|Colin Kaepernick's upside could help the 49ers return to the Super Bowl in 2014. (US Presswire)|
Getting back to the Super Bowl is one of the most difficult challenges in sports. Only one team -- the New England Patriots -- has done it since 2000. Baltimore and San Francisco will have a chance to do it next season. So which Harbaugh brother has the better shot of leading his team back to the big game?
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3 reasons why the 49ers have a better chance than the Ravens to play in Super Bowl XLVIII
Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers' second-year quarterback led them to the Super Bowl this season despite only starting seven regular-season games. Kaepernick went 5-2 in those seven starts while throwing for 1,608 yards and 10 touchdowns. If NFL defenses don't catch up to Kaepernick and the 49ers' pistol offense, San Francisco could be looking at a return trip to the Super Bowl.
A healthy Justin Smith. Smith said on Jan. 30 that he plans to play through the end of his contract, which expires after 2013. That's good news for the 49ers' defense and specifically linebacker Aldon Smith. A. Smith had 19.5 sacks in San Francisco's first 13 games, but hasn't gotten one since J. Smith injured his triceps in mid-December. A healthy J. Smith should mean big things for the 49ers defense.
The Ravens' schedule: San Francisco may be the better bet to get to the Super Bowl next season for one big reason: Baltimore might not make the playoffs next year. Seven of the Raven 16 games next season are against teams that made the playoffs this year, including New England, Green Bay, Houston, Cincinnati (twice), Minnesota and at Denver.
3 reasons why the Ravens have a better chance than the 49ers to play in Super Bowl XLVIII
Joe Flacco. Flacco and his agent Joe Linta think he's a top-5 quarterback, and lately Flacco has played like it. Flacco is expected to get a hefty raise during the offseason, and if the money doesn't go to Flacco's head, there's no reason to think he can't lead Baltimore back to the big game.
The wide open NFC. Repeating as NFC champion has proven to be almost impossible lately, with the Green Bay Packers the last team to do so and that was more than 15 years ago (1996-97). Repeating in the AFC isn't exactly easy, but it has happened twice since the Packers repeated, with the Broncos (1997-98) and Patriots (2003-04) repeating as AFC champions.
Ray Rice. With Ray Lewis retiring and the Ravens' defense aging, the Baltimore offense is going to have to carry the team more heading into 2013. Besides Flacco, one of the big keys to the Ravens' offensive success is Rice. Baltimore went 6-2 in games where Rice rushed for 97 yards or more, including this season's playoffs.
Although both teams have the key players in place to make a return run to the Super Bowl, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas give the early edge to San Francisco.
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