For as much emphasis as we place on the Super Bowl as the end-all be-all decider of who gets crowned "best in the world," rarely do we actually get the best team.
Go ahead and really think about it.
In 2011, the Packers were the best team in football. They didn't win a playoff game. The eventual champions went 9-7 in the regular season.
In 2010, the Packers were 8-6 at one time and almost missed the playoffs before catching fire and riding a wave of momentum to the finish line.
We all remember what happened in 2007.
As far as I'm concerned, the best two teams in the NFL this season were in the AFC. And neither of them play in Maryland.
Another historical trend for you: In the last 11 Super Bowls, eight underdogs have covered the point spread. Five of those underdogs won the game.
Now it may seem to you that the obvious point here is that I am going to pick the Ravens to pull off the upset. I am going to say that the better team with the better talent doesn't always win. I'm going to advise you not to bet against destiny...
And I would kindly ask you not to ruin the surprise for everyone.
The fact is that the 49ers are the better team. They are younger, faster, more dynamic and all-around more talented. They have steadily built their monstrous defense in the draft.
Jim Harbaugh is a terrific coach.
Colin Kaepernick has all the athletic ability in the world.
The facts all say that this is a great team and a Super Bowl-worthy team.
But the truth is that the Baltimore Ravens have a value that is far higher than the sum of their parts.
It's not just about the talent on the roster. Its about experience, drive, momentum. I hate to be this guy, but they look a lot like the Giants of last year and of 2007. I'm sorry, but it's true.
And I've learned that you don't mess with teams that look like that.
Look at the roads these teams had to traverse to get to this point. Everyone wanted to hand the 49ers the NFC West crown before the season started. They played a relatively unspectacular schedule, but they performed well in big games against New England and Green Bay.
They were unable to defeat the St. Louis Rams in two attempts and split with the Seattle Seahawks, although they were blown out in the game at Seattle. Despite division losses, they were able to edge the Seahawks for the division and grabbed a two seed thanks to Green Bay's late-season loss.
They then beat an overmatched Packers defense (a team I would argue was a little off all year and was headed in the wrong direction toward the end of it), followed by a victory over an overrated Falcons team, in a game where I believe the Falcons did more to lose than the 49ers did to win.
I don't mean to say that the 49ers are undeserving. I'll just say that perhaps their road to the Super Bowl wasn't the toughest ever.
The Ravens, on the other hand, played one of the tougher schedules in the NFL. They raced out to a 9-2 record, before finishing 1-4 (playing against three playoff teams and two of the best non-playoff teams in the Giants and Steelers).
They limped across the finish line, and everyone wrote them off as a pretender.
Many believed they might be upset by Andrew Luck in the Wild Card round, and although the final score was just 24-9, the Ravens were never going to lose that game.
Then they beat the Broncos in a game they should have lost multiple times, and there was a lot of luck involved. That's undeniable.
You could perhaps say that the Broncos lost that game (a la the Falcons against the 49ers). But the Ravens, and especially Joe Flacco, played a heck of a game just to keep themselves in it.
Then they took it to the Patriots. They really took it to them. In consecutive weeks, they beat those two teams I was talking about, the two teams that everyone said would play in the AFC Championship game with no other possibilities.
You would think we would have learned by now.
The Ravens have overcome so much more, not even considering Ray Lewis' story (which I do believe has had a legitimate impact).
For so many years, they have been Pittsburgh's second banana. Postseason after postseason, they play hard and fall just a little short.
Joe Flacco has started his career with five straight playoff appearances and now has seven postseason wins.
I believe in Flacco.
I believe in the Ravens' defense.
I believe that they are ready to make this jump.
And I believe it will be their last chance for a while because they aren't getting any younger.
The 49ers, however, are going to be around for some time. The defense is set for the next decade. Kaepernick has already shown he has the talent and ability to start in this league.
We could very well be witnessing the beginning of the next great dynasty.
But the Ravens storyline is coming to a stop here. Their legacy is ending, with the retirement of Ray Lewis and the aging of Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed. They are all in on this one game.
And I'm all in on them.
The Baltimore Ravens take the cake, 24-21.