BY THOMAS DRANCE
So we’ve arrived at the biggest professional sporting spectacle of the calender year, last NFL game of the 2012-13 season, the Super Bowl. Throughout the postseason I’ve offered my picks and my layman’s opinion on which team will win and I’ve done okay (I went seven for ten in the postseason, and only one of my losses was in a game decided by more than a single score). So now I’ll breakdown the marquee match-up and give you my two cents on who will emerge victorious from the Harbaugh Bowl.
Like most football fans, gamblers and analysts – I’ve been bearish on the Ravens chances throughout this postseason and they’re single-handedly responsible for two of my three “misses” this postseason. Burned me once shame on me, burn me twice…
The thing is, I’m still unconvinced. The thrashing they doled out on the Patriots, and their dominance of everything aside from kick returns against the Broncos were impressive, and certainly the reports of the demise of the Ravens as an “elite defensive team” was exaggerated. But throwing on New England sans Aqib Talib and abusing Champ Bailey is a whole different ball game from moving the ball and putting points on the board against the Niners defense – though of course, there’s always the chance that Torrey Smith could go Julio Jones on the 49ers secondary.
The issue there, however, is that the 49ers have stymied Matt Ryan (at least in the second half of the conference championship) and Aaron Rodgers on their way to the Super Bowl. Joe Flacco has shown himself to be more capable than many (myself included) presumed, but Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers he is not.
Luckily for the Ravens they have some significant advantages that should keep the game close, at least. I may not be a Flacco beiever but it’s clear that Jim Caldwell – hired midseason to be the club’s offensive coordinator – has things humming along impressively. Let’s just say that this isn’t your father’s Ravens club and from Smith to Boldin to Rice to Pierce to Pitta – Baltimore has the weapons to test San Francisco’s stellar defensive group.
Most importantly, Baltimore has been winning their playoffs games between the tackles, and that reconfigured offensive line – including left tackle Bryant McKinnie whose performance is at long last living up to his draft slot – have been dominant. The Broncos front seven was pretty dangerous all season, but the Ravens gave them nothing a couple of weeks ago and were key in Baltimore’s blowout win over the Patriots. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s pash rush has gone dormant due to an injury to one of their Smith’s and some lackadaisical performance from the other Smith. This particular matchup favours the Ravens, I think, and if Baltimore can protect Flacco they’ll figure out how to move ball. It’s their ace in the hole, and a major reason I’m not writing them off (as I did against both the Broncos and the Patriots) this time around.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
There’s a lot to like about the 49ers heading into this weekend’s championship game, the first and most important of which is Colin Kaepernick’s emergence as a Serious Bad Ass. In 18 attempted rushes this postseason, he’s ran for only eight yards fewer than Frank Gore has. That’s in addition to posting a 105 QB ratings in San Fransico’s two contests, and overcoming disastrous opening quarters in doing so. Kaepernick is the star of this year’s postseason, and he’ll have a chance to cement his status among the game’s most lethal and effective quarterbacks on the biggest stage. Is he up to it? I have no doubt about it.
For the 49ers, a major key will be whether or not they can move the ball on the ground against the Ravens. The Ravens were unbelievable against the polished, west coast stylings of the Patriots; but at this point, Tom Brady and company don’t have the big play ability that Colin Kaepernick brings to the 49ers. To open that up, it’s essential for the 49ers to establish Frank Gore as a threat on Sunday. Not only can the Niners control the clock (and field position) in this manner, but it’ll open up the option game that Kaepernick can be so, so deadly in.
On defense, the 49ers are stacked, but their pash rush has come up lame in the postseason. Flacco doesn’t have the strongest arm but he’ll burn you if he has time, and he’s had time all playoffs long up to this point. If the Niners can figure out how to get pressure on Flacco (without over-committing on the blitz), they’ll run away with Sunday’s game. I don’t see that happening though.
Over the past couple of seasons we’ve been treated to some absolutely epic Super Bowl matchups – Cardinals-Steelers, Patriots-Giants x2 and Colts-Saints were all fantastic games. I’m picking that trend to continue this season as two defensively oriented clubs, coached by brothers, get into an unanticipated shootout. I’ll take the 49ers to win the organization’s sixth Super Bowl, by a final score of 34-28.