The dominant storyline in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl has been all about the Harbaugh family.
But both John and Jim emphasized that the game will be decided by the players on the field, not the coaches on the sidelines.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five player matchups to watch that could be a deciding factor in Super Bowl XLVII:
The 49ers quarterback has been stellar since taking over the starting job midway through the season, and he has all the makings of a potential star. But he’s still learning the demands of playing quarterback in the NFL and has just nine starts behind him. On the opposite side of the line will be future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed, has 61 career interceptions and is motivated by the chance to play in the first Super Bowl of his career. Reed is known as a film nut, and he’s had two weeks to pour over Kaepernick’s game to look for weaknesses. If Reed picks up any of Kaepernick’s tendencies, then he’ll look to take some chances and exploit them. Reed, who leads all active players with eight career playoff interceptions, has been quiet so far in the postseason and hasn’t come up with an interception since Week 13 against the Steelers. In what could possibly be his final game in a Ravens uniform, Reed will be looking to make an impact on the big stage.
As much as Kaepernick has turned the 49ers into a team with an impressive passing game, the foundation of their offense is still driven by Gore and the ground game. Gore has rushed for more than 1,200 yards in back-to-back seasons, and he has 209 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the 49ers’ two playoff games. Lewis’ strength is his ability to play downhill and stuff the run, and he’ll clearly be playing inspired football in his final NFL game. Lewis leads the NFL with 44 tackles this postseason, and he’ll likely have to come up with another big effort to limit Gore’s effectiveness.
The Ravens' path to the Super Bowl has largely been led by Flacco’s right arm. The fifth-year quarterback has been superb in the playoffs, throwing for 853 yards, eight touchdowns, no interceptions and a 114.7 quarterback rating. He’ll get tested against a 49ers defense that ranked fourth-best in the NFL against the pass. Goldson is a leader of the 49ers secondary, as he’s able to roam the middle of the field and also come up with big hits on receivers. Goldson had three interceptions during the regular season and Flacco will have to be wary of him to keep from turning over the football.
Willis is a perennial Pro Bowler and the anchor in the middle of the 49ers defense. But in last year’s Ravens-49ers matchup, Leach got the best of Willis with a crushing block to spring
The 49ers receiver has enjoyed the best season of his career and he’s taken his game to another level since Kaepernick became the starting quarterback. Crabtree has stayed on a roll this postseason, and has 176 receiving yards and two touchdowns so far in the playoffs. He’s the 49ers' top receiving threat, and will likely get matched up against Williams for much of the game. Williams and the Ravens defense are coming off an impressive performance against the Patriots, where they shut out New England’s dynamic passing offense in the second half of the AFC championship. If the Ravens are going to keep the 49ers offense at bay, limiting Crabtree will be critical.