Over one billion people will have their eyes and ears on New Orleans, La. Feb. 3 to see who will be crowned the Super Bowl XLVII champions. Will it be the San Francisco 49ers, led by second-year stars including head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick?
Or will Jim’s brother, John, and the well-known defense of the Baltimore Ravens reign supreme on Super Bowl Sunday?
In terms of the hungrier team, I say without a doubt, the Ravens take the cake. Having been to three AFC Championship games in the past five years before finally getting over the hump, Baltimore won’t be satisfied with just making it to the Super Bowl, and there is no way linebacker Ray Lewis is going to let the team settle for that.
Lewis is the only team member left from the Ravens Super Bowl XXXV team, and he is retiring at the end of the year. Surrounding him on defense are players like Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, who have been cornerstones of the defense during the team’s three trips to the AFC Championship games. Having finally made it, after spending several games on the bench due to injuries over that time span, the Baltimore defense trio is ready to give their all to get a championship ring.
However, don’t forget about the 49ers defense. Patrick Willis is the best-known name, and he deserves to be with his 120 tackles and two forced fumbles. However, you cannot ignore outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Another second-year star, Smith recorded 19.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 66 tackles. Smith started all 16 games this year for San Francisco and has played in each game of his two-year career.
Finally, the inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman leads the team in tackles with 166. Case in point, the San Francisco linebacking corps have led the league in sacks, tackles and forced fumbles. Their ability to create opportunities for the rest of the defense to make plays and stop the opponents offense before any damage can be done is vital.
On the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers have plenty of weapons to choose from. When a team acquires Brandon Jacobs and cuts him from the squad, you know you have options. Jacobs’ former New York Giants teammate Mario Manningham is also out, but he is missing due to injury. Even with two players that have big play potential out, San Francisco is still stacked.
Randy Moss will try to win his first Super Bowl along with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. Crabtree led the team with 1,105 receiving yards on 85 receptions and has scored nine touchdowns.
As far as the running game goes, Frank Gore put up another 1,000 yard rushing season and has scored nine touchdowns. Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James have been excellent backup options, and Kaepernick ended up being the third leading rusher on the team, with 415 yards and scoring 5 touchdowns.
A lot of people were concerned when Harbaugh stuck with Kaepernick, even when now-backup Alex Smith was ready to return from his concussion. It turns out that Smith and Kaepernick both attempted 218 passes in the regular season, with Smith 153 and Kaepernick completing 136. Smith also ended the year with a higher quarterback rating. Why did Harbaugh choose to stick with Kaepernick? Because the offense is harder to defend when he is behind center.
Many have criticized the kind of option offense that the 49ers have run in the playoffs, but look at the results. Green Bay had no answer after trying practically everything on defense from blitzing to adding a QB-spy, but still let up 579 total yards. Atlanta allowed a 17-point comeback last week at the hands of the 49er offense.
Baltimore’s offense has its fair share of playmakers as well. There is no quarterback controversy, everybody knows that Ray Rice seems to be able to dance his way to wherever he wishes, and the receiving corps have been living up to expectations.
Even though Rice is going to get the ball a lot and teams try to prepare for it, he still goes where he wants at will. Anybody who makes a fourth-and-29 play work has special abilities. But don’t forget about his backup, Bernard Pierce. Pierce is the Scottie Pippen of the NFL. He could be a well-known starter for most teams, but he just happens to play on the same team as Rice. Pierce actually averaged half a yard more per carry than Rice during the regular season.
After the Broncos game, the 49ers should be aware of what the receiving corps of the Ravens are capable of. Jacoby Jones, Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin have been a force to be reckoned with. Boldin — who went to the Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 — came up clutch against the Pats last week after Jones made a season-saving catch against the Broncos the week before. Unlike the 49ers, this passing attack is much more balanced. Boldin leads the team in recieving yards with 921 while Smith leads in touchdown catches with eight in the regular season.
Finally, we are on to special teams. David Akers has been abysmal all season for the Niners, while the Ravens picked up rookie Justin Tucker after last year’s Billy Cundiff debacle. In a game that could come down to a field goal, the Ravens definitely have the edge.
What do both of these teams have in common besides the fact that their head coaches are brothers?
Both have beaten New England at Gillette Stadium late in the year, both have defenses that can bottle up their opponents strengths, and both have explosive offensive weapons and the ability to come back from deficits. This game is going to come down to who wants it more and whose defense can get the job done.
I predict that the Baltimore Ravens will get the job done. New England fans will probably vomit in their mouths after I say this, but Ray Lewis’ emotional leadership — whether or not you think it’s all for show or not — has kept this team in the playoffs and has inspired them to some degree. Their offense has the ability to keep up with any other offense in the league, and with the passing attack being as balanced as it is, Flacco and Rice with lead this team to the Lombardi Trophy ceremony after Sunday’s game.
Ravens 28, 49ers 24