Everyone can't wait to see Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers' stars square off at the Super Bowl, but a handful of under-the-radar matchups promise to open some eyes.
For two teams that love to run the ball and play smashmouth defense, the Super Bowl won't lack physicality.
Let's take a look at some of the under-the-radar matchups in Super Bowl XLVII.
Ray McDonald (DE) 49ers vs. Michael Oher (RT) Ravens
The beginning and end of this game is in the trenches, and two former SEC studs will dictate the pace.
Ray McDonald quietly anchors the left defensive spot in the San Francisco 49ers' 3-4 defense, contributing on all three downs. Since the 49ers took him 97th overall in 2007, McDonald has steadily grown into one of the most complete 3-4 DEs in the game.
At 6'3", 290 pounds, the former Gator has the strength to defeat double teams and enough athleticism to push the pocket. Although he notched just 2.5 sacks in 2012, McDonald is a solid complement to more heralded teammate Justin Smith.
Lining up opposite McDonald is former first-round pick Michael Oher. While he never lived up to his blindside billing, the 6'4", 315-pounder has settled in nicely at right tackle. His size and mobility make him a great run blocker, although he still needs to cut down on penalties.
Oher will be charged with opening holes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce—a task easier said than done considering McDonald's prowess as a run defender.
Patrick Willis (ILB) and NaVorro Bowman (ILB) 49ers vs. Vonta Leach (FB) Ravens
It's not a sexy pick, but the battle between San Francisco's two All-Pro linebackers and Baltimore's big, bad fullback promises to be a slobber-knocker.
Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman anchor the fourth-stingiest run defense, and both 'backers are the complete package.
Willis is the preeminent inside linebacker in the league, making the All-Pro team every year since the 49ers chose him with the 11th overall pick in 2007. A vicious hitter and all-around playmaker, the 6'1", 242-pounder is this generation's Ray Lewis.
Next to Willis is one of the league's most exciting developments in Bowman. The speedy Penn State product has evolved into arguably the second-best ILB behind Willis in just three years.
The 49ers' two leading tacklers will have their work cut out for them as Ravens fullback Vonta Leach brings the wood. Ray Rice's lead blocker rarely touches the ball (just nine carries in 2012), and for good reason.
The dude knows how to block.
Checking in at 6'0", 260 pounds, Leach is like a bowling ball in the backfield. No fullback punishes linebackers and safeties like the nine-year veteran, who's keyed the Ravens' running game the past two seasons. Expect a ton of violent collisions when Leach is searching for one of San Fran's linebackers.
Randy Moss (WR) 49ers vs. Cary Williams (CB) Ravens
Randy Moss' best days are behind him, but the future Hall of Famer will look to make some noise against Ravens cornerback Cary Williams.
Once considered the best deep threat in the game, age has sapped Moss of his trademark speed. It's difficult to believe that he caught 13 touchdowns just three years ago, but the days of Moss terrorizing secondaries are long gone.
While he's no longer a Pro Bowl talent, the NFL's single-season receiving touchdown record holder ended up recording 28 catches for 434 yards and three TDs this season.
Injuries to the wide receiver position have vaulted Moss into the starting lineup, and Colin Kaepernick will have to look his way if Baltimore is able to handle Michael Crabtree.
With Moss trending down, his opponent, Cary Williams, is enjoying his finest season in the NFL. Lardarius Webb's season-ending ACL injury opened up a spot in the Ravens secondary and helped propel Williams into the starting lineup. The former 2008 seventh-round pick hadn't recorded an interception prior to this season, but ended up tying for the team lead with four picks.
Checking in at 6'1" with 4.43 wheels, Williams has the length and speed to match up with the always-dangerous Moss.
Don't sleep on this matchup between a future Hall of Famer and a rising talent.
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