Both the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers have done a lot of things right to get to the big game, and as a result each squad and their legion of fans has a lot of reasons to believe they are going to win. While I definitely see advantages for each team, I also see a lot of factors cancelling each other out. Here are the five reasons that the Super Bowl is a true toss up:
1. Quarterback experience (or lack thereof)
Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick are both having historically great postseasons. Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick are also both making their first Super Bowl appearance, and I don’t see a reason to think either one should be assumed to have an easier time. Flacco has 3 more years in the league and boasts an impressive 8-4 postseason record, but he has had his share of playoff failures.
Kaepernick is in the midst of his (partial) first season as a starter, but his magnificent play is impossible to overlook. Kaepernick may almost be a rookie starting in the Super Bowl, but no team has figured out a way to slow his offense down. Flacco is a veteran who could seize his moment in the spotlight, but it would not be surprising if either player underperformed.
The Harbowl is sure to bring sibling dynamics to the big game that have never been seen before, but it shouldn’t give either coach the advantage. An identical experience dynamic exists between the Harbaugh brothers and the Super Bowl quarterbacks: John is coaching his Ravens to his fifth postseason in five years as head man, and Jim is enjoying great success in only his second season as coach. John Harbaugh may have much more playoff experience, but with the 49ers’ instant leap to the NFL’s elite in the short time under their fiery head coach, it would be insane to doubt this man.
If I was to build my team around any NFL defense, I would more than likely choose the 49ers. In the Super Bowl, I’m very hesitant to give them an advantage. The playoffs are all about what’s happening now, and the Ravens’ D is playing as well as anyone. If they can make life difficult for Tom Brady at home, they are more than capable of disrupting Colin Kaepernick. As good as the 49ers defense is, teams can still move the ball on them. San Francisco shut down Atlanta in the second half of the NFC Championship, but they looked overmatched for the first thirty minutes. Like the previous two categories, predicting the success of both defenses is a true toss up.
4. Pass Catchers
That carefully-worded title was crafted to include tight ends, who both play a huge role in their respective offenses. Vernon Davis is a freak of nature who can become unstoppable at any moment, but Ravens TE Dennis Pitta has consistently been making plays in the postseason. Baltimore possesses arguably the 2013 playoffs’ most dangerous downfield threat in Torrey Smith, and he is coupled with the always-reliable Anquan Boldin. Going against them for San Francisco are Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss, and it’s extremely difficult to pick an advantage here. Both units have exploded at times and remained dormant at others, so heading into Sunday, it’s impossible to say what type of performance we’ll see on both sides.
5. Both teams have a chip on their shoulder
The easiest and most common motivational tool in sports is “us against the world,” and it is certain that both Super Bowl teams have this mentality. The Ravens had a solid-but-unspectacular regular season that saw them head into the playoffs with low expectations, and they have used that to fuel them in their postseason run. Jim Harbaugh always has his 49ers fighting the haters, and this year San Francisco flew under the radar for how good they were. The 49ers were criticized by many for changing quarterbacks partway through the season, and a few poor games had some critics wondering if they were built for a Super Bowl run. Regardless of how much respect both teams have earned, they will undoubtedly continue to play the disrespected card until the finish.