The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are the only teams left standing. They outlasted 30 rivals and are now one win away from the Lombardi Trophy. The goal of every football player, starting at a young age, is now within reach.
Of course, the biggest storyline leading up to the grandest sports spectacle in the United States is the Harbaugh brothers. John (Baltimore) and Jim (San Francisco) will become the first siblings to coach against each other in the Super Bowl.
There are no shortage of other angles. From Ray Lewis' final game to a new wave of young players hoping to leave a lasting impact on the season's ultimate clash, and everything in between. The Super Bowl is where legends are made.
No matter what's happened over the past five months, players of the Ravens and 49ers will have have their seasons defined by three hours of football on Sunday. Let's preview that pressure-packed situation, beginning with all the key information for game day.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La.
When: Sunday, Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Listen: WBAL 1090 AM (Baltimore) or KNBR 680 AM (San Francisco)
Live Stream: CBSSports.com
Spread: 49ers -3.5 (via Vegas Insider)
Key Injuries (via USA Today)
Ravens: CB Asa Jackson (probable, thigh)
49ers: DE Justin Smith (probable, tricep) and LB Ahmad Brooks (probable, shoulder)
What's At Stake
The power of the Super Bowl is amazing. It literally means everything. The regular season doesn't matter anymore. Heck, the conference championship games don't matter anymore. Everything comes down to Super Bowl Sunday.
Furthermore, it's unlike any other major sport in the United States. The NBA, NHL and MLB all decide their championships with a seven-game series. NFL players only get one chance to make the plays necessary to put their team over the top.
Even though the Ravens and 49ers both earned their spots in the title game, only one will walk away with the trophy. That team will go down in history while the other one will simply be the answer to a difficult trivia question in a decade.
Ravens Players to Watch: Ray Lewis
By the time the Super Bowl kicks off on Sunday evening everybody will have a personal opinion about Lewis. He's a polarizing figure, there's no doubt about that. But everybody should agree that few players in the history of the NFL played harder than him.
He was never the most athletic or awe-inspiring player on the field. But every week the Ravens knew they were going to get a dominant performance from a player whose will to win gave him the edge over players with far more natural talent.
Lewis is clearly no longer the player he was during his prime, but he still leads the Ravens with 44 tackles in the postseason. Baltimore fans would love nothing more than to see him ride off into the sunset with the Lombardi Trophy raised above his head.
49ers Player to Watch: Colin Kaepernick
When Alex Smith got injured, giving Kaepernick a chance to step into the starting lineup, his quarterback rating was 104.1. That would have been good enough for third in the league over the course of the entire season. But he never got his job back.
Jim Harbaugh had a decision to make when Smith was ready to return. Go back to the more reliable, safe option or stick with the high-upside, explosive second-year rising star. Despite the risks, he went with the latter and it paid off in a major way.
Kaepernick has baffled defenses with his ability to make plays through the air or on the ground. Through two playoff games, he's tallied five total touchdowns and just one turnover. The 49ers need one more big game from him to win the championship.
What They're Saying
Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun passed along an anecdote from Lewis on media day, which concerned his injury earlier in the season.
"The doctor looked at me and she told me I was out for the year. I said, ‘Doc, are you sure?’ I said, ‘Doc, there’s no way I’m going to be out for the year with just a torn triceps. I’ve been through way worse.’ She was like, ‘Ray, I know nobody has ever come back from this.’ I said, ‘You know, nobody has ever been Ray Lewis either.’"
One thing Randy Moss has never lacked is confidence in himself. He showed that again on media day by stating he's the best wide receiver ever, as reported by Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle.
"Back when Jerry was playing - and no disrespect to Jerry Rice, because he's arguably the greatest," Moss said. "But for me to go out and revolutionize the game from a single safety to a 'Cover 2' to dropping four guys deep and still be able to make a difference, I really feel in my heart and my mind that I am the greatest receiver to ever play the game."
Key Matchup: Ravens defense vs. 49ers running game
In order to reach this point, the Ravens had to knock off the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots. Those are three terrific offensive teams and the Baltimore defense was able to keep them below 20 points per game.
The unit will need to step up one more time against a 49ers offense that's racked up 73 points in its two playoff victories. It all starts with the running game, which is led by veteran Frank Gore, but Kaepernick is a major factor as well.
To win, the Ravens must slow down the run early and force Kaepernick to beat them through the air. If the 49ers are able to establish the ground game early, the entire playbook gets opened up and Baltimore is in serious trouble.
Ultimately, the 49ers should have enough offensive versatility to pull out a narrow Super Bowl triumph.
49ers 21, Ravens 20
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