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Super Bowl 47 Preview: Matchups and Story Lines

Super Bowl 47 might be the most anticipated NFL Championship in American history. It will be dominated by a myriad of interweaving storylines the likes of which have never been generated by the game before and that means they’re being beaten to death by the American media – myself included. It features the class of the NFC San Francisco 49ers and the improbable AFC champion Baltimore Ravens. Super Bowl 46 drew a record 111.3 million American viewers, but it might go to second in the record books come February 3.

 

Here’s a taste of what everyone will be talking about come game day.

 

The Coaches

 

Front and center are the Harbaugh brothers, the first siblings to ever coach opposite each other on Super Bowl Sunday. Hypothetically, the only American sibling rivalry to trump this one would be if two brothers were opposing each other in a presidential election.

 

Jim, coach of the 49ers, was the more athletic of the two brothers growing up. He played quarterback at the University of Michigan and was drafted into the NFL in 1987. He played 14 seasons with six teams but never reached the Super Bowl. He did, however, appear in an episode of Saved by the Bell.

 

Ravens coach John never played in the pros or appeared in television shows, but he was a defensive back at Miami University of Ohio (for what that’s worth). After graduating, he coached at Western Michigan University, Morehead State University, the University of Cincinnati, Indiana University, and then moved on to the NFL to coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Ravens.

 

Both brothers have lived lives consisting of football and only football and regardless of what you call the game (the Har-Bowl, the Harbaugh Bowl, the Bro Bowl, the Super-Baugh, etc.) their mom and dad will definitely take everyone out for ice cream afterward.

 

The Defenses

 

Every fan loves offense, but the real stars of Super Bowl 47 will be playing defense. San Francisco had the third-best regular season defense in the NFL, allowing 294.4 yards per game. They boasts five Pro Bowlers and the headline name are of linebackers Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. Willis and Bowman combined for 269 tackles in the regular season while Smith ate quarterbacks for lunch, registering 19 ½ sacks. Much of Smith’s production was bolstered by the help of former All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith, who paves the way for Aldon’s backfield destruction.

 

Baltimore’s D isn’t too shabby, either. Future Hall of Fame free safety Ed Reed still has a nose for interceptions like no other and strong safety Bernard Pollard might be the last thing an opposing player sees someday

 

 

But without question, the heart and soul of Baltimore’s defense is Ray Lewis. Besides the Harbaugh brothers, Lewis’ story line is the most hyped for three reasons:

 

1. He is one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history and he is the most outspoken, recognizable and inspirational player in the NFL today.

2. On January 2, Lewis announced he would retire at the end of the season and winning the Super Bowl in his final game would be a fitting end to a Hall of Fame career.

3. Lewis was involved in a double murder that took place in Atlanta following a Super Bowl party 13 years ago. He was indicted on two murder charges but struck a plea deal in exchange for his testimony. Lewis eventually pled guilty for obstruction of justice and admitted to lying to the police and the murders remain unsolved.

 

For those three reasons, Lewis might go down as the most polarizing player in NFL history. These days he wears “Psalms 91” on his shirt and speaks ad nauseam about his faith and spiritual beliefs. If you believe he was involved in the murder of two men but he still vehemently denies it, you might peg him for more of a hypocrite than an inspiration. If you think he’s innocent, you can only hope the stigma fades with time. Love him or hate him, fans will eat up his story line with a spoon.

 

The Offenses

 

Colin Kaepernick is the religiously-tattooed second-year quarterback of the 49ers. This season he threw for 1,814 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions while rushing for 415 yards and five scores, making him a unique dual-threat. He enjoys “Kaepernicking” and turtles.

 

The Ravens have a more traditional quarterback in Joe Flacco. The five-year NFL starter doesn’t run much but has one of the strongest arms in the league. He threw for 3,817 yards and a career-high 22 touchdowns, against 10 interceptions this season. Pundits enjoy debating whether or not Flacco is an “elite” quarterback because of inconsistency throughout his career, but Flacco helped sway opinions to the positive this postseason by capturing his sixth career road playoff win, the most in NFL history. Flacco enjoys looking like Bert from Sesame Street and going to Pizza Hut. As you can see he's a natural raconteur with a magnetic stage presence.

 

 

Both teams have solid quarterbacks, but their ball carriers might be even more talented. San Francisco has Frank Gore, a hard-nosed tail back that can break tackles and makes men look like boys. He was 10th in the league in rushing this season with 1,214 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. Baltimore’s Ray Rice is more of a speed back who makes defenders miss and is always a big-play threat. He boasted 1,143 yards this season and averaged 4.4 yards per carry. Both backs have made at least three Pro Bowls, have 30 or more career touchdowns and have rushed for 1,000 or more yards in a season at least four times.

 

The teams’ respective receiving corps are more clearly separated. The 49ers weren’t a dominant passing team this season (No. 23 in the NFL), but they did have a consistent threat in Michael Crabtree. He caught 85 balls for 1,105 yards and nine scores. He is clearly Kaepernick’s favorite target, which will draw attention from Baltimore’s secondary. That means Kaepernick might need to find other options, like tight end Vernon Davis or veteran Randy Moss. Davis had an unproductive season, but the Ravens can’t overlook him. He still has 4.4 speed and could be the 49ers secret weapon, especially in the red zone.

 

Baltimore are led by the receiving tandem of Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. They caught a collective 114 passes for 1,776 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season. In the postseason, both have been major down-field weapons, with Boldin averaging 17.3 yards per catch and Smith averaging 22 yards per catch. Throw in the deep threat of Jacoby Jones and tight end Dennis Pitta and the Ravens have the edge in the receiver department.

 

The Special Teams

                 

San Francisco’s veteran kicker David Akers is a six-time Pro Bowler and shares the record for the longest field goal in NFL history. But this year he’s been a disaster, making only 29-of-42 field goals and was 1-for-2 in the post season. In contrast, Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker has been dependable, missing only three of his 33 attempts in the regular season. He is a rookie, however, so the pressure of the Super Bowl could potentially rattle the youngster. It’ll be interesting to see how both kickers handle the biggest game of their lives.

 

Pete Dombrosky

 

Why not check out our list of the Best Super Bowl Bars in the UK or find your nearest pub showing it right here?