NEW ORLEANS - The Baltimore Ravens' Justin Tucker is the eccentric youngster, a quirky personality that continues to impress teammates, coaches and onlookers with, not only his physical skills, but also a combination of poise and confidence rare for a kicker of his age.
The San Francisco 49ers' David Akers is the seasoned veteran. He's a six-time Pro Bowler. He's the owner, or co-owner, of 10 different NFL records. But he's also the kicker that's struggling right now, enough so that the 49ers signed Billy Cundiff earlier this month to challenge Akers for his job as the team's starting place-kicker.
But 49ers teammates have repeatedly expressed confidence in Akers heading into Super Bowl XLVII, just as members of the Ravens continue to do when asked about Tucker.
"We've got a phrase that we've got, 'Justin Tucker please believe it,'" Baltimore wide receiver Jacoby Jones said. "That's how much confidence we've got in him."
Tucker beat out Cundiff for the Ravens' kicking job - outperforming the veteran Cundiff during both training camp and the preseason - and he's continued to impress during both the regular season and now the playoffs.
Tucker's connected on 32 of his 35 total field goal attempts this season (including the playoffs). His conversion rate of 91 percent during the regular season ranked fourth-best among AFC kickers.
Tucker's made all 17 of his field goal attempts from within 40 yards this season, but the strong-legged rookie from the University of Texas also hit a Ravens franchise-record four kicks from 50 yards or beyond during the regular season, including a team-record tying 56-yard kick in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Baltimore signed Tucker as an undrafted free agent after Tucker went unselected in April's NFL draft.
"[Special teams coordinator] Jerry Rosburg did a great job of finding Justin Tucker," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I mean, you find the guy at the University of Texas, but he wasn't a highly ranked kicker. He wasn't one of the top guys coming out on all the pre-rankings and those kind of things. Jerry did a tremendous job of evaluating Justin."
"He saw talent. He saw a gifted guy - went down there and worked him out, loved his personality. He felt like with a few adjustments technique-wise he could become really consistent. The first time I liked him was the very first kick - standing behind him, hearing the ball come off his foot, and seeing how straight it tracked. You could tell that he's just a really talented guy."Added Rosburg: "The most important confidence that Justin Tucker brings to the kicking game is confidence in himself. He goes out there and plays, and he feels like he's going to make every kick. As a result of his performance this year, all of the players around him have confidence in him as well. And it's good to have confidence in yourself, but it's been now reinforced by reality. He can kick, and he knows he can kick, and his teammates know he can kick."
He's also proven he can kick, and deliver, in clutch situations.
He hit a game-winning 27-yard field goal against the Patriots in Week 3 with the Ravens trailing by two and only seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. He connected on a game-tying 38-yard kick as time expired in the fourth quarter of Baltimore's November meeting with the San Diego Chargers and then hit another 38-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Ravens to a 16-13 victory.
And then, amid Baltimore's dramatic divisional round win against the Denver Broncos, Tucker connected on a game-winning 47-yard field goal early in double overtime to propel the Ravens to a 38-35 victory and a berth in the AFC championship game.
He's converted 13 of his last 14 field goal attempts dating back to Week 12 of the regular season.
Akers, meanwhile, has missed eight of his 20 attempts during that same span.
Just a year after being selected to his third straight Pro Bowl, Akers - apparently still hampered by double sports hernia last February - connected on just 69 percent of his kicks during the regular season (29-of-42). He made a 36-yard field goal during San Francisco's divisional round win over the Green Bay Packers, but he misfired on a 38-yard attempt during the 49ers' NFC championship victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
But San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said he remains confident in his veteran kicker heading into Sunday's Super Bowl matchup with Baltimore.
"He's been hitting the ball really well," Harbaugh said. "He's had some really good hits on the ball that haven't gone through and we'll live with that. We know what he's capable of doing. He's going through his process practicing, working at it, and we'll get the results. We're very confident he's going to have a big day in the Super Bowl."