Barry Sanders wasn't one to meddle in the personnel side of things as a player, and the Hall of Fame running back doesn't pretend to know the blueprint for building a Super Bowl winner now.

But 14 years after he retired, Sanders has a pretty good idea why the Ravens and 49ers went on extended playoff runs this season.

"It's something they built over time," Sanders said. "They put the pieces together, and it all has to do with all those small little pieces; individuals that you choose to bring in, management, players, all that. That's something that I would never assume that I had that part figured out, but it does seem that some organizations, they have a certain way that they go about their business. It's not an accident is what I'm trying to say. It's not an accident that these teams are here. They built these teams into this, and that's kind of what you have to do."

The Ravens laid the foundation for their second Super Bowl championship more than a decade ago. They won the title in the 2000 season with a punishing defense and dependable running game, and spent the past 12 seasons building and shaping their roster with the same vision in mind.

The 49ers suffered through plenty of lean years since their previous Super Bowl appearance in the 1994 season, but they landed a shark of a coach in Jim Harbaugh whose wants and desires meshed well with the team he inherited.

Like Baltimore, San Francisco has a menacing defense and physical offensive line, and in the past two months they found the one piece essential to long-term stability -- a playmaking quarterback.