The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers are just a coin toss and a few short days away from dividing the ammunition and going to war in New Orleans’ Mecedez-Benz Superdome on February 3rd; and with all of the magnetism and story lines heading into Sunday, Super Bowl LXXVIII has the potential to be one of the best that fans have been treated to in recent history. Harbaugh versus Harbaugh, Ray Lewis’s final ride into the night, and Randy Moss’s second attempt at the elusive Lombardi Trophy are just a small taste of the intrigue that surrounds this Super Bowl. Before Sunday’s schedule kick off its time to take harder look at these nearly even combatants that will be competing on the Gridiron this Sunday for Super Bowl glory.
Meet the Quarterbacks…
The San Francisco 49ers closed out the 2012-2013 regular season as red hot as any other team in the National Football League securing their place atop the NFC West and entered the playoffs without missing a stride. After lambasting several teams this year with their trademark hard nosed running game and nearly impregnable defense, they now have an aerial threat that teams are taking notice of, Colin Kaepernick. Standing at a height of 6’4’’, with blazing 4.45 forty-yard dash speed and a cannon for an arm (just ask Randy Moss who nearly broke his hand catching an 8 yard slant route early this season), Kaepernick is one victory shy of going from unknown back up to Super Bowl Champion. Finishing the season with the highest Quarterback Rating (QBR) 84 of any quarterback in the league, Kaepernick is silencing all critics whom think he is just a rocket arm. San Francisco’s ‘Pistol Offense’ plays to Kaepernick’s strengths (incredible size, speed, and ability to read defenses) and will be on full display on Sunday.
Joe Flacco has been under a microscope this 2012-2103 season being consistently ridiculed for his inconsistent play and questionable decision making prior to the start of these playoffs; “Joe Cool” is now proving to be as good as just about every “Joe” that has competed on a Super Sunday prior. Not to be outdone in the cannon department, Flacco is capable of making every throw on the field and is more precise than ever, peeking at the best time to give the Ravens their second Super Bowl since becoming the Baltimore Ravens in 1996. Expect the Ravens franchise quarterback will be looking to stretch the 49ers’ Defense with deep threat Torrey Smith and stymie their linebacking corp with check downs and screen passes to running back Ray Rice.
The Forty-Niners’ defense has been a unit to be feared in 2012 and for many reasons. All-Pro Linebackers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman seem to be improving with every defensive snap with capabilities of spanning across the entire field and missing very few tackles these two help shore up a very stout secondary. “The Smith Brothers” related only by their All-pro caliber play, are a deadly one-two combo of interior tackle and outside pass rusher that cause havoc to opposing quarterbacks and running backs by their disruptive play. And last but certainly not least the safeties and corners on this team will leave ball carriers buzzing long after the whistle blows with their bone shattering tackling which should not overshadow their ability to cover opposing receivers and ball carriers.
The Baltimore Ravens headed by one of the greatest linebackers and safeties to ever play the game in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the Baltimore Ravens are no slouch when it comes to defense and have been letting opposing teams feel their might in these playoffs. Not exactly having their best statistical year as a unit ranking middle of the pack, the Ravens are still not a defense to be trifled with. Haloti Ngata, Terell Suggs, and the always dangerous Bernard Pollard (Patriots Injuries) help anchor a defense that while aging, can shut down even the most explosive of offenses as the New England Patriots and Tom Brady found out for the second year in a row following their defeat in Gillette Stadium just over a week ago.
49ers kicker David Akers has been about as bad as a kicker can be and still maintain his job. Missing very makeable kicks the entire season, which forced the team to temporarily bring in Billy Cundiff, should have San Francisco fans very worried. Will Jim Harbaugh elect to kick a field goal when Akers, his visibly shaken kicker, is facing a kick longer than a chip shot?
The Baltimore Ravens who are riding high on emotion have had a bit of a distracting week. With all of the allegations of Ray Lewis and deer-antler spray and rumors of Ed Reed already being courted by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick; not to mention the decision of whether or not to keep Anquan Boldin following the season, there just appears to be a lot more than football happening in Ravens camp.
The 49ers are the more balanced of the two teams with the recent emergence of Colin Kaepernick and the Red and Gold’s normally conservative offense. This offense which was considered a run first, pass second, nickel and dime offense, is now considered one of the most explosive and feared offenses in the league causing sleepless nights for many a defensive coordinators. Match all of that with a defense that reads like a “who’s who” list of first and second team All-Pros and you get a team that borders on nearly indestructible. Kaerpnick’s ability to hold onto the ball and maintain his ‘cool’ demeanor on the game’s biggest stage are the x-factors that will see Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers raise their 6th Lombardi Trophy or see them sitting in the locker room while John Harbaugh enjoys a Gatorade and confetti bath.
Fearless Prediction: 49ers 34 Baltimore 24