By Brandon Niles Explorebigsky.com Sports Columnist
Once again, it’s that special time of year when fans gear up for what has become the biggest sporting event in the country. The Super Bowl this year brings a fresh look at the dominant teams in the NFL. The much-heralded Packers, Patriots, and Broncos couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. Instead, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers will be the two sides vying for the Lombardi Trophy this year.
The Ravens and 49ers bring with them several interesting storylines. First, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is the older brother of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. Both have experienced tremendous success in their positions, not once missing the playoffs in a combined seven seasons. These two almost met in the Super Bowl last year, each team losing in their Conference Championship game in the 2011 playoffs.
Beyond the coaching connection, the quarterbacks represent two starkly contrasting styles and personas. Young and exciting second year player, Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, represents a new wave of NFL quarterbacks. Kaepernick has a tremendous arm, but is also a dynamic runner operating in a non-traditional offensive system. The 49ers use a lot of read option sets in order to maximize their versatile quarterback’s talents. Should the 49ers prevail, their victory will in many ways legitimize this style of play as a system that can win in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco couldn’t possibly be more traditional a passer. An old-fashioned drop back player, standing tall in the pocket with a rocket arm, Flacco has made many teams suffer from his deep accuracy and his tremendous arm strength. While Flacco has never been known for his consistency, his ability to deliver in clutch situations has become increasingly evident during this season’s playoffs. Flacco is out to prove he has the ability to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl.
Outside of the quarterback position, these two teams actually share a lot in common. Both are organizations that have built their rosters primarily through the draft, have excellent offensive lines and running games, and are backed by a stout defense. In fact, the Ravens and 49ers in many ways are everything that the new NFL is not. While both have offenses that can be productive, neither is as prolific as other teams often considered elite, such as New England and Green Bay. These two teams have shown that a strong running game and a good defense can still be an effective formula for success in the modern NFL.
The fact that these are two teams that haven’t been to the Super Bowl in a while (Baltimore, 2001; San Francisco, 1995) is exciting to see for fans, especially since this is the first Super Bowl since 2003 that does not feature a Manning, Brady or Roethlisberger. Additionally, the coaching connection, Ray Lewis’ last game as a pro, and all that is at stake for the quarterbacks should make for interesting sub plots in the game.
For the game itself, expect the Ravens to come in prepared for the 49ers offensive scheme after seeing Green Bay fail miserably to contain it three weeks ago. The Ravens have a savvy veteran defense that can contain the edges and use good gap discipline that should help keep Colin Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore in check. The 49ers will need to throw the ball outside and avoid turning the ball over if they are going to win this game.
The 49ers defense will need to take away the deep ball from a Ravens team that has been lethal throwing downfield, and they’ll also need to get pressure on Flacco, who’s had plenty of time in the pocket throughout the playoffs thus far. The 49ers have the personnel to do just that, and will also need linebackers Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis to remain disciplined enough to stop Ravens running back Ray Rice.
All in all, I think the Ravens do enough on offense to put up 24 points, and I think the Ravens defense should be able to keep the 49ers from matching their point total. I think 24 is the magic number in this game, and holding Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense to 20 points seems like a realistic goal.
Final prediction: Ravens over 49ers, 24-20 in a great game.