In this week's pre-Super Bowl chatter, the guys break down the key matchups to watch between the 49ers and Ravens, and deliver their predictions for the NFL title game.
Follow our panelists on Twitter: @tcare66 @JesseCampigotto @JasonD79
.What matchup are you most interested in?
Can the Baltimore Ravens
' offensive line protect Joe Flacco from the San Francisco 49ers
' physical front? Flacco has been terrific, throwing for eight touchdowns against zero INTs in the post-season. He's systematically taken apart Indy, Denver, and New England, and much of the credit should go to the O-Line, which has been magnificent in protecting the Ravens' QB. Falcons pivot Matt Ryan killed the 49ers in the first half of the NFC championship game with a clean pocket. The same fate awaits San Fran if its defensive front can't get to Flacco. Jesse Campigotto:
I love the matchup of two of the best coaches in the league. Both guys are known for putting together strong, sometimes imaginative game plans and making smart, aggressive in-game decisions. This is a rare game where neither John nor Jim Harbaugh should be able to give his team an edge by outwitting his counterpart on the opposing sidelines. Still, I bet that doesn't stop the brothers from dreaming up a few wrinkles. With two weeks to prepare, and the dual motivations of the Super Bowl stage and the sibling rivalry, I bet we see a few surprises.Jason Davidson:
Obviously, the Harbaugh factor
is huge here but I think the linebackers on both sides have a great chance at dictating what happens in this game. The 49ers have NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, and Patrick Willis. Talk about a three-headed monster at the position. Expect each of them to factor in. Of course, you have Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs leading the way for the Ravens, along with Ed Reed in the secondary. Those six names right there are keys on the defensive side of things.At 25, 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick will be the sixth youngest quarterback in Super Bowl history. Will the moment be too big for him?Tony:
No way. He passed that test against the Packers in the divisional round. On the 49ers' opening drive, Kaepernick made an awful throw for a Pick-6. If there was ever a point where the kid would've crumbled, it should have been then. But he regrouped and had one of the best-ever playoff performances by a quarterback. In the NFC championship game against Atlanta, Kaepernick got off to a slow start and the 49ers found themselves down 17-0 early. Yet he didn't fold. Like I said last week, there's a reason why coach Jim Harbaugh made the switch from Alex Smith to Kaepernick. And now this young man exudes tremendous confidence after two huge playoff wins. The Super Bowl won't shake Kaepernick. Jesse:
Guys like Colin Kaepernick have been playing in big games their entire lives, from the time they were competing in Pop Warner and Little League to the pros. Yes, the Super Bowl is a different (and more highly watched) beast, but did Kaepernick looked overwhelmed in his first NFL start in Week 11 against the vaunted Bears defence? He completed 70 per cent of his passes and threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns. How 'bout his first playoff start, against a hot Green Bay team many were picking to win the Super Bowl? A QB-record 181 yards rushing and four TDs (two through the air). First road playoff start, in Atlanta, where the Falcons almost never lose? 76 per cent completion rate and 233 passing yards. Kaepernick may not win the Super Bowl. He may not even play particularly well. But he's not a guy who folds under pressure.
Kaepernick will be able to handle all of this. He's been on a pretty big stage already with the two playoff wins over the Packers and Falcons. He works well with his receivers and knows when to either dish the ball to Frank Gore or go for a run himself. He might not shock the world with his numbers, but he'll prove himself to be capable nonetheless. Backup QB Alex Smith has been pretty good about this entire situation as well, and Kaepernick will be happy to have him on his side come Sunday. The Ravens have been on quite an emotional ride throughout the playoffs. But is the Ray Lewis farewell story really having as big of an impact as many media types are suggesting? Tony:
It's overblown, that's for sure. I'm not going to totally discount Lewis's ability to lead the Ravens on an emotional level, but let's look at some facts. Since the playoffs began, the Ravens are the healthiest they've been on defence since early in the season -- a time when they were a top team. In the last two games, Baltimore has only allowed four TDs against the high-powered Broncos and Patriots. On offence, Flacco has come alive under new co-ordinator Jim Caldwell's more aggressive play calling. Now, the Ravens finally have an offence that can compete against any team in the league. Those are the factors I point to as the reasons for Baltimore's late-season success. Jesse:
Say it ain't so! A player's importance being inflated for narrative purposes during Super Bowl week! Ray Lewis is a sure Hall of Famer and one of the great motivational speakers in football history (which is saying something), but he's not the player he used to be. The Ravens' Super Bowl run owes more to a hot streak by Flacco and one of the worst pass-defence plays in recent memory by the Denver Broncos. But so what? Storylines are fun. Watching Ray Lewis play football is fun. And Lewis's last stand (whatever you think of him) is a pretty good hook.
One of the greatest ever to play the linebacker position, Lewis has provided some entertaining moments on the football field, and to see his career come full circle since the Super Bowl win against the New York Giants a dozen years ago provides a good storyline. At the same time we have to remember that Lewis is a polarizing figure. That said, he doesn't have that same impact as a player that he did at the beginning of the millennium, although he can still be effective and he will lay it all on the line against the 49ers. After all, what does he have to lose? Finally, which team will win Super Bowl XLVII?Tony:
First off, the betting line is crazy. Even with it dropping to 3.5 in most books, there is no way the 49ers should be favoured by more than a field goal. All my instincts tell me to take the Ravens. They have a rejuvenated defence and a balanced offensive. But I think Kaepernick is the wild card in this game. He kills teams with his legs and arm. If you try and take away his ability to move outside, like Atlanta tried, he can stay in the pocket and pick apart the secondary. As much as I've given credit to Baltimore's offensive line, the 49ers have the best unit in the NFL, and Harbaugh never gives up on the run. In the end, I'm going with the 49ers. Jesse:
Any credible measure of overall team quality over the course of the season (point differential, yards gained per play vs. yards allowed per play, DVOA, Sagarin ratings) will tell you that San Francisco is better. As I write this on Monday around noon ET, the Ravens have attracted 3 bets against the spread for every 2 on the Niners, causing the line to fall from the opening number of 5 all the down to 3.5 at most books. So I have a chance to bet against public opinion while backing the better team on a neutral field, and get the best of the number? I'll take San Francisco to win and cover, though (and this is for the gamblers) that 3.5 line still scares me enough that I think the best bet is laying minus-165 (which is available) on the moneyline.Jason:
The 49ers win and cover (if the line stays at 3.5) but just barely. This team has impressed me immensely throughout the course of the year. With all due respect to the Ravens, who have accomplished many things this season, they will fall just short. They have more injury concerns than the 49ers, who are relatively healthy. Not having Lardarius Webb in the Ravens' secondary is a big loss that could leave them vulnerable in that area. Don't expect an offensive explosion on Sunday, but a close enough result should keep viewers locked in the whole way through. Final score: 49ers 24, Ravens 20.
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