Colin Kaepernick's performance in his first Super Bowl. The 49ers quarterback has proved to be a multi-dimensional demon in the playoffs thus far. During the divisional game against the Green Bay Packers, Kaepernick rushed for a record-setting 181 yards; in the NFC Championship he completed 16 of 21 pass attempts for 233 yards and a touchdown to help lead the Niners back from a 17-point deficit.
But despite his seeming imperviousness to big-game pressure, Kaepernick is still only a second-year pro, and the Super Bowl will be, remarkably, just his his tenth game as a starter. Will he be able to perform under the glare of the biggest stage in football, if not pro sports?
The play of Ray Lewis in his last Super Bowl. The Ravens' Lewis says this will be his last game, ending what is likely to be a Hall of Fame career. The 37-year-old linebacker is making a bid to go out on top: his 25 tackles have been the most among NFL defenders in the playoffs. Can Lewis muster one last highlight-worthy performance and stop Kaepernick and the 49ers offense?
The 49ers secondary vs. Joe Flacco and the Ravens passing attack. The Ravens' Flacco is the leading quarterback in the playoffs with 853 yards passing and eight touchdowns. His No. 1 target - wide receiver Anquan Boldin - is the playoffs' leading receiver with 276 yards and three TDs. They'll face a 49ers secondary that gave up 396 yards passing to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. The Falcons had two 100-yard receivers: Julio Jones (182 yards) and Roddy White (100 yards). Can the 49ers defenders tighten up their play and stop the Ravens from taking successfully to the air?
IF YOU HAVE 15 MINUTES...
Read this preview of the game by Associated Press Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The San Francisco 49ers never have tasted defeat in a Super Bowl, going 5-0. It's the most impressive mark for any franchise in the big game.
Baltimore also is undefeated, with the Ravens winning their only appearance, in 2001.
Someone will have the Super Bowl blahs for the first time after Sunday's title game in the Superdome.
The Ravens (13-6) are on one of those runs reminiscent of recent NFL champions. Indeed, the New York Giants reached the Super Bowl a year ago in a similar manner, winning a wild-card game at home, then two playoffs on the road, including an overtime thriller.
The Giants got healthy down the stretch, something the Ravens have replicated, particularly on defense where star linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs are giving vintage performances following injury-shortened seasons.
"I believe we have found a way to believe in each other, and nothing else matters," said Lewis, who will retire after the game. "That is one thing about our sideline. When we are on our sideline, there is only one thing that matters, when this game ends, we will be victorious, and everybody believes the same thing. That's what's been our road, no matter who's been up, who's been down, who's been hurt, who's been injured. We found a way to pick each other up."
Baltimore's path to New Orleans led through New England, where the Ravens fell to the Patriots in last year's AFC title game. But they outscored the Patriots 21-0 in the second half to earn their spot in the Super Bowl.
San Francisco (13-4-1) also came up one win short a year ago, losing to the Giants for the NFC championship. That defeat has driven the 49ers just as much as the Ravens' failure in 2011 lifted them.
These Niners are built around a physical, stingy defense - that also has been the Ravens' persona for years, although not as much in 2012 as in Lewis' other 17 pro seasons. Linebacker Patrick Willis, who like Lewis wears No. 52 and is a perennial All-Pro, is the anchor.
"As a kid, you grew up watching," Willis said. "Just to have the opportunity to be able to play in this game given my first four years (out of the playoffs), we were at home at this time watching other teams play. Last year we were one game away. To be able to be here, is truly special."
To make it extra special, San Francisco's offense will need to outdo Baltimore's. The Ravens have scored 90 points in three games, and the Niners have 73 in two.
Baltimore's defense has made big plays against Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Now it gets an entirely different type of quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. His combination of running skill, powerful arm and surprising cool for a second-year pro makes him particularly dangerous against the Ravens. Baltimore does not have the fastest defense in the league.
Then again, the 49ers must deal with Joe Flacco, the only QB to win a postseason game in each of his first five seasons. Flacco also has six road playoff victories, a league record.
He's also outplayed Brady, the most successful quarterback of the last dozen seasons, in two straight AFC title games.
But he has his critics because this is his first Super Bowl trip in five tries.
"I think there is definitely a part of all of us that hear things and when somebody doubts what you want to do, you definitely go show them that they may be wrong," he said. "I think for the most part we play for each other and that stuff is kind of a secondary issue."
While the Ravens and 49ers play for each other, the Harbaugh brothers, John of the Ravens and Jim of the 49ers, will go against each other in the first Super Bowl featuring sibling head coaches. They've had fun with the topic this week, but it will be as serious as football can get on Sunday.
IF YOU HAVE AN HOUR...
Kick back, relax and get a thorough preview of the game from KQED's Forum program. On Jan. 22 Forum hosted an hour-long discussion about the Super Bowl with Ann Killion, sports columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle; Bob Lange, director of public relations for 49ers; Kevin Lynch, who covers the 49ers for SFGate.com; and Mark Purdy, sports columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and Bay Area News Group. Click play below to listen.