Why the Ravens will win:
They have the intangibles on their side – Ray Lewis’ emotional final season in Baltimore has lifted the performance of this whole team. This could be Ed Reed’s final year too. Joe Flacco will stay, still keeping them at high level, but these Hall of Fame defenders that are on their D have this game, and that’s it. Like Eminem said in Lose Yourself, “you only get one shot, do not miss your chance”. Furthermore, I think they already had that “mark of a champion” moment against Denver. Two special teams TDs given up, but they weathered the storm, and had a spectacular play at the end of regulation with Flacco’s mile high heave. They have more momentum than a boulder rolling down a hill. You know this team believes, and they know it’s now or never. This team looks a lot like the Giants and Packers during their title runs of the last two years. On the other hand, the 49ers may not have that same sence of urgency because they will be contending for championships for the next few years.
They are healthy – Getting the offensive line back in order with the return of Bryant McKinnie was paramount. Michael Oher is not a good left tackle since he is a natural right tackle and is much better at run blocking than pass blocking. This also allowed Kelechi Osemele to move back to guard, his natural position. Of course on defense, getting Ray Ray back has made a world of difference, as we all knew it would. This could be the advantage over the 49ers, who have both their Smiths banged up (Justin with his triceps and Aldon with his shoulder – but I can’t imagine either of them not playing).
Bazooka Joe is on fire right now – He has not thrown an interception this postseason, while tossing 8 TDs. If he continues to not turn the ball over in the Super Bowl, the Ravens will have a very good shot at winning.
They have a distinct advantage in the kicking game – Justin Tucker only missed three FGs all season. David Akers has missed fourteen, including one last week. If this game comes down to a kick, it clearly favors Baltimore.
Why the 49ers will win:
Taking after their head coach, this team is as composed as any team I have ever seen – opening drive pick six against Green Bay? No problem. Down 17-0 in the Georgia Dome to the best team in the NFC? No problem. Colin Kaepernick has shown an incredible amount of confidence all year and has played almost flawlessly in the playoffs.
They can impose their will on other team’s defenses – ordinarily teams would freak out and throw the ball every play down 17. Not this Harbaugh team. Their bread and butter is mashing their opponents up front, and they did just that and climbed back into the game. Frank Gore and LaMichael James are one of the best thunder-lightning combinations I’ve seen in a while, comparable with the Fred Taylor and MJD combo for the Jaguars back in 2007. After those two, you have to worry about Kaepernick. Mobile QBs have had some success against Baltimore. Andrew Luck had an 18 yard run against them in the Wild Card round and RG3 averaged almost five yards per carry against them in the regular season. Of course, the Ravens are much stingier up front than the Packers or Falcons. Winning at the point of attack is paramount for the 49ers because then they can use some of their creative offensive plays.
Jim Harbaugh is one of the best at making in-game adjustments – They looked hopelessly lost in the first quarter against Matt Ryan and the dynamic passing attack of the Falcons. Harbaugh then made adjustments in the second half, got pressure on Matt Ryan and kept the receivers from making big plays like they did in the first half.
Smith, Boldin and Pitta are not the game breakers they faced last week – make no mistake, these guys are no slouches, but they aren’t Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. I think the 49ers secondary will play closer to the standard we have come to expect from them. But the DL also has to get pressure on Flacco, because Flacco can make the throws if he gets time. But last week, the Falcons receivers easily won their matchups almost every time in the first half. That will not happen again.
Guy who needs to have a big game:
Ravens = Ray Rice. He ran the ball very effectively against the Broncos, who are not as stout up front, for 131 yards on 30 carries. He also averaged 4.5 yards per carry in limited duty against the Colts due to fumbles. He needs to avoid putting the ball on the ground, be a productive runner and be a threat out of the backfield for the Ravens to pull out this victory. But running against the 49ers front line is tough sledding. Ask the Falcons, who ran very effectively against the Seahawks. Rice in the postseason has 4 catches for 69 yards in the postseason, with one of them being a 47 yarder against the Colts. However the Ravens plan to use him against the 49ers, he must be effective. Flacco can’t win this by himself.
49ers = Dashon Goldson. I just have a feeling that he will make a play one way or another that will decide the outcome of this game. My guess is he will give a lot of help over the top on Torrey Smith to Carlos Rogers. He needs to avoid channelling his inner Rahim Moore and allowing either of the Ravens’ speedy receivers, Jones or Smith, to get open deep. Obviously Flacco can get them the ball with that rocket of an arm. On the flip side, he could have a crucial pass breakup or interception that swings momentum in favor of his 49ers. Goldson can be the one to turn Flacco’s tendency to chunk the ball downfield into the 49er’s favor.
Conclusion: I wish both teams could win. Both have had “statement” playoff wins thus far. Both deserve it. Maybe it’ll go into four overtimes and then Goodell will just say “enough” and pronounce them co-champions… not. Last season, I was 100 percent sure the Giants would win. Never wavered one bit. This year, not so much. I’m almost 50-50 on this game. Truly the smallest of factors will decide this game. I think at the forefront of those deciding factors is penalties. Ironically, these two teams are among the most heavily penalized in the league. I think the two week layoff favors the 49ers. The Ravens are jacked up right now, and I think they would be better served getting back on the football field this Sunday. But that is not the case. I think some of their momentum will be taken away. While Flacco has received praise for his playoff performance that he rightfully has deserved, he has not been incredibly accurate during the playoffs. He has completed just 51 of 93 passes, for a completion percentage under 55. He will have to string a lot of completions together on multiple drives to put his team in a position to win. Against arguably the best defense in the league, and one of the best since the 2000 Ravens, I’m not sure I see that happening.
Here is how I see the game playing out: very tight game for the first three quarters, great defense, might even be a little dull. Entering the 4th quarter, the 49ers will have a 17-16 lead, Joe Flacco
will lead them down the field for a field goal to give them a 19-17 lead with roughly ten minutes to
go. But Colin Kaepernick shows once and for all why Harbaugh drafted him so highly, throwing a touchdown pass to Randy Moss (who will be the 49ers secret weapon in this game) to give the 49ers a 24-19 lead with just over four minutes remaining. Flacco has one last chance to lead the Ravens back, but the 49ers D puts them away, just as they have put teams away all season to preserve the gritty five-point win.
MVP: Colin Kaepernick
It should be noted: In 2010, I picked Green Bay over Philadelphia, then picked against them the rest of the playoffs. I picked Baltimore in the Wild Card round, picked against them the last two weeks. They say history repeats itself. We shall see if it does this time.
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