Super Bowl 2013: Early Predictions for 49ers vs. Ravens
The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens will square off in Super Bowl XLVII in a matchup headlined by head coaching brothers Jim and John Harbaugh.
On display in both conference championship games was the ability for both of these team to bounce back from adversity.
The Niners climbed out of an early 17-0 hole to pull out a 28-24 victory in Atlanta over the Falcons, while the Ravens avenged last year's AFC championship loss to the New England Patriots by shaking off a 13-7 halftime deficit to shut down QB Tom Brady and Co. en route to a 28-13 road triumph.
CBSSports.com's official Twitter page pointed out a staggering statistic following Sunday's action:
The Harbaugh brothers outscored their opponents 35-0 in the second half today.— CBSSports.com (@CBSSports) January 21, 2013
After the game in Foxboro, the senior brother John had some comments on the sibling Super Bowl showdown, attempting to dismiss the hype immediately (h/t NFL.com).
I don't know if we had a dream this big...We had a few dreams, we had a few fights. We had a few arguments. We will try to stay out of that business. We'll let the two teams duke it out as much as possible.
Here are some early predictions, which will have two weeks or so to fester before this historic clash in New Orleans' Superdome occurs.
Ravens will continue to have success in vertical passing game
So, maybe offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was the problem in Baltimore. Ever since Jim Caldwell began calling the shots, QB Joe Flacco looks like a new man.
Flacco has looked like an elite quarterback this postseason, throwing eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions in three impressive outings. His clutch TD pass to Jacoby Jones late in the Denver game saved Baltimore's season, but Flacco may have played his best half ever in Foxboro.
After a rocky start, Flacco had a sensational second half at New England in which he threw three touchdown passes and outdueled the legendary Brady.
One good sign for the Ravens is that the Falcons had immense success throwing the ball down the field against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Although Baltimore may not have the likes of Julio Jones and Roddy White, second-year WR Torrey Smith has as much ability as any pass-catcher in the league to blow the top off of a defense. That has been on display all season long, and especially so since Caldwell started making the passing game more vertical.
San Francisco has also struggled to rush the passer recently, so the Ravens should have time for those long-developing pass plays to unfold.
Special teams will be critical
No one missed more field goals in the NFL this season than David Akers. Typically very reliable, the Niners kicker was off the mark on 13 of 42 attempts in the regular season, and he also clanged one off the upright from 38 yards out in the NFC Championship Game.
Meanwhile, rookie Justin Tucker beat out Billy Cundiff for the starting job in training camp. Ironically, Cundiff was the man the Niners nearly replaced Akers with recently.
Kicking game aside, it should not be forgotten that Baltimore had two critical breakdowns in coverage in the divisional round, when Denver Broncos speedster Trindon Holliday returned both a kick and a punt for a touchdown.
If not for Flacco's last-minute bomb to Jones, those plays would have cost the Ravens their season.
It was especially surprising for a John Harbaugh coached team, since the background that preceded his tenure was heavy in that phase of the game.
Niners returner Ted Ginn Jr. is as fast as anyone, and the Ravens will have to stay disciplined in their lanes and contain him as best they can. No one forgets what largely caused San Francisco to fall short of the Super Bowl last year—two misplayed punts by Kyle Williams.
These are two fundamentally sound football teams squaring off, and it wouldn't be surprising if the true difference or turning point in the game occurred on a special teams play.
49ers QB Colin Kaepernick will win MVP
This will only be the second-year quarterback's 10th start in the NFL—not even one full regular season of experience under his belt. But Kaepernick has proved to be wise, composed and knowledgeable beyond his years.
If it were any other QB at this early stage in his career, the Ravens would likely confuse him into multiple mistakes and roll to a relatively easy victory. Such is not the case with Kaepernick, who proved in the victory over Atlanta that he can be as lethal from the pocket as he is with his legs.
The way these teams match up, though, Kaepernick may have more opportunities to get to the edge of the defense.
It will take Baltimore's best efforts to stuff Frank Gore on the inside, and the defense won't be fast enough should Kaepernick see a lane and take off.
Because of the all-around problems Kaepernick presents to even a defense as tough and experienced as Baltimore's, he will ultimately be the X-factor in the Super Bowl. He seems to elevate his game when stakes are high.
Expect Kaepernick to throw for somewhere around 200 yards, but run for 80 or more in bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to San Francisco.
Final Score prediction: 49ers 35, Ravens 27
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