Super Bowl XLVII offers no shortage of storylines.
John Harbaugh's Ravens will face off against brother Jim's 49ers. Ray Lewis will play the final game of his career on the brightest stage in football. Lewis, the best linebacker of a generation, will call it quits while Patrick Willis, the best linebacker currently playing, tries to steal the spotlight.
Both teams got to the big game unconventionally. The Ravens, losers of four of their last five regular-season games, backed into the playoffs without much of any momentum. And the 49ers are led by a quarterback who just made his ninth career start in the NFC Championship.
Throughout the NFC playoffs, no moment has been too big for Colin Kaepernick, but that could all change against Lewis, Ed Reed and the Ravens defense.
Baltimore was an average defense in the regular season. The Ravens allowed teams to run for an average of 122.8 rushing yards per game--20th in the NFL. When teams wanted to pass, Baltimore's 17th-ranked pass defense didn't provide much resistance, either.
But ever since Lewis told his team that this year's playoffs would be his "last ride," the current Ravens defense has started to look more like the dominant Baltimore defenses of the past decade.
In three postseason games, the Ravens are allowing a league-low 19 points per game.
Baltimore held the Indianapolis Colts without a touchdown in the Wild Card Round. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was swarmed all afternoon, and Indianapolis was only able to muster up nine points.
In the divisional round, the Ravens stifled Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Denver scored 35 points against Baltimore, but a pair of Trindon Holliday return touchdowns propelled the Broncos' scoring attack.
Manning was forced into throwing two uncharacteristic interceptions, and the Ravens won the game in dramatic fashion in overtime. With its back against the wall, this Ravens defense has been at its absolute best in the postseason.
Take away the two special teams scores, and the Ravens are allowing just 14.3 points per game in the playoffs.
Now, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and the Baltimore Ravens will try to devise a plan for Kaepernick and the 49ers.
San Francisco is a unique team offensively. The 49ers throw a variety of different formations on the field to keep the defense guessing, while their ground-and-pound principles remain intact. Against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, Kaepernick rushed for more yards than any NFL quarterback has ever rushed for in NFL history, but the read-option wasn't what got the 49ers past the Atlanta Falcons.
Instead of relying on Kaepernick's legs like they did against Green Bay, the 49ers went with a more traditional approach—run the ball with Frank Gore and set up Kaepernick to make throws downfield.
Atlanta was unable to generate a consistent pass rush against Kaepernick, but the 49ers could have their hands full against the Ravens. A well-designed scheme and thought-out game plan certainly has a positive effect on a game, but it's hard to account for an instinctive player like Ed Reed on the back end of the Ravens defense.
Reed will study Kaepernick's tendencies like a book in the time leading up to the game. He and his veteran teammates will be ready. Will Kaepernick?