The Harbaugh Bowl is on: Jim's 49ers will face John's Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
More than the incredible story of brother vs. brother, this Super Bowl will be about two hard-nosed, old-school football teams willing to do anything to win.
How do they match up? Who's got the advantage? Who's going to win, and by what score?
In the NFL, nothing on the field matters more than quarterback play. Moving the chains while taking care of the football is a bare minimum, and making plays downfield while taking care of the football covers for everything else.
Colin Kaepernick had one of the greatest playoff performances of all time against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, throwing for 263 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while running for another 181 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries.
More impressive than that performance, though, was that he followed it up with an effective, efficient NFC Championship Game.
It'd be understandable if a young quarterback, coming off such a spectacular performance, put it all on himself and made a bunch of spectacular mistakes in the following game.
But Kaepernick took what the Atlanta Falcons defense gave him, rushing only twice for 21 yards. He completed an outstanding 16 of 21 passes for 221 yards, a touchdown—and no interceptions.
That Kaepernick and the 49ers can adapt his game to meet the situation and either take it all on himself or let his teammates do the work speaks volumes about his talent, maturity and coaching.
Joe Flacco, for most plays of most games, is a below-average quarterback. He struggles to place the ball well in the short passing game, and his incompletions tend to stall drives.
This regular season, Flacco completed 59.7 percent of his passes (ranked 19th, per Pro Football Reference). His adjusted net yards per attempt came in at 6.33, 15th-best. His total QBR was 46.82, ranked 22nd.
In the second half, though, Flacco's big arm connects with the Ravens' great receiving targets for game-breaking touchdowns that, well, break the game wide open.
Flacco's low interception percentage (1.9 percent, seventh-best), high average of yards per completion (12.0, tied with Tom Brady for 10th-best) and high touchdown-to-interception ratio (22:10) reveal a quarterback who isn't committing backbreaking mistakes, but is making plays downfield when it counts.
Advantage: San Francisco
Frank Gore is an old warhorse, but his old knees can still carry a load. In two playoff games, Gore has carried 44 times for 209 yards and three touchdowns—that's a 4.75 yards-per-carry clip.
LaMichael James has only had eight carries in two games, but he's cracked off a 14-yard carry and a 15-yard touchdown run, showing the speed that served him so well at Oregon. He's also been effective on kick returns.
Kaepernick, if the defense isn't parking two defenders on his side of the 49ers' zone read play, is a lethal ground attack all by himself. In these playoffs, he's racked up 202 yards and two touchdowns on only 18 carries.
In Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, though, the Ravens have two powerful backs with speed and moves, capable of both pushing the pile and hitting the home run.
The two of them have combined for 91 carries, 416 yards and two touchdowns over their three playoff games, a 4.57 yards-per-carry average. This includes beastly performances by Pierce against the Indianapolis Colts (13 carries for 103 yards) and Rice against the Denver Broncos (30 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown).
In fact, it seems like the only unit that can take the Ravens' running backs out of the game is Flacco and the Ravens offense—either by stalling drives with incompletions or skipping straight to the end zone with big plays.
Both of these defenses pride themselves on their punishing, physical play. Both units are renowned for loving hard hits, attacking the quarterback, winning the trench war and hunting heads in the secondary.
The 49ers were clearly the better unit in the regular season, ranked second in the NFL in scoring defense (allowing just 17.0 points and 294.4 yards per average game). But the 49ers have been hot and cold in the playoffs, allowing 24 offensive points to both the Packers and the Falcons.
The pass rush, which averaged 2.38 sacks per game in the regular season, has lost some of its luster.
The 49ers sacked Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan only once apiece—and Ryan's sack came only as he scrambled past run-stuffing defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga (who had just one regular-season sack). Aldon Smith, who racked up 19.5 regular-season sacks, has been almost invisible.
Meanwhile, the Ravens went into New England and completely shut Tom Brady and the Patriots down, allowing just 13 points. Brady threw for 320 yards and a score but needed 54 passes to do it (a poor 5.93 yards per attempt) and threw two interceptions in the process.
The Ravens also held Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead to just 97 yards on 25 carries (3.88 yards per carry).
On talent alone, this goes to San Francisco, but the Ravens have taken their game to a different level.
This is close.
The story of Colin Kaepernick's rise to excellence resonates with his head coach Jim's story. One wag told Sports Illustrated's Peter King, "Harbaugh drafted himself." Kaepernick's ascent could be the beginning of an incredible career; his physical tools and even-keeled mental makeup mean his upside is almost unlimited.
Kapernick's rise could be significant for a darker reason, though: He usurped Alex Smith's starting role when Smith went out with a concussion. How can the NFL work with players to diagnose and treat brain injuries accurately when they lose their jobs as a result?
The Ravens defense has been visibly elevated this postseason by Ray Lewis's "last ride," stepping its game up tremendously. After finishing in the middle of the pack in scoring (12th) and yardage (17th) regular-season defense, they beat Peyton Manning in Mile High and held Andrew Luck and Tom Brady to 22 points combined.
This will be an unusually physical Super Bowl, with a lot of hard hits (and possibly penalty flags). But in the end, this game will go to which team gets more points out of the downfield passing game; the final score will be higher than many think.
The Ravens' receiving trio of Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta have combined for 35 catches, 611 yards and seven touchdowns in three games; that's 17.46 yards per completion and and a touchdown every five catches.
In the end, the Ravens are making more of those backbreaking splash plays downfield than the 49ers, and that gives them the advantage in a game where both teams can run, both teams can hit and both teams are coached by Harbaughs.
Final Score: Baltimore 33, San Francisco 27
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