We can't say for sure if the best two teams are playing in this year's Super Bowl, as it is true on "any given Sunday" the other team may have won. But I will say this: these are the two toughest teams in pro football.
The 49ers beat a good Falcons team with a quarterback in Matt Ryan that, going into the game, was 37- 6 in the Georgia Dome and the team was the least penalized in football, breaking an NFL record of fewest penalties in the 2012 season.
The Ravens were very similar. Since he has been with New England, Bill Belichick has never lost to a single team twice in one season but now he has. Tom Brady was 67-0 leading at halftime and now is 67-1.
How did both teams do it? I say mental, physical and emotional toughness had a lot to do with it.
Mental is the sense of always focusing on the goal no matter the situation. For the 49ers, that was staying confident even though they were down by 17. And the trio of Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White was killing their defensive backs.
For the Ravens, it was not letting the reality of playing the best offense in points scored by over 100 to the nearest competitor influence their belief that they could win. Holding the Patriots to 13 points was a major accomplishment, especially in red zone dominance.
Emotional toughness was evident in both teams. The longer the game went on the more of the intense emotions were on the side of 49ers and Ravens. Whether you like Ray Lewis or not, and many still question 12 years ago, the way he plays enhances the energy of others. For the 49ers, it may not be so much emotional energy as maturity. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be making his 10th start in this year's Super Bowl, yet he acts like a 10 year starter. Knowing what I know about pressure and NFL football, what he has done and how he has done it is remarkable.
Physical toughness was easy to see. The longer the game went on for the 49ers the more they ponded Frank Gore with success. San Francisco has a very complex, but at the same time aggressive, run-blocking system and it's much more than just the 'read option ' and its benefits. Guards pull, tackles pull and everyone moves 100 miles an hour to create tough down field collisions. In the second half, the 49ers took over the line of scrimmage physically and completely.
When Bernard Pollard knocked out Stevan Ridley it was over. Now, was it helmet-to-helmet? Yes, that was visually evident, but the only thing I can think is the referee interpreted it as a football play with not intent to injure. Pollard himself took enough of a blow that given a different angle it could have been Ridley that knocked Pollard out. It was documented on television that Pollard has now taken out Tom Brady when Pollard was with the Chiefs, Wes Welker when he was a Texan, Rob Gronkowski, and now Ridley. Four Patriots by one player. Point being; he physically imposed his will on another in a key moment and it change the game.
Super Bowl XLVII will be a tough guy game - whoever is tougher wins. The teams are amazingly similar with the only difference being Kaepernick is an extreme athlete while Joe Flacco is a good one. And that may be all it takes for San Francisco to win by three because before you can impose your will on another, you got to catch them. Pollard did on Ridley - can others on the Ravens do the same to Kaepernick? It is tough to catch a gazelle playing quarterback. The hype begins and increases day by day. Football at its best in the United States.