So it all boils down to this. You'd probably never have guessed from all the razzmatazz. Still, this year's renewal of the Super Bowl is one that might finally live up to the hype - and I'm not talking about Beyoncé's half-time show.
For while Super Bowl XLVII has a host of fascinating subplots (the last dance of the polarising Ray Lewis, a rare sibling rivalry between head coaches Jim and John Harbaugh to name but two), the really engaging narrative is on the field: the Baltimore Ravens vs the San Francisco 49ers.
Not that you would have necessarily guessed it at the start of the year by taking a look at each outfit's roster. While both teams certainly had the ability to match their lofty Super Bowl aspirations, most of those credentials appeared to reside on the defensive side of the ball.
After all, both the Ravens and the 49ers have prided themselves in recent history on being able to stop the run and break up the pass. And while it's an old Vince Lombardi maxim that defense wins Super Bowls, it appears that the determining performances this term could arrive on offense. That's chiefly due to the emergence of two towering talents at quarterback for each side - one from obscurity, the other from mediocrity.
Joe Flacco is the latter, a man who was chided in the media and even among Ravens fans for daring to declare himself an elite QB at the season's outset. And while Flacco fell shy of such company in the regular season with some trademark erratic efforts, he has once again proved himself different class in the play-offs.
In fact, Flacco has now amassed eight postseason wins (only one behind Tom Brady) and six road victories (the most in league history). He also leads the play-off protagonists with a 114.7 QB rating, posting eight touchdowns and no interceptions. In short, he has minimised the mistakes when it matters most.
A mistake was exactly what many critics thought Jim Harbaugh had made in Week 11 when he benched the experienced Alex Smith in favour of, essentially, an unknown rookie, Colin Kaepernick. Since then CK has led the Niners to a 7-2 record, maintaining a composure in the postseason that refused to dwindle even after San Francisco had tumbled into a 17-point hole in the first half of the NFC Championship Game. Kaepernick stepped up to a 127.7 passer level, completing 76% of his passes for 233 yards, one TD and no picks.
What sets the NFL's new tattooed star apart, though, is his twin-threat versatility. Not only does he have a canon delivery, but he is also possessed of a pacy pair of paws outside the pocket. In an abridged campaign, Kaepernick has already rushed for four of his own touchdowns and racked up 440 yards in solo ground gains.
It's a flexibility which allows him to instinctively adapt as plays unfold. It's also a defense's nightmare, opening up other avenues of attack for the 49ers, as opposition co-ordinators wonder whether Kaepernick is going to fly solo or tag in a teammate. Running back, Frank Gore, was the welcome recipient of two touchdown hand-offs in their last game against Atlanta, when Kaepernick elected not to go it alone.
On the other side of the scrimmage line, San Francisco also look stronger. They have conceded their opponents an average of 17 points per game this season, ranked second in the NFL just behind their NFC West rivals, the Seattle Seahawks. And that's despite having two big blips towards the end of the regular season, giving up 34 to the Pats and then 42 to the Hawks. So while they are by no means impenetrable, they have shored things up again in the postseason.
For all the Ray Lewis debates, eulogies and diatribes, the legendary linebacker's retirement does demonstrate one thing: this Baltimore defense is a long way (in terms of both personnel and time) from the storied wall which withstood who attacked it along the road to Super Bowl success in 2000.
While they have stepped up markedly in the play-offs - Lewis himself nearing the record for postseason tackles - this has been at the price of stamina and injury. No defense has attended more snaps and the Ravens secondary seems a step slower as a result. Granted, they have since enjoyed a fortnight's rest, but their overall physicality is surely short on revs.
Niner Nation should have plenty to cheer, therefore, and I fancy the 49ers to dominate on the meat-and-drink markets. The 1.594/7 on the prosaic money line looks fair, but I also expect San Fran to run out comfortable winners on a paltry field-goal handicap. As for Total Points, look to play the Unders there, too, at a whopping 48.5 points. While conditions inside the Superdome will be perfect for scoring, I expect the Niners to view discretion as the better part of valour once in the lead and cruise home with a ground game that quickly erodes the clock.
Back San Francisco 49ers on the Money Line @ 1.594/7 or better
Back San Francisco 49ers (-3.5 points) on the Match Handicap @ 1.9720/21 or better
Back San Francisco 49ers (-3 points) on the First-Half Point Spread @ 2.0421/20 or better
Back Under 48.5 Total Points @ 1.824/5 or better