January 25th, 2013 by Nat Coombs
Harbaugh Bowl, Harbowl, Harbaggedon. Let’s face it: the only thing that could add any more “HAR” to Super Bowl XLVII would be the addition of Har Mar Superstar to Beyonce’s Half Time Show. But that’s about as likely to happen as Nicki Minaj being asked back to adjudicate the coin flip.
The brothers Jim & John Harbaugh will square off on Super Sunday in New Orleans, leading out the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens respectively. So whatever happens in terms of the outcome, Jackie & Jack Harbaugh, parents of the two Head Coaches, will be facing a tricky post-game conversation with the losing son. And not for nothing, but wouldn’t it be great if they’d called one (or both of the boys) Jack Jr not least for the confusion that would ensue, Airplane style, around the Thanksgiving table
“Pass the sauce please Jack”
“Jack’s got it”
“No I passed it to Jack”
(Etc. etc., fade till black)
But whilst the battle of the brothers will make for compelling viewing, what of the other key match ups to look out for in Super Bowl XLVII? Here are four more to keep an eye on, all guaranteed to enhance your viewing pleasure!
Joe Flacco vs. The Haters
Flacco is one of those unlucky quarterbacks damned by the depth of quality around him, doomed to spend most of his career as the 14th best QB in the NFL at any given time. Just when he thought Peyton, Brady, Brees & Co. were heading towards the twilight years along come rookies RG3, Luck & Wilson to keep him as perennially MOR as a Michael Bolton & Michael Buble duet.
But now Flacco has a shot at landing the big one – and if he does it’ll be his big arm that will get the credit. No-one has ever doubted Flacco’s ability to air it out, and if the Ravens are going to stand a chance, it’s the balance of a stand out running game from Ray “Way” Rice combined with Flacco’s downfield bombs to Torrey Smith and the world’s hardest man ever, Anquan Boldin. He’s protected the ball well in recent weeks – no pick now in his last five games – and if can silence the doubters not least the ones rattling round his brain, and maintain this steadiness, the Ravens will be close to the promised land.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Ed Reed
Sure, all the attention on the Ravens D will be on Ray Lewis playing his last game, but much of this battle will be won or lost by how much the Ravens can stifle Kaepernick and force pressure on his inexperienced shoulders as early as possible.
He may have stepped up so far since replacing Alex Smith but the former Nevada QB still only has a handful of starts under his belt, and there’s still time for Jim Harbaugh’s big decision to backfire. Wily old safety Ed Reed will be licking his lips in anticipation. Sure, Kaepernick is capable of more destructive play than Smith, which will mean the Ravens D will take him seriously, but he’s green, and if anyone knows how to exploit that, it’s Reed.
David Akers vs. Justin Tucker
So often, it all comes down to one kick to settle it all and 49ers kicker David Akers is in grave danger of being this generation’s Scott Norwood (of Buffalo Bills notoriety), given the form he’s been in.
Akers has missed 14 field goals this season. To put that in perspective, I added myself as kicker in place of him in computer simulation and only missed 15.
Up against him is a rookie – Justin Tucker who went 30 for 33 during the regular season and of course made the clutch 47 yarder against the Broncos in Denver (not an easy place to kick) to send Baltimore to the AFC Championship. But the Super Bowl is an altogether different definition of pressure … so experience may win out over youth here.
Aldon Smith vs. Ravens O-Line
Aldon Smith was on course for the greatest season ever burning through 19.5 sacks in his first 13 starts, but then, much like the career of Chris O’Donnell (Robin to George Clooney’s Batman, remember? See) he disappeared and hasn’t logged one since. Sure, this can be completely linked to the absence of his partner in crime Justin Smith who tore a triceps and was out for a number of weeks.
Justin still isn’t 100%, by all accounts, but if he can start drawing more attention again, Aldon will have a fighting chance at getting in Joe Flacco’s grill.
The Ravens O Line, which will be trying its best to stop him doing that, has had a remarkable transition this year all down to the switching of personnel as the Ravens entered the playoffs. Bryant McKinnie moved to the blindside tackle spot, and Michael Oher swapped to right tackle, whilst rookie Kelechi Osemele was installed at Left Guard. Since then, they’ve been mightily impressive.
Will the early season Aldon show up in New Orleans? Will the newly rebuilt Ravens O-Line stay composed? The answer to that one may well determine which Harbaugh brother gets his hands on the Lombardi trophy and which one gets a cuddle from Mommy, and a manly pat on the back from Pop.
NAT COOMBS, as well as writing for ESPN America on the NFL & MLB, is one of ESPN UK’s studio anchors and also presents NFL Live on Channel 4 in the UK. He is the host of the cult sports podcast Americarnage.
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