The first Harbaugh Super Bowl was a hard-fought battle that came down to the final minute. The elder Harbaugh, John, won this time. However, it’s his younger brother, Jim, who has the best chance to win a ring next season.
The San Francisco 49ers have a better chance of a repeat trip to the Super Bowl simply because the core of their team will be intact.
Joe Flacco earned himself quite a payday because of his outstanding performance in the playoffs. In order to retain Flacco, the Ravens will have to dish out elite quarterback money.
However, if they re-sign Flacco, they will most likely lose a couple other key players. Tight end Dennis Pitta, linebackers Dannell Ellerbee and Paul Kruger and cornerback Cary Williams are all young, promising players who are unrestricted free agents. Ellerbee and Kruger will be very important to re-sign since the Ravens are losing Lewis.
Veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who protected Flacco extremely well throughout the season, also has an expiring contract.
Most importantly, longtime Raven Ed Reed is also a free agent. He’s coming off a season with four interceptions. Reed will command a lot of cash, considering that he’s one of the greatest safeties of all time.
On the other hand, the only high-impact players the 49ers could possibly lose during free agency are safety Dashon Goldson, defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga and special teams ace Ted Ginn, Jr. Additionally, it’s extremely likely that backup quarterback Alex Smith will start the 2013 season with another franchise. However, most of their important players will certainly be back on the team.
The Ravens also have a much tougher schedule next year. They will partake in seven games against teams that made the playoffs this season: the Cincinnati Bengals (twice), New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. They also play the playoff-caliber Pittsburgh Steelers twice and the Chicago Bears.
Even if everything goes the Ravens way in the offseason and the 2013 regular season, it’ll be hard for them to duplicate their postseason success. Flacco played arguably the best stretch of football in his career, tossing 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. The Ravens won as big underdogs against Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, quarterbacks they will have to face again next year.
The 49ers, meanwhile, showed in these playoffs that their offense is not fluky and can compete with anyone in the NFL. In fact, it was their defense that collapsed down the stretch. However, if they can shore up their secondary over the offseason, they will be an even more potent team.
While there may a few more Super Bowl appearances by the Harbaugh brothers in the next decade, Jim and the 49ers have to be considered the favorites to win in 2014.