big shoes to fill. They're favored to win though, and doing so would enter them into the discussion with the Green Bay Packers, Steelers and Cowboys as the greatest franchise in NFL history.
2. Ray Lewis Retirement
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The 37-year-old middle linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens announced before the 2012 season that he was retiring following his 17th season in professional football. What a ride it's been.
Lewis and the Ravens rolled to a 9-2 start, but lost four of their final five games and limped into the postseason at 10-6. Lewis missed 10 games with a triceps injury but returned for the postseason, where the Ravens have embarked on a magical run.
They knocked off the Indianapolis Colts and rookie sensation Andrew Luck. They handled the Denver Broncos and four-time MVP Peyton Manning. And they bested the New England Patriots and three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.
Now it's on to New Orleans, where Lewis and company will face a 49ers team that might have the best defense in the NFL. Win or lose, however, this game marks the end of Lewis's career, where he will be remembered as one of the greatest linebackers in the history of the game.
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You could call this the single biggest storyline in the history of the Super Bowl.
John and Jim Harbaugh are the first set of brothers to coach in the NFL. They faced each other in their first season (a one-in-four) occurrence and they will coach against each other in the sport's biggest game of the season. That's pretty incredible.
It goes without saying that the winner of this game has bragging rights in the family.
Jim is the athlete of the two. He quarterbacked for 14 seasons in the NFL, earning a Pro Bowl selection in 1995, the same year he led the surprising Indianapolis Colts to within a Hail Mary of the Super Bowl.
In fact, Jim started 12 games for the Baltimore Ravens in 1998, meaning he was a teammate of Ray Lewis.
But John, although not a player, has been the more successful coach, especially in the NFL. In five seasons as the Ravens head coach, he has reached the postseason all five years. He's won at least one game each year, reaching three conference championship games.
With a victory in Super Bowl XLVII, he will have recorded his ninth postseason victory in just five seasons, a feat made more impressive by the fact that he has never had an elite quarterback.
Then again, Jim's 49ers don't have an elite quarterback either. Colin Kaepernick is very good, but he's basically a rookie, as he barely played last season and just took over the starting job in Week 9.
The point is that Super Bowl XLVII is completely up in the air. Oddsmakers have the 49ers as 4.5 point favorites, but it's the Ravens who are feeling the high of an emotional ride through the postseason, a la 2011 or 2007 Giants or 2005 Steelers. Oh, and there's always the added effect of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis retiring, win or lose, after the game.
You could make a pretty good case that the best-coached team will win this year's Super Bowl and I think that's exactly how it should be in the first-ever matchup of brothers in the Super Bowl.