NEW ORLEANS -- In the hours after the 49ers bounced Green Bay out of the playoffs, bracingly candid Packers star Charles Woodson realized not only that the better team had won but also understood why.
The 49ers were much bigger, much stronger and much faster.
That begins to explain why the Niners will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and spilling Champagne after their 10-point victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday at the Superdome.
The 49ers are stronger along both lines -- appreciably so if the ferocious Smiths, Justin and Aldon, can overcome their wounds and be halfway effective putting heat on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
This game pits conceivably the NFL's two most physical teams on each side of the ball. Baltimore overwhelmed Indianapolis, and then went on the road to outsmart Denver and beat up New England.
San Francisco overpowered and outsprinted Green Bay, then wore down the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game. The 49ers are that team that makes its presence felt even when stepping off the bus.
"That is the best looking team, physically, that I've ever seen," CBS analyst Shannon Sharpe, a Hall of Fame tight end.
We know San Francisco's defense has been at a championship level for two seasons, but now the offense has caught up. We've seen the rise of dynamic quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the X factor in any game he plays. We've watched the emergence of wide receiver Michael Crabtree. We realize the speed dimension added by wide receiver Randy Moss and rookie running back LaMichael James.
The underplayed but pivotal addition to the offensive unit, though, is guard Alex Boone, the 6-foot-8, 300-pound right guard in his first season as a starter.
"He's kind of come in there and given us our final piece,"center Jonathan Goodwin said of his teammate. "The biggest thing you want from an offensive lineman is consistency, and that's what he's done this year. He hasn't been up or down or anything. He's played well the whole season."
Boone lines up between Goodwin and right tackle Anthony Davis. On the other side is left guard Mike Iupati and tackle Joe Staley. They're good; all five received Pro Bowl recognition. They're sturdy, with all five starting all 18 games. And they're massive, averaging 317 pounds.
"Those guys are really, really dialed in,"offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "They bought in. And they're at the point now where there are five guys that are really functioning as one."
No less than John Madden, a connoisseur of linemen, identified San Francisco's offensive line as the best in the NFL. The analysts at Pro Football Focus agreed.
Haloti Ngata, Baltimore's four-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman, didn't seem to put up an argument.
"They're so big, and they move really well,"he said. "They play well together. With all that size, you see them do a lot of great things."
It's the most decisive edge San Francisco has. Running backs Frank Gore (49ers) and Ray Rice (Ravens) offset each other. Inside linebackers Patrick Willis (49ers) and Ray Lewis (Ravens), both of whom wear No. 52, offset each other. Both teams have outstanding interior linemen, Justin Smith and Ngata.
"We are mirrors of each other,"49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "Our coaches look similar and we have the same type of players, same type of physical players. No. 52 is (a) linebacker on both sides. We are mirrors of each other."
No doubt these teams are, apart from the style of their quarterbacks, very similar. The difference is that the 49ers can beat the Ravens in more ways than the Ravens can beat the 49ers.
For San Francisco's defense is Baltimore's defense, except more athletic. San Francisco's offense is Baltimore's offense, except with Kaepernick as a vastly superior runner. And San Francisco's head coach approximates Baltimore's head coach, only with what seems to be a wider and more strident -- no, maniacal -- competitive streak.
Jim Harbaugh yearns to beat his older brother. And this time he will. Harbaugh and Roman will use that elephantine O-line to shove the Ravens defense and use their especially expanded playbook to create more challenges than Baltimore can meet.
San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke and Harbaugh have built a unit capable of contending for years to come. Try to contain Kaepernick, he beats you with arm or scrambles you into surrender. Drift away from him, he beats you with his feet. Play soft zones to control Moss, only to have tight end Vernon Davis or Crabtree slicing through the heart of the defense. And keep an eye on James as a runner and receiver.
It's a full load of "O,"and it all revolves around that line and the quarterback.
The 49ers will make Baltimore's defense, which has surrendered 29 or more points five times, look gray at the temples.
It adds up to a 31-21 victory, earning the 49ers their first Super Bowl victory in 18 years.