The 49ers are making their first appearance in the Super Bowl since Jan. 29, 1995. Their dramatic turnaround from 6-10 in 2010 to consecutive appearances in the NFC title game and now a Super Bowl is complete.
Meanwhile, the Ravens have flirted with this opportunity for several years, making the AFC title game three times since 2008 but not winning it until this season.
The clubs have several similarities, and they go well beyond coaches who are brothers and got on each other's nerves as kids. The blue-collar, physical mentality of both teams is evident in their on-field demeanors. Both thrive on power running games, spearheaded by Frank Gore (49ers) and Ray Rice (Ravens). And they have two of the better young quarterbacks in the game — though San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Baltimore's Joe Flacco couldn't be more different.
These teams' adaptability is also notable. Both can let it fly and light up the scoreboard, but they have the ability to go old-school, too, and play conservatively.
This is a game where, truly, anything is possible.
Who has the edge?
The toughest call of all. The Ravens' Joe Flacco is red hot. The 49ers' Colin Kaepernick is revolutionary. The option-run variable probably makes Kaepernick harder to defend, but Flacco is much more experienced with an 8-4 record in the postseason.
How to choose between the Ravens' Ray Rice and 49ers' Frank Gore? Both are dual-purpose threats with powerful running styles. But if there's a difference in the backfield, it's Bernard Pierce (532 yards), who gives the Ravens the better 1-2 punch.
Both teams have numerous weapons, but Baltimore's depth — including Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta — and superior production win out. The 49ers' drop-off after receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis is significant.
The stability and continuity on the 49ers' line along with the fact it's anchored by second-team All-Pro left tackle Joe Staley, are important factors in this game. In addition, the Ravens have overachieved after injuries and a reshuffling of their line entering the playoffs.
This is an area of strength for both teams, but the way Justin Smith has played this season tips the scale toward San Francisco. He tied for fourth among defensive linemen with 66 tackles.
Check out the talent: Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman for the 49ers and Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs for the Ravens. But the Niners are younger and healthier (though Lewis doesn't look the least bit slowed by October's torn triceps).
The Ravens' pass defense stats were rather average except for one: 14 touchdown passes, second-fewest allowed in the NFL. But the 49ers are deep with solid cornerbacks and Pro Bowl safeties in Dashon Goldston and Donte Whitner.
This is the 49ers' biggest weakness. David Akers has missed 14 of his past 38 field goals. The career 81 percent kicker made just 69 percent in the regular season and missed a 38-yarder in the NFC title game. Rookie Justin Tucker is 32-of-35, including 2-for-2 in the playoffs.
It's difficult. But Jim Harbaugh is, arguably, a bigger factor in the 49ers' success than brother John is in the Ravens' success. Plus, the decision to start Colin Kaepernick at quarterback was pure genius, and he has brainiac offensive coordinator Greg Roman on his side.