Ravens and 49ers Will Play for Title

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After 20 weeks, it all comes down to this. The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers will meet in New Orleans one week from Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII.

In the lead-up to the game, much will be made of the fact that Jim and John Harbaugh, the head coaches of the 49ers and Ravens respectively, are brothers. There will be just as much talk about how this game will be the final one of Ray Lewis’s career. Perhaps more attention should be paid to the quarterbacks.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been subject to plenty of criticism ever since entering the league in 2008. In this season’s playoffs, however, the Ravens have been winning because of Flacco, not in spite of him. If it were not for his 70-yard game-tying touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones in the final minute of Baltimore’s Divisional Round win over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the Ravens would not be here.

Under center (or, more often than not, in the pistol) for San Francisco is Colin Kaepernick, who has made only nine starts in his NFL career. When Alex Smith suffered a concussion in the 49ers’ Week 10 tie against the St. Louis Rams, Kaepernick came in to replace him. His performance over the next few weeks was impressive enough that Harbaugh opted to stick with him even after Smith was healthy enough to return.

Kaepernick’s ability to run adds a dangerous element to the San Francisco offense. With 181 yards in the 49ers’ Divisional Round victory over the Packers, Kaepernick set the single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Kaepernick, Frank Gore and LaMichael James form one of the game’s top rushing attacks. San Francisco was fourth in the league in rushing during the regular season and is averaging 236 yards on the ground so far this postseason. Baltimore’s rush defense is not nearly as fearsome as in recent years so the Ravens will have to work hard to ensure the 49ers do not run wild.

It is a bit surprising that of all the talented quarterbacks in this year’s playoffs — Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and upstarts Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, to name a few — Flacco and Kaepernick are the last ones standing. But then again, football is a team game, and the 49ers and Ravens are good teams. It is refreshing to see a Super Bowl matchup which does not feature two teams that rely so heavily on their quarterbacks.

Flacco could redeem himself to Ravens fans with a win in this game and earn a big payday in the process (Flacco’s contract is set to expire at the end of the season). If Kaepernick and the 49ers’ read-option offense leads San Francisco to a win, it could change how offense is played in the NFL.

Be sure to check back next week as The Ram’s sports staff shares its picks for the game.