After watching last week’s conference championship games, I made some observations that I think are worth mentioning.
(1) Joe Flacco is actually kind of good, at least in the playoffs. At least this year, against two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
(2) Tom Brady is not as immortal as everyone thinks he is. (Although if given the opportunity to have the life of any NFL QB, I would still take his. Hands down. I don’t think I really need to go into detail explaining that. I can’t even think of who number two would be. Probably Aaron Rodgers, because well, he’s Aaron Rodgers, and he’s the man.)
(3) David Akers isn’t right. Whether he’s injured or just mentally off, the most terrifying situation for 49ers fans will be if the Super Bowl comes down to an Akers field goal attempt. (Also, my pick of 49ers -4.5 over Atlanta in the NFC Championship would have looked great if Akers could have converted his 38-yard attempt.)
(4) Colin Kaepernick is going to be a star in the league for years to come. His combination of talent and poise is rare for any player, much less a second year pro.
(5) Hate him or love him, Ray Lewis has had an amazing career, and there is no doubt he loves the game of football as much as anyone who has ever played.
I’m getting my Super Bowl pick out a bit earlier than normal, mostly because of the extra week off to make room for the Pro Bowl (aka the worst all-star game of all time), and also because I know which team is going to win. Let’s do this!
First of all, it’s awesome and it’s crazy that two brothers will be coaching against each other with a Super Bowl ring and NFL immortality on the line. I can’t imagine the range of emotions that both Jim and John Harbaugh will go through leading up to the game, during the game, and in the moments following the final whistle. The post-game handshake has to already be one of the most anticipated of all time. What will the brothers say to each other? Will either of them cry? Will they hug? Will Jim Harbaugh slap John Harbaugh on the small of this back in celebration of victory, only to have John Harbaugh chase him across the field and into the tunnel just to ask him what his deal is? These are the types questions that can only be answered in that moment, and I can’t wait!
(Side note: In my quest to find the two Jim Harbaugh clips linked above, I found this gem. Wow. Just, wow.)
Another one of the great things about this game is that it will undoubtedly elevate one of the two starting QBs into the ‘elite’ discussion. After all, historical greatness among NFL QBs is often talked about in terms of how many Super Bowls a quarterback has won. At the very least, Super Bowl victories are used to help break the ties. For example, who is historically greater between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning? Why? Many will argue that Brady – whose statistics are comparable to Manning’s over the entirety of his career – has won three Super Bowls to Manning’s one, and is therefore the better QB. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but big time quarterbacks win big time games.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has silently become the greatest road playoff QB of all time, including two more road wins in these playoffs (over Manning and Brady, at that). He has clearly elevated his game during the postseason, which has translated to the overall success of his team. I mean, the Ravens crushed the Patriots in Foxboro in the AFC Championship. That game didn’t even feel close. Even though the Patriots may have left about 20 points on the field, Flacco made the plays he needed to make and took advantage of New England’s turnovers to effectively ice the game.
If there’s any argument that Joe Flacco isn’t playing better than every other QB in the playoffs, the only case can be made by Colin Kaepernick. The 2nd year kid out of Nevada has not only helped the 49ers win, he’s looked unstoppable at times. He’s posted a Total QBR of 92.6 and 94.7 in San Francisco’s last two games en route to a Super Bowl appearance. Not bad for a QB who is about to make his 10th NFL start. Ever.
The key to stopping the 49ers is to put pressure on Kaepernick and not let him escape the pocket and make plays with his feet. In addition, forcing him to throw while being hurried is the most likely way to force him into mistakes. Due to San Francisco’s enormous offensive line, however, putting pressure on Kaepernick will prove to be no easy task. In his first two playoff games, he has looked virtually unfazed by anything opposing defenses have thrown at him. It won’t be easy to get in his head.
And then there is Ravens veteran linebacker Ray Lewis. At the outset of the playoffs, Lewis announced this would be his ‘last ride’. No doubt the Ravens will be playing inspired with the hopes of sending Lewis out on top, a la John Elway and the Broncos back in the 1998 Super Bowl. I worry, however, that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti will not be able to contain his emotions if his team were to win a Super Bowl. Could there be a possibility of a Lewis/Bisciotti love child in the future? I kid, I kid. You have to admit though, the gentle caressing of the arm was a bit out-of-place, no?
San Francisco 49ers (-3.5) over Baltimore Ravens
There are a lot of reasons why the Ravens could win this game. After all, they were the popular pick to lose their wild card game against the Colts, with the general public rallying behind rookie QB Andrew Luck and Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who was returning from beating leukemia. Despite all of the hype surrounding the Colts, it was the Ravens who took care of business in convincing fashion.
Still, there was no way the Ravens would be the Broncos in Denver. Yet, thanks to a couple costly Peyton Manning turnovers, poor pass defense, and a Justin Tucker double overtime field goal, the Ravens proved everyone wrong once again.
By the time the faced off against New England last weekend, people started to believe that they were capable of pulling off the upset. Not only did the Ravens upset the Patriots, they dominated them, allowing zero points after halftime.
If there is one place I think the Ravens have a chance to do some damage on the 49ers defense, it’s through the air. Specifically, look for the Ravens to try to stretch the field with Torrey Smith. Joe Flacco has a big arm and has already shown an ability in these playoffs to have success downfield. In the NFC Championship game, the Falcons torched the Niners’ secondary for 396 yards passing. If Flacco and the Ravens can duplicate this success, the Ravens will have a great chance to pull off the minor upset.
San Francisco is 5-0 all time in the Super Bowl, however, and after next Sunday they’ll be 6-0. Why? Because the 49ers are a better team. More specifically, I think the 49ers defense will be able to put more pressure on Joe Flacco than the Ravens defense will put on Colin Kaepernick, thus making it much easier for Kaepernick to operate both in and out of the pocket. Against the Patriots, the Ravens failed to sack Tom Brady even once. If Kaepernick is able to get in a rhythm early on, I would look for the 49ers to complete high percentage passes, which will eventually help open up the read option game with running backs Frank Gore and LaMichael James.
At the end of the day, I think the 49ers offense will control the ball and the game clock, which in turn will keep Flacco and the Ravens’ offense off the field and out of rhythm. I expect Colin Kaepernick to keep drives alive with some well-timed third down conversions (both running and passing). In addition, don’t be surprised if Michael Crabtree or Vernon Davis have a monster 100-yards + two touchdowns type game.
Sorry, Joe Flacco. Sorry, Ray Lewis. Sorry, Steve Bisciotti. Nobody’s got it better than the 49ers this year.
Prediction: San Francisco 27, Baltimore 20.
Last Week’s Record: 0-2
Season Record: 72-58-1