Baltimore vs. San Francisco
Sunday, Feb. 3, 6:30 p.m. ET, at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans - TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Sims
*Keys to the game: Both offenses have hit their strides during the postseason. For the 49ers, it's the warp speed development of second-year QB Colin Kaepernick running the read-option. His ability to quickly diagnose the defense makes it extremely difficult to commit extra attention to RB Frank Gore between the tackles when the edge defenders have to protect against a breakdown that leads to a big run by Kaepernick. It also creates more man coverage downfield. With WR Michael Crabtree emerging as an elite No. 1 wideout, Kaepernick rediscovered TE Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game. The interesting matchup will be the Ravens' veteran defense that doesn't get fooled often against the dynamic athleticism the 49ers now feature. Baltimore's offense has also kicked into an extra gear. It began with a shuffling of the offensive line to begin the playoffs. While RBs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce remain a critical component on the ground, the Ravens are headed to New Orleans due to QB Joe Flacco. He's making excellent decisions and his strong arm is a major concern for the 49ers, who were torched by Falcons QB Matt Ryan.
*Matchup to watch - Ravens edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger vs. Kaepernick: Atlanta's edge rushers did an excellent job of maintaining their assignments and not allowing Kaepernick to break containment. The problem is, that left gaping holes for Gore to exploit when the Falcons' linebackers weren't able to make one-on-one plays. The 49ers' offense will force Suggs and Kruger to make quick decisions, as Kaepernick is often making the quick read off the right side of the offensive line.
*Player spotlight - Ravens MLB Ray Lewis: Who else? The 17-year veteran is one game away from completing the fairytale ending of riding off into the sunset with a Lombardi Trophy in hand. He's not as fast as he once was, but Lewis' legs have looked fresh since his return from injury and he won't be fooled by anything the 49ers throw at him.
*Fast facts: The 49ers have won all five of their Super Bowl appearances. ... The Ravens' John Harbaugh and the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh will be the first brothers to coach against each other in the Super Bowl.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Harbaugh Bowl. Ray Lewis' final ride. Colin Kaepernick and The Pistol offense. There is no shortage of storylines. End of the day, the 49ers' defense can't play as poorly as it did in the NFC Championship Game, and their offense has looked virtually unstoppable when avoiding turnovers.
*Our pick: 49ers 31-27