NEW ORLEANS -- The key to winning Super Bowl XLVII? ¶ At an event that churns out more clichés than any other, we refer to one of the oldest: ¶ "Big-time players make big-time plays in big games." ¶ It will be as true Sunday when the 49ers face the Baltimore Ravens in the Superdome as it was on Jan. 15, 1967, when the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Super Bowl I. ¶ With that in mind, a look at some names that won't be lining up across from each other but will help decide the NFL champion by outperforming their counterparts.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Joe Flacco
How will Kaepernick fare on the grand stage? He won his first start on a Monday night and has beaten Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, rallying from a 17-0 deficit in the NFC Championship game. Three of those wins were on the road. Flacco has eight touchdowns and no interceptions in three postseason games, during which time he has sent home Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Brady. His skill as a deep passer may be unequaled.
Kaepernick's ability to run forces the Ravens to defend 11 players instead of just 10, and his passing skills have wildly exceeded expectations. Flacco, like any dropback passer, is susceptible to pressure.
Frank Gore vs. Ray Rice
Gore has 209 yards and three touchdowns in two postseason games, taking advantage of inside-read option runs with Kaepernick a threat outside. His forward progress is a big reason the 49ers lead the NFL with 4 or more yards on 54.8 percent of their regular-season snaps. Rice, like Gore, is a reliable table-setter for the Baltimore offense (82.3 yards rushing per game in the postseason) and rarely has negative yardage plays.
Rice has traits similar to Stephen Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, running backs who broke 100 yards on the 49ers this season. He also is a better and more dangerous receiver than Gore, with 61 regular-season receptions.
Patrick Willis vs. Ray Lewis
Willis enjoyed another routinely excellent season with 120 tackles, second to NaVorro Bowman's 149, and his passion without histrionics and ability to defend both run and pass makes him the 49ers' most versatile defender. All Lewis has done in three postseason games is make 44 tackles and been the inspiration for Baltimore's run to an AFC championship after returning from a torn triceps.
As Lewis' career comes to an end Sunday, Willis is the better player. But Lewis plays in a defense that funnels everything in his direction, and he is intent on playing the game of his life before bowing out.
Michael Crabtree vs. Anquan Boldin
Crabtree blossomed into one of the NFL's top playmakers in his fourth season, totaling 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns. His ability to snag Kaepernick fastballs has earned the trust of the quarterback. Boldin (65 receptions, 921 yards) is most dangerous as a brutish run-and-catch receiver, a good move-the-chains complement to outside burner Torrey Smith.
Crabtree is at the peak of his game and should have less trouble getting free against Baltimore corners Corey Graham and Cary Williams than the still effective but aging Boldin will against Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown.
Ed Reed vs. Dashon Goldson
Reed may be in his final season in a Hall of Fame career with the Ravens. His eight postseason interceptions put him one behind Ronnie Lott, Bill Simpson and Charlie Waters in NFL history. At age 34, he makes up for declining physical skills with instinct and anticipation. Goldson is younger and faster, and like Reed, has a knack for hits that draw the attention of officials and the league office.
Reed at times struggles with open-field tackling -- he got run over by Darrius Heyward-Bey in a regular-season game against the Raiders and removed himself from the game. Goldson excels both as a hitter and a tackler.
Aldon Smith vs. Terrell Suggs
Smith hasn't had a sack in five games -- the last three in regular-season and both postseason games. Factors have included Justin Smith playing at less than 100 percent with a torn triceps, extra attention from opposing blocking schemes and a shoulder injury. Suggs, who has 12 playoff sacks, missed the first six games of the season while recovering from an Achilles tear and later had a biceps injury, limiting him to eight games.
With two weeks to heal, both of the 49ers' Smiths should be the better for it, and Aldon is at his best (19.5 regular-season sacks) when Justin is crushing the pocket. Suggs concedes he is at something less than 100 percent.
Vernon Davis vs. Dennis Pitta
Davis re-emerged with five receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons but for long stretches has been a forgotten man in the 49ers' passing game whether the quarterback was Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick. Pitta, with 61 regular-season receptions, has become a go-to receiver for Flacco when locating open areas in the middle of the field.
Davis is the physically superior player and more liable to break a game open, but with Bernard Pollard at strong safety, expect Kaepernick to look elsewhere as he has done most of the season.
Jim Harbaugh vs. John Harbaugh
The brothers share the same philosophy, but they go about things in a different way. Jim, an ex-NFL quarterback, is heavily involved with that position and has technical input on offense to assist coordinator Greg Roman. John, a former special teams coach with Philadelphia, is more of a facilitator and concerned with the overall product. John made the bold move of firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in December, and Flacco has flourished in the Ravens offense ever since.
They have the look of the NFL's best and most creative team, particularly in the way they retooled the offense on the fly to suit Kaepernick.