This year’s Super Bowl looks to be the most evenly matched in years.
Both the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers made major mid-season moves, went through adversity leading up to the playoffs and defied the odds in the postseason to reach New Orleans.
The sides now square off this Sunday, 3 February, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the Vince Lombardi trophy. The contest will be aired on CBS from 6.30pm.
Similarities between the teams also extend to their personnel. They are coached by two brothers in Baltimore’s John and San Fran’s Jim Harbaugh. They rely on a stout run game and strong running backs in the Ravens’ Ray Rice and the Niners’ Frank Gore. Their quarterbacks, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and San Fran’s Colin Kaepernick, are one title away from establishing their names in the sport.
The three biggest differences between them, that should decide Sunday’s contest, are defence, leadership and momentum. San Fran would appear to be the clear favourites on the defensive side of the ball as they ranked near the top in most statistical categories and, to a degree, they stifled Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers and Matt Ryan’s Atlanta Falcons this postseason.
By contrast, Baltimore’s defence was unusually pedestrian, ranking around the middle of the pack. In the playoffs, the Ravens redeemed themselves with an impressive win over Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. A key side note is that the Ravens were decimated during the regular season by injuries to two of its biggest stars in Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis.
In fact, Lewis, 37, is the reason why Baltimore gets the nod in the leadership and momentum departments. The former Miami Hurricane’s controversial and fiery nature on and off the field has defined the team for 17 years, with his resolve steadying Flacco and company.
It’s no secret Lewis sparked the team’s Super Bowl run, which included a victory over Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos, after recovering from a torn triceps injury and announcing his retirement earlier this month. Granted, that inspiring journey has been tainted by reports claiming he used a performance-enhancing drug in deer antler spray.
To be fair, San Fran has done well to rally around relative newcomers in Kaepernick and Harbaugh, with veterans like Vernon Davis and Justin Smith steadying the team on both offence and defence. The Niners also had an inspiring run to the Super Bowl as they rose above the removal of Alex Smith at quarterback and produced a remarkable comeback victory over the Falcons in the playoffs.
Ultimately, most pigskin lovers in Cayman have their hopes on Baltimore sending Lewis out a winner for the second time. Odds are Lewis will appease locals by hoisting the Lombardi trophy after a six-point Baltimore victory in New Orleans.