What should you be watching for when the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers kick off Super Bowl XLVII Sunday night in New Orleans?
Here’s a look at the matchups that should go a long way toward deciding the outcome:
have the ball
When QB Joe Flacco (5) looks out from behind center Matt Birk (77) on Super Bowl Sunday, he could be seeing two things: $$$$, and the fiercest defense he’s faced all season.
Flacco’s contract is up after this game, and while it’s a near cinch the Ravens won’t let the five-year veteran leave, it’s going to cost a few million bucks to keep him. A victory against San Francisco and its bevy of All-Pro defenders would add even more moolah to the pot.
This is one formidable challenge for Flacco because the Niners are more versatile than the defenses presented by Indianapolis, Denver and New England in the postseason.
Start with the league’s best linebacking corps, featuring two All-Pros in Patrick Willis (52) and NaVorro Bowman (53). Aldon Smith (99) is considered a linebacker, but is a hybrid LB-DE and he led the NFC with 19½ sacks. Ahmad Brooks (55) comes off a spectacular second half in Atlanta.
But Flacco and his targets — WRs Anquan Boldin (81) and Torrey Smith (82), TE Dennis Pitta (88) and do-everything RB Ray Rice (27) — should be encouraged by what the Falcons accomplished in the first half. They found seams and gaps everywhere, and the 49ers’ secondary must be stingier this time.
Boldin has been sensational on every route in the postseason (16 catches, 17.3-yard average, 3 TDs). CBs Carlos Rogers (22) and Tarell Brown (25) and Chris Culliver (29) will have a difficult time with the smart, physical Boldin.
Smith can get deep on anybody, so safeties Dashon Goldson (38), an All-Pro, and Donte Whitner (31) have to be sharp. In each playoff game, Smith has gotten open for a long pass, even if it wasn’t a completion.