Here's a look at players from each side who are poised to make an impact in New Orleans on Super Bowl Sunday 2013.
The San Francisco 49ers linebacker has spent much of this season flying under the radar while teammates Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman racked up the accolades. However, in recent weeks, Brooks has certainly put the league on notice with his timely athletic plays and knack for being in the right position.
In Super Bowl XLVII, Brooks will be forced into a variety of roles. He’ll be very active in run defense, and he will likely draw Ed Dickson as an assignment when the Baltimore Ravens go with a twin tight end set.
There’s also the fact that Brooks will be playing close to home in New Orleans, so you can bet that he’ll be excited to put on a show in front of a friendly crowd. He did it once already this season, tallying one-and-a-half sacks and an interception that he took to the house from 50 yards out.
With all of the focus on Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers’ read-option offense, the pass-catchers by the bay are a bit overlooked on the offensive side of the ball.
Michael Crabtree followed up his best regular-season performance with some serious numbers against the Packers. He caught nine balls for 119 yards in the easy win. However, the next week against Atlanta, he failed to find the end zone and also coughed up a fumble.
Depending on which player shows up at the Super Bowl, Crabtree will likely influence things for San Francisco.
The Ravens’ blind-side protector finds himself in a no-win situation.
Since the 49ers' Aldon Smith has struggled to pressure the passer as of late, if Bryant McKinnie neutralizes him, everyone will point to Smith’s woes as the primary reason.
On the flip side, if Smith sets up shop in the Ravens’ backfield, the bright light of shame will shine on McKinnie. Either way, the Ravens tackle will have his hands full with Smith, and his ability to protect Joe Flacco will go a long way toward determining the Ravens’ offensive effectiveness.
On the flip side, Aldon Smith will be trying to make Bryant McKinnie’s day as long as possible. According to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, Smith blames double- and triple-teams for his lack of sacks in the recent going.
I’ve already set the stage for this matchup. Smith’s efforts will be instrumental if the Niners want to limit Joe Flacco’s deadly deep ball.
In my view, Ray Lewis’s impact on this game will be largely symbolic, rather than based in statistics. Ray Ray’s fans will point out that he’s flying all over the field making tackles, while I respond that the Baltimore Ravens system funnels all the action toward him to begin with.
However, Lewis will have his fingerprints all over Super Bowl XLVII, from the pregame histrionics to the story of his retirement to discussion about his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. Lewis is the only chance that NFL fans have to remind the media that there is more at stake here than the clash of the Harbaughs.
One of the biggest perceived mismatches heading into this game is the Baltimore Ravens’ deep passing game versus the 49ers leaky pass defense. If the Niners hope to pass this test, their hard-hitting safety will have to be a factor.
Goldson and his counterpart, Donte Whitner, will have to contain the vertical attack that the Ravens will bring to the table. In addition, Goldson is a contributor in defending the running game, so he’ll wear a variety of hats in New Orleans.
He will have to show discipline by not biting on play-action fakes in order to maximize his effectiveness. In what I see as a low-scoring slugfest, one big play could be the difference on the sport’s biggest stage. It will be Goldson’s responsibility to ensure that the Ravens don’t make it.
The league’s premier ball hawk is always looking to snag a pass and take it the other way. I would be absolutely shocked if 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick tests him at any point in the contest. If I’m head coach Jim Harbaugh, I’m telling Kaepernick that Ed Reed is not going to be the one to beat us in this game.
However, head coaches and offensive coordinators have been saying that about the Ravens safety for years, and he has always managed to get his numbers.
Reed makes this list because it would be ludicrous to leave him off it, even if the 49ers will mostly seek to run the ball on Baltimore.
He typically plays center field, but at this stage in his career and with a Super Bowl in sight, look for him to potentially return punts and kicks if Jacoby Jones isn’t looking dangerous enough for head Coach Harbaugh’s tastes.
Baltimore’s one-two punch at tight end is very formidable, with Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta as lethal daggers waiting to strike at the heart of the 49er defense.
NaVorro Bowman is the Kevlar vest that seeks to prevent any serious damage. He is very stout in run defense, and it takes a village to stop Ray Rice. However, Bowman shines when it comes to covering backs and tight ends out of the backfield.
His tag-team approach with wrecking ball Patrick Willis will keep the Ravens guessing as to what the 49ers defensive core will be up to come Super Bowl Sunday.
Anquan Boldin is the Danny Briere of the NFL. Hockey fans will recognize that this means that Boldin puts up respectable regular-season numbers, but when the postseason lights come on, this guy just becomes otherworldly.
Boldin has been a nightmare for opponents this postseason, posting 276 yards and three touchdowns in three games. He has shown uncanny abilities to make spectacular catches in traffic, and his ability to absorb big hits while holding onto the ball has had me double-checking his age more than once. He’s 32, by the way.
Boldin is a candidate to earn Super Bowl MVP honors if he performs as he’s capable, and stopping him will be a huge challenge for the 49er secondary.
In my opinion, Ngata is the best player on the Baltimore defense. He is a walking physical impossibility—possessing unreal speed and quickness for a man of his size and strength. He can play anywhere on the Ravens line, and will collapse the line wherever he lines up.
If there was ever an offensive line equipped to minimize Ngata’s damage at the point of attack, it’s San Francisco’s. This battle could decide the fate of the 49ers’ Pistol offense. If Kaepernick’s offensive line gets pushed back into his lap, there won’t be many reads to make and even fewer options.
Bernard Pollard will be called upon to bring his ability to lay the wood closer to the line of scrimmage in Super Bowl XLVII. His instincts in run defense coupled with his sure tackling will likely present some problems for San Francisco early on.
This is the mirror match with Dashon Goldson, as they fill similar roles for their respective teams. The big difference is that Pollard will be a ball-seeking missile with two targets, rather than just one. Colin Kaepernick is every bit as dangerous as Frank Gore when it comes to the 49ers' rushing attack, as several teams have learned already this season.
It’s hard to describe a four-time Pro Bowl running back as an unsung hero, but somehow, that is the situation that Frank Gore faces as the Niners head to New Orleans. Gore never garners the acclaim and attention that a back of his caliber would usually merit, and he usually spends his Sundays punishing teams for underestimating him.
Gore isn’t flashy, but he did put up fairly gaudy stats against the Falcons, rushing for 90 yards and two touchdowns. He also has never fumbled in his postseason career, which should inspire enough confidence to earn a healthy portion of the carries in the Super Bowl.
It’s no disrespect to either of these guys to put them on a combined slide; it’s actually more of a statement on how I see this game playing out.
The 49ers will likely try to victimize Terrell Suggs when they go to the read-option in order to limit his pass-rushing impact. How he and Pernell McPhee communicate and position themselves will play an enormous role in whether the 49ers find success on the ground or not.
I’m as guilty of disrespecting him as everyone else when I say that the Ravens should focus on keeping the ball in Gore’s hands rather than allowing Colin Kaepernick to pull it out. Containing outside runs will be paramount to success for Baltimore, and the onus will be on Suggs and McPhee to ensure that runners head into the teeth of the defense.
My early pick for Super Bowl MVP, Vernon Davis’ speed and strength will present matchup issues for the Ravens throughout this game. Having a tight end that is able to burn up the field is a brutal weapon in the play-action game, and I expect the 49ers to hit him for a long one at least once in this contest.
Davis will need quite the performance to become the first tight end to ever win the award, but he is such a huge part of San Francisco’s passing game that I see it happening here. He’s certainly come a long way since being benched by former head coach Mike Singletary, and a strong showing here would illustrate that more fully.
There’s a lot of hubbub surrounding San Francisco’s ground game, but the best back in this contest is on the Ravens’ side of the ball. Ray Rice will need to use all of his considerable moxie in order to have success against a vaunted San Francisco front seven.
Rice is as effective a pass-catcher as he is a runner, so Baltimore can be creative in finding ways to get touches for their star tailback. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman will keep a close eye on him, so this is another matchup that could determine the next NFL champion.
One of my favorite storylines headed into this game is that of succession. There’s no better place for Ray Lewis to pass the torch to Patrick Willis as the best middle linebacker in the NFL than Super Bowl XLVII. Willis is the new No. 52, as the older one rides off into the sunset.
Sentiments aside, Willis is the defensive player most likely to dominate the game for either side. Whether he is blitzing, covering backs and tight ends or snuffing out attempts to run the ball, Willis is a sideline-to-sideline nightmare.
It would be fitting for Willis to take home the MVP award here, seeing as the last linebacker to do that was Lewis himself.
The Ravens signal-caller has to be relishing the opportunity to sling the rock against a pass defense that has struggled with the deep ball at times this year. Joe Flacco has played his best football over the last few weeks and is certainly heating up at an optimal time.
With all due respect to Ray Rice, the Ravens will go as Flacco goes. If he turns the ball over in crucial situations, the team will likely struggle to keep up with the 49ers. However, if he continues his torrid pace, the Ravens could bring the Lombardi Trophy to Baltimore.
If the Ravens take down the Niners, Smith is my pick for Super Bowl MVP. The former Maryland Terrapin has made opponents fear the turtle by playing more like the hare.
His quick-strike ability is as good as anyone’s in the league, and he has shown breathtaking ability to get behind defensive backs. If he’s able to do that in New Orleans, it will be a long plane ride back to the Bay Area for the 49ers.
Smith’s knack for making big plays in crucial spots leads me to believe that he’ll be up to the challenge in the Super Bowl.
Colin Kaepernick is the most crucial component of this year’s Super Bowl.
Everything for both teams hinges on his ability to pass and run the football. He is poised to make Super Bowl XLVII the place where his legend was born and to cement himself in 49ers lore alongside Joe Montana and Steve Young—albeit behind them as well.
I think that Kaepernick presents too many problems for the Ravens to overcome, and he will make the biggest impact on the game as a whole, if not statistically.
The 49ers have come a long way since the days of Steve Young, who never took even a single snap from the shotgun in his entire career. Kaepernick represents a new age in 49ers quarterbacks, and Super Bowl XLVII could be his crowning achievement.