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San Francisco 49ers: The Road To the Super Bowl
5 time Super Bowl Champions, the San Francisco 49ers will compete in the Super Bowl for the first time in 17 years on Sunday 3rd February.
The 49ers started the 2012 campaign Alex Smith as their starting quarterback, with him impressing early on with a dominating 30-22 victory over one of the early season favourites, the Green Bay Packers.
Smith and the 49ers raced to a 6-2 start and looked like one of the strongest teams in the NFL. However, after their bye week in week 9, they faced the St. Louis Rams in the week 10 matchup. This game ended in a very rare tie.
However, it would be the turning point of the 49ers season as Alex Smith was concussed during the game and forced to miss the week 11 game against the inform Chicago Bears. Colin Kaepernick started at quarterback in Smith absence, making this his first career start in his second season. Kaepernick produced one of the finest debuts in quarterback history.
Smith was fit and healthy to face another in form team in week 12, the New Orleans Saints. However, Jim Harbaugh made the controversial decision to bench Smith in favour of Kaepernick. At the time, Smith had the third highest quarterback rating in the NFL with 104.1 and was enjoying his finest season to date. Kaepernick led the 49ers to a commanding 31-21 victory over the Saints.
Kaepernick continued his fine form and led the 49ers to the playoffs and the second seed in the NFC with an 11-4-1 record.
However, Kaepernick silenced any doubts that he was not the right choice at quarterback, in the NFC divisional matchup against the Green Bay Packers. He set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback by amassing a staggering 181 yards and two touchdowns as well as throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns. The 181 rushing yards also set a 49ers postseason rushing record by a player in any position. The 49ers finished the game by demolishing the Packers 45-31.
The NFC Conference championship game between the 49ers and Atlanta Falcons was a rollercoaster ride for both teams, with the Falcons racing to a 17-0 lead. Going in to the second half the 49ers defence tightened up and they established a much better running game, led by Frank Gore. With the Falcons unable to do much with the ball, the running and passing game routed the Falcons defence and guided the 49ers to a 28-24 victory.
The 49ers are arguably going in to the Super Bowl as favourites, however, they will have to have a strong start against the Ravens, as if the Ravens establish an early lead like the Falcons did the Ravens are unlikely to let them back in the game.
The 49ers have had one of the strongest defences all season in the NFL, Frank Gore has consistently been one of the finest running backs in the NFL and with the new dimension that Colin Kaepernick brings, and the 49ers will be very tough to beat.
Baltimore Ravens: The Road To the Super Bowl
Baltimore Ravens: The Road To the Super Bowl
The Baltimore Ravens are heading to the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years, one year after their seasons heart breaking loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
The Ravens started the season with a 30 point victory over divisional rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals. They continued their early fine form by racing to a 5-1 record after the week 6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, giving them their best start to a season since their Super Bowl winning campaign in 2000.
However, Ray Lewis injured his bicep during this game and would not return until the playoffs, which would result in a dip of form for the Ravens.
The Ravens looked like one of the strongest teams in the AFC until they faced the Houston Texans in the week 7 matchup, where they were humiliated in a 42-13 lost, there biggest of the season. However, the Ravens bounced back to win their next four games, giving them a 9-2 record.
With the increasing injury list mounting up for the Ravens, they suffered successive defeats to fall to 9-4. With the offense misfiring, the Ravens sacked their offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron and replaced him with former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach, Jim Caldwell. Despite this, the Ravens still misfired on offense and their defence was not looking as strong as early on in the season, with the gaping hole left by Ray Lewis, becoming more evident with each game. The Ravens finished the season 10-6.
Despite the relative poor finish to the end of the season, the Ravens finished top of the AFC South division and secured home field advantage in the wild card playoff game against the Colts. Leading up to the game, Ray Lewis announced that he would be fit and ready to play, however, after 17 seasons, he would retire at the end of the season.
The Ravens dominated their wild card game and came out 24-9 winners over the colts, with their defence not allowing a single touchdown all game.
The following week, in the divisional game, the Ravens faced the Denver Broncos in arguably one of the finest games in NFL history. Trailing by 7 points with 30 seconds to go, Joe Flacco threw a Hail Mary pass to Jacoby Jones for a touchdown to force overtime. Overtime was no less dramatic, with the first period ending scoreless, the Ravens intercepted Peyton Manning to set up the game winning field goal, to win 38-35.
Their Conference championship game was a repeat of the 2012 Conference championship game against the New England Patriots. After the Patriots dominated the first half, they went in to half time with a 13-7 lead. However, the Lewis inspired Ravens came out and never gave the Patriots a look in, winning 28-13.
The Ravens have hit form when they most needed it, in the playoffs. They have virtually no significant injuries going in to the Super Bowl and with Ray Lewis seemingly destined to finish his illustrious career with another Super Bowl ring; the Ravens are going to be a hard team to beat.
The only guarantee for the Ravens going in to the matchup with the San Francisco 49ers is that Ray Lewis is going to play his hardest and no one his team is going to want to let him down.
Like all roads to the Super Bowl, there have been their ups and downs; the whole of Baltimore will hope there are no more bumps left.