Baltimore Ravens vs San Francisco 49ers -- Sunday, February 3 -- 6:30pm -- How great is Super Bowl week? There were the obvious headlines: The Harbowl, Kaepernick vs Smith, Flacco vs Elite Quarterback Status. But then there were the unforeseen stories: Deer Antler Spray (I'm still not exactly sure what this is), Randy Moss as the best receiver ever (which actually might not be as crazy as it sounds), New Orleans as a great host city (oh wait, that's not a surprise at all). Finally, after a week(s) of build-up, 110 million Americans are about to watch 4 hours of commercials with 11 minutes of actual football mixed in. Gotta love it! So who's going to win? Here are the 5 things I believe will decide the outcome:
1. Joe Flacco's downfield throws -- If you thought Flacco's success on deep throws was just because Champ Bailey got toasted by Torrey Smith once or twice, you're wrong. He's literally hitting 50% of those throws in the playoffs (12 for 24) and has 4 touchdowns to 0 interceptions. The Niners play a lot of one-on-one coverages on the outside and if Flacco stays on a 50% pace he could burn them.
2. Aldon Smith -- Like I said above, the Ravens have been extremely successful with deep passes the last 4 weeks (and all year, really). So to counteract that success, Aldon Smith will need to be the force he was for the first two-thirds of the season. I've noted in other posts how Smith has been much less of a factor since Week 14 and is reliant on the other Smith (Justin) to help him get to the quarterback. If Justin plays well, that means Aldon plays well, and, ultimately, means Flacco might be in trouble.
3. The mystique of New Orleans -- The Super Bowl has been played in New Orleans 9 times. Tomorrow will be the 10th. In the 9 prior, the favorite has won 6 times and every game except one (New England vs St. Louis) has been decided by 10 or more points. Look at some of these scores: 35-21 (1997), 55-10 (1990), 46-10 (1986), 27-10 (1981), 27-10 (1978), 24-3 (1972). So what does this mean? Well, it probably means absolutely nothing. But if you believe in "outside forces" (like I sort of do), it means one team will completely dominate and the other will only score 10 points.
4. Baltimore's edge rushers -- Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs will be the most important Ravens players on the field, except for Joe Flacco. Kruger and Suggs have the task of containing Colin Kaepernick when the Niners run the read option and knowing when to rush him and when not to. This is something that Clay Matthews - one of the premier edge rushers in the league - could not figure out. Yes, Matthews did register a sack, but he was completely ineffective when trying to defend the pistol offense. Kruger and Suggs need to be much, much better if the Ravens hope to slow the Niners down.
5. The one and only, Colin Kaepernick -- There's not much more to say about this cat that hasn't been said already. He's propelled himself into the Luck-RGIII-Wilson-Newton range as the group of quarterbacks poised to take over after the Brady-Manning-Brees Era (with the Eli-Rogers-Ryan-Roethlisberger Era lingering in between). So far he's proved that the pressure of throwing a pick-6 on the opening drive of his first playoff game wasn't too much for him. Then he proved that being down 17 points in the conference championship, on the road, wasn't too much for him. I don't think the Super Bowl will be too much either.
It pains me to actually make a pick for two reasons: first, I like both of these teams and would be happy to see either of them win, and second, it means a great season is coming to an end. To ease the pain I'm going on a shopping spree for lots of new shoes! But if I must, I must. The 49ers are great on both sides of the line, are run by - in my opinion - the best (and most handsome) coach in the league, and have a transcendent player at quarterback. That said, if Flacco can connect with Torrey Smith deep and the Ravens defense gets a few bounces, they can win this game. In the end, I just don't have enough faith that those things will happen. San Francisco, 31 - Baltimore, 24
Last week: 1-1