All the hoopla, hype and stories New Orleans residents have taken in along with all football fans will be gone in over 48 hours. It's almost time for the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers to hit the field to determine the new champion of the NFL.
Have you had fun dissecting this match-up? Because I've leaned toward both sides during the course of these past 12 days.
The Ravens are the hot team. They've knocked off Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady in that order. Yes, Ray Lewis has undoubtedly sparked this defense, and they have gotten stronger as games go along.
Make no mistake though that the reason Baltimore is here is because of Joe Flacco's arm. There's debate on how much he should be worth with a new contract possibly on the horizon after this season. Has everything finally clicked together for Flacco? Is this the beginning of a more consistent quarterback in the coming years?
Under the direction of John Harbaugh, this Baltimore team has proven time and again they can go on the road and win in the playoffs.
On the other side, the 49ers have teased the emotions and thoughts of many out there. At times they've looked like the best in the NFC. At other times, they struggled with turnovers or stopping the big plays in the passing game.
However, the Niners' Super Bowl slot is a testament to Jim Harbaugh. It could have been really easy to go back to Alex Smith once he was recovered from an injury suffered in the middle of the regular season. Harbaugh saw the potential in Colin Kaepernick to take this team to new heights. And that decision has paid off huge dividends. As the stage has gotten bigger, Kaepernick has only gotten better. Not bad for a youngster who only had five pass attempts in his short career before guiding one of the most storied franchises to the Super Bowl.
for in the big game.
SUPER BOWL SUNDAY
SAN FRANCISCO (-3.5) VS BALTIMORE- Both have equal strengths. In the trenches it promises to be one of the better battles seen in Super Bowl history. Both of these teams have among the best offensive lines in football, but each one will have their hands full with speed rushers and impact guys in the middle. Ray Lewis has been a tackling machine. Haloti Ngata can take over the middle of any offensive line.
On the other side, Patrick Willis is the best middle linebacker currently in the game. The 49ers dug a hole against Atlanta, but were able to get out of it by staying true to themselves with a little wrinkle. They made Kaepernick into more of a pocket passer than usual since the Falcons were eyeing his running ability and wanting to stop that. Holes started opening up for Frank Gore and LaMichael James on the ground, and Vernon Davis torched the Falcons defense.
Yet, the Ravens would probably feel they'd be here more comfortably if not for dropped passes and special teams breakdowns on the way. They have taken over the 2nd half of each game though. The unit's best players are at or near the end of their career, but there's some sound young talent around Lewis and Ed Reed.
Let's not forget though that the wide receiver unit along with Dennis Pitta has stepped up to make some big plays when called upon despite some struggles on the path. Overall, it's a toss up game but my final is...
BALTIMORE-24 SAN FRANCISCO-21
Here are a few things I didn't cover above or in enough detail for you to keep your eyes on Sunday:
1. CAN RAY RICE KEEP THE 49ERS HONEST EARLY? Atlanta through all their early success couldn't get Michael Turner or Jacquizz Rodgers going. They jumped to the 17-0 lead, but teams usually shift into more of a conservative mentality to shorten the game. Atlanta could not do it effectively enough to secure the NFC title. Even if the Ravens get ahead, San Francisco has shown the ability to overcome early game adversity. Can Rice and Pierce move the chains should Baltimore get a lead?
2. NOT GETTING HOME: San Francisco tried to rush only four in the early drives against Atlanta, but the Falcons offensive line was solid in pass protection, but not great overall as a unit. Nobody could get home on the rush, and Matt Ryan had loads of time to look for his receivers.
Will the 49ers commit extra rushers and blitz Flacco early? The defensive line has struggled to even get to the quarterback this postseason, and if you give any competent quarterback time with good receivers, he can pick you apart. Flacco and his bunch of Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, Jacoby Jones and company fit that mold. Plus, the Ravens can spread out this defensive line, which is something they've struggled with handling.
3. SPECIAL UNITS: Baltimore's Justin Tucker has nailed a big kick already (see Denver) while David Akers' reugular season struggles have only continued after missing what at the time was a key 4th quarter field goal against Atlanta. Maybe a dome stadium will help Akers' cause (it didn't in the Geogia Dome though).
In what looks to be a close game, it is especially imperative to cash in every scoring opportunity you can. And there may be some field goal tries involved. Tucker is in his first year in the league. Will the bright lights affect him in a big opportunity? Both teams can flip field position with their return game as well.
4. PICK IT: Ed Reed has had quite a career and battled through neck injuries to be at his first Super Bowl. The former Destrehan High star has enjoyed returning home to New Orleans. In a game where both teams have avoided the turnover for the most part, you get the feeling that just one could change the game. Reed doesn't have the same speed he used to display, but he's the one to whom Kaepernick better be paying some extra attention. Reed, so good at baiting quarterbacks, is one of the best if not the best at his position in NFL history.
5. GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE: John and Jim Harbaugh have been at the center of the hype. It's the first time brothers are coaching against each other in the Super Bowl. Both are brilliant minds, but who will make that one big in-game adjustment? It is going to be the hardest-hitting chess match, but both have recovered from early deficits just in the postseason alone based on tweaking some things offensively. Does familiarity breed mind-reading that turns the tide one way or the other ?
Folks, it's been a pleasure trying to analyze these games as well as I could for the season. I'd like to thank you all for staying tuned all year long. Whatever your plans are, I hope you all enjoy the rest of the build up and the game on Sunday.
6-4 STRAIGHT UP
6-4 AGAINST THE SPREAD