Reaching the Super Bowl is never an accident. It not only requires hard work and dedication from the players, but also smart moves by the coaches.
The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers both finished the regular season with good-but-not-great records. They each had to win road games in the playoffs in order to get to Super Bowl XLVII.
Brothers Jim and John Harbaugh have coached their teams very well to give their squads a chance to face each other in the sport's biggest game.
However, neither one might not have reached this point without making the right call on a few controversial decisions during the year. They proved that playing it safe is not always the best way to win.
John Harbaugh, Ravens
Firing of Cam Cameron
A loss to local rival Washington Redskins dropped the Ravens to 9-4 on the year, but the team was still almost certain to reach the playoffs. Still, John Harbaugh decided to fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in an effort to improve the team.
After letting the veteran coach go, Harbaugh said that it was "the hardest thing [he's] ever had to do as a coach" (via CBS Baltimore).
While many fans were excited about the switch to Jim Caldwell, it was still very late in the year for the players to get a new leader.
This turned out to be the right decision, as the Ravens have been more consistent offensively and Joe Flacco is playing the best football of his career. In the postseason, the quarterback has thrown eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
Even Cameron recently called the switch "a brilliant move" by his employer, according to Scott Cacciola of the New York Times.
It was a move that could have backfired, but it ended up really helping the squad reach its potential.
Offensive Line Shuffle
Few teams would make three changes to a starting lineup prior to the postseason, but that is exactly what the Ravens coaching staff did after Week 17.
Veteran Bryant McKinnie was inserted in the starting lineup at left tackle after spending most of the year on the bench. As a result, Michael Oher was moved to the right side and Kelechi Osemele was moved to guard.
The lack of chemistry along the line could have caused problems, but instead it solidified the group.
During the year, Baltimore allowed 2.34 sacks per game. That average has dropped by a full sack to 1.3 since the playoffs began. Over the course of the year, that rate would rank third-best in the NFL.
Joe Flacco has been great in the postseason, and he has the rebuilt offensive line to thank for it.
Jim Harbaugh, 49ers
Alex Smith led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game a year ago. The team ended up losing in overtime thanks mostly to a fumbled punt return.
The veteran quarterback was on his way toward reaching this level again when he suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams in Week 10. Entering that game, San Francisco was 6-2 and was talented enough to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
However, one game by Colin Kaepernick forced Jim Harbaugh to make a season-altering decision. He decided to bench Smith and start the second-year player for the rest of the year.
At the time, Smith was playing extremely well and was among the league leaders in quarterback rating. Still, the coach knew that Kaepernick could bring more to the table and lead the team to greatness.
Harbaugh opened himself up to a lot of criticism if things went poorly, but things ended up turning out okay. Kaepernick has been magnificent with both his arm and legs and he has his team one win away from a championship.
While there is no true way to judge the alternative, it would be tough to imagine the same success happening with Alex Smith at the helm.
Signing Randy Moss
When you have the chance to grab one of the most talented receivers in NFL history, it should be an easy decision. Unfortunately, it is not that simple when discussing Randy Moss.
The 35-year-old receiver signed with the 49ers this offseason after spending an entire year away from football. It was unknown what kind of help he could provide at this stage of his career when he was added to the roster.
In addition, Moss has been known to cause some problems with his attitude. This is not something that you want to bring to a team that is this close to winning a title.
However, Harbaugh had faith in Moss and so far he has been rewarded. The veteran has silently been contributing as a No. 2 receiver since Mario Manningham went down with an injury and will definitely be needed in the Super Bowl.
He also has not caused any locker rooms problems despite his reputation.
Things could have gone poorly with Moss on the roster, but this was yet another move that ended up working out for Harbaugh and the 49ers.