NEW ORLEANS -- As soon as the 49ers won the NFC Championship game, special-teams coach Brad Seely had a sermon ready for his unit.

"I've been in four other Super Bowls, and they were all three-point games," Seely said this week. "So I've been talking about that in our meetings all the time. Special teams really could make a difference in the outcome of this game, and our guys believe it."

Seely, who spent 10 years as special-teams coach of the New England Patriots, owes his first Super Bowl ring to Adam Vinatieri, whose 48-yard field goal on the final play won Super Bowl XXXVI.

One reason special teams could be such a big factor Sunday is the amount of attention both teams pay to that phase of the game. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was a special-teams guru for the better part of 20 years in college and the pros, including eight years as special-teams coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles. Harbaugh is still actively involved in the details of the unit, and it's one big advantage he could have over his brother, Jim.

The Ravens are generally acknowledged to have the best all-around special teams in the NFL. It is hard to quantify, since so many elements are involved -- punting, place-kicking, coverage, returns, turnovers, even long snapping. But one statistical service, Football Outsiders, has developed a formula that takes all those elements and produces a ranking.

In that formula, Baltimore had the No. 1 special teams unit in the league, by far. The 49ers, largely as a result of kicker David Akers' struggles, were ranked 20th.

"We have to elevate our game," said Bruce Miller, fullback and special teamer. "We have to be better, and we have to win that part. I just have a feeling special teams is going to be the deciding factor Sunday."

The 49ers, naturally, don't agree that the Ravens have an advantage.

"I don't think anybody pays as much attention to special teams as we do," said C.J. Spillman, the lead gunner on the punt and kickoff units. "I've been other places where we didn't put as much time into it, and it usually hurt us. But I can't believe the Ravens do it any better than us."

"Find me another team that has two Pro Bowlers playing special-teams coverage like we do in NaVorro Bowman and Dashon Goldson," punter Andy Lee said. "That should tell you right there how important special teams is to us."

Linebacker Tavares Gooden, now in his second season with the 49ers, spent two seasons with the Ravens and says the focus on special teams is similar. "Jim knows how much attention John pays to it, so there's a real priority on it with us, too."

Gooden's sentiments were echoed by Seely, who said Jim Harbaugh is a frequent visitor to special-teams meetings.

"Jim doesn't talk a lot, but I think it's really good that he comes in, because it shows the guys that he thinks it's important and that he wants to make sure everybody's on their game," Seely said.

Baltimore special-teams coach Jerry Rosburg believes John Harbaugh is without peer as a special-teams-minded head coach. Rosburg notes that the Ravens won at least four games this season as a result of their special-teams emphasis. He also noted that the 49ers' victory at New England was set up by a long kick return.

"Both units are really good," Rosburg said. "The advantage for me as the coordinator is that I have a resource there that very few other coordinators have in terms of scheme and strategy. He's been through it from my perspective."

The Ravens are so committed to special teams under John Harbaugh they have the league's only paid "kicking consultant." Randy Brown spends two days every week working only with the kickers, and he also is present on game day. The other days of the week, Brown serves as mayor of Marlton, N.J.

When it comes to special teams, the Ravens are seeking any edge they can find. Upon hearing of Seely's motivational mantra based on four Super Bowls, Rosburg's eyes lit up.

"Does he mind if we use that?" he said.