As far as Super Bowl runs go, I like to believe they all occur in their own dramatic fashion unique to the team's history and makeup. The way the Giants won in 2007 against the undefeated Patriots. Ray Lewis leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory, backboned by defense and Lewis leaving with the Pete Rozelle Trophy. And last year we saw Aaron Rodgers' dismantling of the Steelers defense to climb out of Brett Favre's shadow once and for all - a throwback to Steve Young's '94 win against the San Diego Chargers.
Taking a step back and examining Super Bowl history, even in recent years, there have been some real storybook settings. So, if one were to predict who might play in this year's Super Bowl and furthermore, who may win it, one could get lost in the possibilities. As we know, it's down to the final four with the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots duking it out in the AFC, and the San Francisco 49ers taking on the New York Giants in the NFC.
These are the match-ups, as I have attached a rating system of 1-5 stars (1 being the worst).
1. San Francisco 49ers vs. New England Patriots ***
This would be a dynamite game for so many reasons. What Jim Harbaugh has tried to instill in the 49ers is professionalism and each man doing his job; a very similar formula to Bill Belichick's direction in New England. Harbaugh is setting himself up to have the next dynasty in the NFL, like Belichick has done with the Pats.
The game itself would be a collision of wills and game philosophy. Additionally, you have the one enigma that the league has not been able to disarm, which is the tight end situation in New England. The Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have been terrorizing defenses this year, but they'd be facing two All-Pro inside linebackers in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Not to mention, that hard-hitting over the top help from Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. It would be a terrific offense versus an outstanding defense, with Alex Smith filling in the middle.
2. New York Giants vs. New England Patriots ****
The Rematch. This game would be as tense as any 1990's action movie featuring Keanu Reeves. There is bad blood between these two teams and Tom Brady and Belichick would no doubt like to get revenge on New York. If the Patriots advance, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that those two were rooting for the Giants because they would want to A) Not face San Francisco and B) Get their payback on the grandest stage.
The Giants already defeated the Patriots in New England this year, but in 2007, the Giants lost to the Patriots in the regular season before beating them for the Lombardi Trophy. It would be interesting to these two teams get after it. Eli Manning is lethal right now, and the Patriots defense isn't what it was in '07 - Manning could feasibly beat Brady at his own game.
3. San Francisco 49ers vs. Baltimore Ravens *****
The Superbaugh. After four years in the playoffs, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh gets to his first Super Bowl and he has to play his brother's team. This game would also be a rematch of a regular season game that took place on Thanksgiving; a very entertaining, close and physical game. However, Ray Lewis didn't play in that primetime game. It would be great to see a game where either Willis or Lewis is on the field at all times.
The 49ers finished last year with a 6-10 record, came in with a shortened offseason, saw some departures and new arrivals, installed a new system and welcomed an entirely new coaching staff for the most part. They had no hope and no one believed in them but each other. It was a Remember the Titans kind of bonding that transformed into synchronous play on the field.
In addition to that, most of us were currently under the belief that this is a passing league where powerhouse offenses rule the field. Ravens vs. 49ers is everything that contradicts that. It is the perfect, ‘No, that's not true' to everyone who says you need a Tom Brady, a Drew Brees or an Aaron Rodgers to win a Super Bowl. Yes, those are guys who have won Super Bowls, but you don't need them to get the job done. Like Harbaugh and Co. have said all year, "there's a lot of different ways to win a football game."
4. New York Giants vs. Baltimore Ravens ***
The Rematch II. Most people don't remember who lost the Super Bowl, but when the Ravens won it in 2000, it was the Giants who went down. However, that was 12 years ago and most of the teams players have come and gone - besides Ray Ray of course. These are two balanced teams and it would be an excellent match-up, but as far as storylines, it wouldn't be as big a stage as The Rematch or The Superbaugh.
I would personally like to see Ray Lewis and Ed Reed get Super Bowl rings before they retire. Reed is perhaps the greatest safety of all time; easily of our generation. But if it has to come at the expense of the 49ers, they're going to have to wait. I think the most compelling match-up that could possibly take place is the one between the Ravens and 49ers.
These teams are so similarly built and even ran by brothers born only 15-months apart; it'd be a historical moment in sports. It would be the first time brothers have ever head coached against one another in the Super Bowl. They broke the barrier this season when they were the first to coach against each other in the regular season.
What match-up do you think would set the biggest stage?
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