The Ravens and 49ers will face off in Super Bowl XLVII because they are the best teams in January. In today's NFL, the playoffs press the restart button. These two teams deserve to be on the big stage, setting up an intriguing Super Bowl matchup. Here's our first look ahead.
1. The Ravens' defense can use the week off. The unit has averaged more than 85 plays per game over the last three weeks. It essentially has played an extra full game over that span. This is a largely veteran group that could use the time to get fresh for a physical game.
2. Oh, it will be physical. There should be more hitting in this matchup than any championship game in a long time. That's something to look forward to.
3. Ray Lewis will receive a lot of attention over the next two weeks -- and deservedly so. But another all-time great might be playing his last game. Ravens safety Ed Reed has openly contemplated retirement many times. Couldn't you imagine him going out on top with Lewis if Baltimore wins?
4. The 49ers have the best overall coaching staff in the league. They are the toughest to prepare for because they do so many different things well and mix up their formations on both sides of the ball. It's an advantage for the Ravens that they faced San Francisco last year on Thanksgiving, not to mention John Harbaugh should be familiar with what the 49ers do because his brother, Jim, is their coach. Both coordinators in San Francisco (Vic Fangio and Greg Roman) once were Baltimore staffers.
5. The quarterback matchup is fascinating. This is the first Super Bowl since the 2002 season without one of the Mannings, Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger. Either Joe Flacco or Colin Kaepernick will be a Super Bowl champion in two weeks. Kaerpernick has started nine NFL games, and he's the starter on a team favored to win the Super Bowl. The whole Brady-Bledsoe comparison with Kaepernick-Smith doesn't seem as crazy now, does it? (Well, if you ignore Smith's resume vs. Bledsoe's in 2001.)
After New England's implosion, this Super Bowl is filled with new blood and fresh storylines. They might not feel as fresh in two weeks, but this is a matchup with a chance to live up to all the hype.Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.