Their Thanksgiving night clash, with the Ravens hosting the 49ers, was one of the more emotional games of the regular season, and obviously was an incredibly memorable week for the Harbaugh family. Can you imagine what the week leading up to the Super Bowl would be if John Harbaugh was taking on his little brother, Jim?
Darlington: Fantastic Four
If those two teams lose, then we'd have a rematch from the Super Bowl of just a few years ago -- Giants against Patriots. New York peaking late in the season to fight its way into the playoffs in Week 17. That ferocious New York pass rush getting another shot at Tom Brady, or vice versa. Eli Manning getting the chance to win one more Super Bowl than his big brother. Tom Coughlin perhaps going off into the sunset a champion, facing off against another former Bill Parcells assistant, Bill Belichick. Who would be the David Tyree this time around?
A Giants-Ravens meeting would be a Super Bowl reunion as well, albeit one from a bit more than a decade ago. Ray Lewis has talked about perhaps retiring after a second ring, but facing Eli and these young receivers this time would be a lot different than the Kerry Collins-led Giants the Ravens took care of back in the day.
And a 49ers-Patriots meeting would give us Alex Smith, reborn, trying to outlast a truly elite QB for the third straight week -- he would have outlasted Drew Brees and Eli to get to the big game -- and any team led to the Super Bowl by a rookie head coach is going to generate a fair amount of subplots.
Odds and ends
» Baffling clock management from Baltimore: Whether Joe Flacco checked into a pass play or not, there is no way the Ravens can be throwing on second-and-5 inside field-goal range nursing a four-point lead with about three minutes to play and Houston with two timeouts. Especially on a day when the pass game suffered and the Ravens were picking up five-yard chunks on the ground at times in the second half. They should have left the Texans without timeouts, or bled at least another 90 seconds off the clock. But the misfire to Anquan Boldin on a slant led to another pass play on third down, and though the field goal was good, that clock management was baffling. It's the kind of sequence that has had Cam Cameron under fire the past two years, but the Ravens continue to play deep into January every year, which leaves the list of potential replacements pretty thin by the time team management gets the chance to really make changes. Baltimore will need a much better offensive outing against the Patriots, but having made two AFC Championship Games in Harbaugh's first four seasons, the reality is it would be difficult to make a coordinator switch a week from now, if that's when the season ends. ...
» Pivotal moment came early in San Fran: I thought the Saints-49ers game really turned when Pierre Thomas was knocked out. That huge hit -- which seemed to be helmet-to-helmet to me -- set the tone, the Saints fumbled, New Orleans had to chase the game rather than force Alex Smith to do so (at least until the final drive), and San Francisco's physicality carried the day. In a game with so many twists and turns, I thought that hit inside the 5-yard line was huge. ...
» Ravens will have hands full vs. Patriots: As for the Patriots, when they target those two young tight ends as much as they did Saturday night, I don't know who can stop it. Ray Lewis will have his hands full in coverage, and if Terrell Suggs can't get back to his magna cum laude status at Balls So Hard University (because Sunday he looked like a high-school dropout for much of the game), then the Ravens might not stand a chance. They have to pester Brady repeatedly and attack the edges in the run game. Period.