Super Bowl Preview : The Harbowl

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Anthony Beers, Staff Writer

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   Defense wins championships. That historically proven fact could not have been more evident when the Baltimore Ravens held the New England Patriots to just 13 points in the AFC Championship, or when the San Francisco 49ers stopped the Falcons on fourth down to complete their comeback rally in the NFC Championship.The Ravens and 49ers will square off February 3 in New Orleans to determine the champion of Super Bowl XLVII.

   But what’s not so historic are the two sibling head coaches leading the way for their respective ball clubs. John Harbaugh, after four straight seasons of earning playoff contention but never making it to the Super Bowl, has finally made it to the promise land as Baltimore’s leader. Jim Harbaugh, in just his second year as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, has quickly led his team to the Super Bowl. Both head coaches were in the NFC and AFC Championship games last year and coincidentally both teams lost by field goals. This season, both Harbaugh’s refused to go home one game short.

   There are some interesting stories heading into this year’s Super Bowl, and the one most talked about is that of sixteen year middle linebacker for the Ravens, Ray Lewis. In Super Bowl XXXV, Lewis earned his only Super Bowl ring in a victory over the New York Giants, and since then Baltimore’s defense has been a force to be reckoned with. This season, after returning to the club from a torn tricep injury that sidelined him for several weeks, Lewis announced that he would be retiring at the conclusion of the season. Now a month later, Lewis is still playing football and will suit up for the Super Bowl.

   Lewis has always been known as an emotional leader and after 13 Pro Bowl selections, he is without a doubt a first ballot hall of famer. What sports fans wouldn’t know from watching ESPN is that Lewis was once acquitted for murder after agreeing to testify in court against his two companions that were at the crime scene for the stabbings and murders of two men, Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Whether or not Lewis is singlehandedly responsible for the killings of these men has never been clarified. Lewis was sentenced to twelve months of probation and fined $250,000 by the NFL.

   Regardless, with Lewis at the helm, Baltimore’s defense has been dominant for the past decade. The real reason for their trip to Super Bowl XLVII is the much improved play of quarterback Joe Flacco. In the past, the knock on the Ravens had been that they were too dependent on running the football with Ray Rice, and that Flacco lacked the confidence to take big chances when the game was on the line. However, this season Flacco has put critics to rest, especially when he scraped together a victory in double overtime against the favored Denver Broncos in what was a wild AFC divisional playoff round. And with the Ravens win in the AFC Championship over New England, Flacco surpassed Eli Manning for most road playoff victories by a quarterback in NFL history. With Flacco making deep throws to receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, the Ravens are a complete football team with a substantial chance to win it all.

   As for the 49ers however, the pivotal moment for this team came mid-season after quarterback Alex Smith suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams. Even after Smith recovered from the injury a couple weeks later, Harbaugh elected to keep second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the starter instead of going back with Smith, a veteran who had led the 49ers to the NFC Championship last season. The decision was obviously controversial and it stirred questioning throughout the league. But in just nine career starts and a victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship, Kaepernick has proven himself and helped lead the 49ers to their first Super Bowl since 1994. Harbaugh, an ex-quarterback, clearly has an eye for talent at the position. He recruited Andrew Luck while coaching at Stanford and also tried to bring in Robert Griffin III and his decision to go with the speedy option-read quarterback in Kaepernick has proven to be the right one.

   The defense of the 49ers has continued their dominance that they became known for last season. Led by super star middle linebacker Patrick Willis, the 49ers have a ferocious pass rush and are known for getting to the quarterback by any means necessary. Aldon Smith is feared by quarterbacks everywhere, especially after finishing the season with 19.5 sacks, just three shy of Michael Strahan’s single season sack record. And with a physical secondary led by cornerback Carlos Rodgers, the 49ers have a very complete defense that will really challenge Baltimore.

   Final Prediction: The NFC was the better conference this season but Baltimore’s path to the Super Bowl may have been tougher than San Francisco’s. The Ravens overcame two future hall of fame quarterbacks back to back in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. As for the 49ers and Kaepernick, history says that mobile quarterbacks are not usually the formula for Super Bowl success, although he may be an exception to that past knockoff after displaying very good composure in the pocket against Atlanta. The real question with this matchup is what’s more favorable: veterans in Baltimore or youth in San Francisco? Due to their tougher path to the Super Bowl and their experience, the Ravens should win this one. Football’s tough to predict, but the one thing fans can count on is hard hits and not a whole lot of brotherly love.

   Ravens over 49ers, 23-20

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