During the regular season, after the 49ers and Rams tied on November 11, they met again in early December and St. Louis beat San Francisco in overtime. The Rams were 7-9 on the year.
At no time during the regular season did the Niners win more than two straight games. San Francisco's highest paid player is the backup quarterback. And yet, the Niners are playing for a championship.
San Francisco's opponent, the Baltimore Ravens lost four of their final five games during the regular season. They fired their offensive coordinator following week 14. Their 10-6 mark was the same record the Bears put forth. Chicago failed to make the playoffs and fired coach Lovie Smith. Baltimore is playing for a Super Bowl title because of the same reason that San Francisco is.
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The Niners knocked out Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. The Ravens ended Andrew Luck’s, Peyton Manning’s, and Tom Brady's seasons. The five victims of the two Super Bowl teams have something in common. They all have great quarterbacks, and none of them have great teams. Baltimore and San Francisco have signal callers who have played very well, and supporting casts that make them who they are.
It is a great misnomer that Jim Harbaugh won at Stanford strictly because of Luck. Without question Luck was a great college player. Harbaugh built the team around him. A team that ran the ball effectively, played tough nosed, hard knocking football, and prided themselves on defense. Hmmmm. The Niners run the ball well, are among the best teams in the NFL on defense, and have a play-making quarterback who is difficult to defend.
The media would have you believe Baltimore is built around Ray Lewis and the same defense that led Trent Dilfer and friends to a Super Bowl title in 2000. This year the Ravens defense was ranked 17th in the NFL. Against the run, versus the pass, or in total points allowed, Baltimore was average on defense by all measures. However, the Ravens forced turnovers, improved during the playoffs, and most importantly have a capable offense.
Quarterbacks lacking in confidence throw a lot of check downs. They do not like to take too many chances down the field. Raven's quarterback Joe Flacco has no fear. By testing defenses, even if he is not the most accurate signal caller in the league, the big strike must be respected. This opens up short and intermediate routs plus running lanes. Ray Rice leads playoff running backs in rushing yards. Ravens wide receivers Jacoby Jones, Torrey Smith, and Anquan Boldin have caught the three longest passes of the playoffs. Flacco has the highest QB Rating of any playoff starter in the last three years.
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During the playoffs San Francisco and Baltimore have won because they have more than one good player. Superstar players are just that, stars, and they can elevate the play of those around them, but a team gets better as a unit and does not need to rely on the same individual every game. Colin Kaepernick and Flacco are capable but do not have to do everything for their teams. With support at many positions, and quarterbacks who can lead by example or take on a supporting role, this year's Super Bowl is a triumph for the best teams, not players, win championships.