The biggest sporting event and most watched sporting event of the year is upon us. The Super Bowl is a mere two days away and here is the preview that you demand…maybe.
Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers 6:30 PM ET CBS (Super Bowl XLVII)
The Ravens will be making their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, while the 49ers will be making their sixth appearance in the big game. The Ravens are undefeated at 1-0. The 49ers are undefeated at 5-0. Something has to give.
For the Ravens, this year has been a transformation on offense with QB Joe Flacco, who undoubtedly wanted to make a statement for a new contract (one that will pay him upwards of $20 million). Flacco’s deep ball is one of, if not the, best in the league and the Ravens have become more about their offense than their defense. Ravens RB Ray Rice didn’t have as good a year as he’s had in years past. Perhaps more teams were honing in on him. Whatever the reason, Flacco has done remarkably well given the number times he has been asked to throw it. That frustrates some Ravens fans who want to see the team get the ball in the hands of the best player on offense (Rice), but that train of thought may be leaving the station given what Flacco has done in the postseason (8 TDs, 0 INTs). Flacco has shown that the weapons he has at receiver and tight end make the Ravens a pretty dangerous team to try and stop.
The 49ers defense though is up to the task. Perhaps they are not quite as good as last year’s team, but they are still very tough. OLB Aldon Smith had 20 sacks though the health of fellow defensive lineman Justin Smith is a huge factor in this game. When Smith hurt his triceps with a couple of weeks to go in the regular season, Aldon started getting double and triple-teamed. As a result, no sacks. Justin must be effective in this game for the 49ers to free up Aldon and put pressure on Flacco. At linebacker, the 49ers have a pair as good as anyone in the NFL with Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowmanwho led the team in tackles with 149. Willis himself had 120. The linebackers will play a key roll in this game. The weak spot on the team is the secondary, and they will have to be on their toes at all times given how well the Ravens passing offense has been in the playoffs. Flacco will not be afraid to air it out. If the 49ers can’t get a rush on Flacco and alter his timing even by a fraction, the 49ers secondary is in for a long day. The 49ers picked off only fourteen passes all year. Flacco is being careful to not throw any interceptions. It would seem that Flacco has the edge in this matchup. The 49ers will contain Rice. It’s Flacco they really have to worry about.
As good as Flacco has been, San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick has been just as electrifying. His stunning playoff debut against the Green Bay Packers sent shockwaves across the football world. This Kaepernick guy, he’s pretty good. He has a fastball type throw and he is a duel threat. He can beat you with his arm and his legs, as Green Bay can attest. But is the stage too big for him? I don’t think so. He has carried himself with so much poise both in the regular season and in the postseason that this game won’t get too big for him. The 49ers have a lot of speed on this team. Kaepernick, RB LaMichael James and WR Randy Moss really give the 49ers an edge against an aging Ravens defense. And the pistol formation? So far, the 49ers have worked it to perfection. Add to it a solid receiving corp that includes Michael Crabtree and Moss and tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, and the 49ers become a much more difficult team to defend.
If any team can do it though, it may be the Ravens. They’ve already slowed down and defeated Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. What’s a guy like Kaepernick going to do to them? He could do a lot. The Ravens have played inspired since linebacker Ray Lewis‘ announcement that he’ll retire at the end of the year, but let’s face it, they’re old.All-Pro safety Ed Reed isn’t what he used to be. LB Terrell Suggs hasn’t played at the level we’ve seen from him in recent years most likely due to recovering from the Achilles injury still. And, deer antler liquid or no, Lewis is still recovering from a triceps injury. The best player in defense right now may be the defensive lineman Paul Kruger. That guy can do everything: bats balls down, gets after the quarterback, gets sacks. This man is a monster. The Ravens know they have their hands full in trying to stop the 49ers offense, but they’ve beaten teams with superior offenses in the playoffs already. What’s one more? That’s all that stands between them and the Lombardi Trophy.
For as good as the offenses and defenses are for both teams, the game may very well be decided by special teams. The Ravens unit has allowed a couple of touchdowns. But they have the better kicker even though is a rookie. Yes, Justin Tucker is better than David Akers, at least this year. Tucker is just more confident. Akers is having the worst year of his professional career. His confidence has to be low. He doinked a field goal off the upright against the Falcons in the NFC championship game. He missed thirteen field goals during regulation. In a high pressure moment, he’s going to have a difficult time keeping the demons out of his head, while cool Justin Tucker knocks field goals through like it’s a piece of cake. If the game comes down to a field goal, I trust Tucker a lot more than I do Akers.
There are a few x-factors in the game. One I just mentioned is the kicking game. The Ravens have a lot of confidence in Tucker. The 49ers right now may say they have confidence in Akers, but deep down I’m sure they have their reservations. It may affect how 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh calls the game. Maybe he elects not to go for a 48 or 49-yard field goal and instead goes for it on 4th and 4. Who knows? If he doesn’t get it, the Ravens would be set up with excellent field position. Then again, if Akers misses the field goal, the Ravens still get excellent field position.
Another factor is Vernon Davis. The 49ers haven’t used him or targeted him nearly enough since Kaepernick took over at quarterback. He had a big game against Atlanta, but he needs another big game and the 49ers need to look his way for them to win.
The final factor I’ll point out here is whether or not the Ravens can continue to ride the wave of momentum. The emotional factor. They’ve gotten on this ride with Lewis and he’s gotten them here to this point. But they’ve played a lot of football. They’re tired at this point, but they are so close. The inspiration that Lewis gives this team is reason enough to pick them to win. Do they have enough left?
Can’t believe I’ve gotten this far and haven’t even mentioned that the opposing coaches are brothers! Have you heard?! Yes, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is the brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. It will be brought up plenty during pregame and the game itself, but it bears watching, especially for prop bets. Parents Jack and Jackie Harbaugh should be very, very proud. It will be interesting to watch them from the pregame warmups to the handshake at the end of the game.
Then of course there is all the food that you must have at your Super Bowl party and the commercials! They are the reason so many people watch the Super Bowl every year. Quite frankly, the last couple of years have sucked. It’s time for this year’s commercials to get back to what they once were. Make sure you do some prop bets too. Whether it be who scores first to how long the national anthem is to the color of the gatorade at the end, prop bets are a fun way to stay involved during the Super Bowl.
Enjoy all of the pregame shows, the entertainment before, during and after the Super Bowl. It’s going to be a wild ride.
What’s that? A prediction? This is a tough one to pick. Every time I talk myself into picking the 49ers, doubt creeps in and I can see why the Ravens would win. Back and forth, back and forth. In the end, Lewis is enough for Baltimore to win, but the 49ers have something special in young Colin Kaepernick and I feel they just have a few more weapons, especially with that pistol package.
I like the 49ers to win the Super Bowl and hoist the Lombardi Trophy, 31-20 over the Ravens.