Raise your hands if you predicted Baltimore and San Francisco to meet in Super Bowl 47 at the beginning of the playoffs. And everyone, put your hands down. You didn't predict it.
No one did.
But here they are. Two brothers squaring off as head coaches in the big game. A pocket passer looking to end his "elite" debate and a running quarterback looking to put an exclamation point on a spectacular season. A retiring linebacker craving one final ring and a possibly retiring receiver craving his first.
Oh, and there are some more stars. Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Ray Rice, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata are all great players, and Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Aldon Smith and Justin Smith are nothing short of great. And all of these players will take the field on Super Bowl Sunday.
However, only one of these teams will be happy on Sunday night. And while it's nearly impossible to predict the exact outcome, it's always fun to forecast what's to come in the big game.
Both teams are very physical and are here partly because of that, but also because of their heart and willingness to fight until the game ends. San Francisco came back from down 17 against Atlanta, while Baltimore came back multiple times against Denver and against New England. And all three of these games were on the road.
Joe Flacco may not be the best quarterback in the league, but he's undoubtedly a winner. Flacco has an 8-4 playoff record and is looking to improve to 9-4 in the Super Bowl. Colin Kaepernick is 2-0 in the playoffs and 7-2 in his career, and he's looking for his eighth win.
Kaepernick is a strong-armed quarterback who can pass from the pocket but can also run the read-option, and he can scramble too. San Francisco has dominated with the read-option, as Kaepernick makes great reads and confuses the defense.
While there is talent in the Baltimore defense, Lewis and Reed have lost a step, and there will likely need to be a linebacker covering the fastest tight end in the NFL, Vernon Davis. Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss are weapons as well, and Gore will always keep Baltimore looking for the run, especially since San Francisco runs a lot.
On defense, the 49ers are very physical and talented. Aldon Smith had 19.5 sacks, and Justin Smith allows Aldon to find the quarterback by being physical and taking up defenders. Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are talented Pro Bowl safeties. Chris Culliver had a key interception against Atlanta, Carlos Rogers is a Pro Bowl corner, and Tarell Brown has made tons of great plays as a cover corner while not giving up much room to receivers.
Oh, and did I mention Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman? These two middle linebackers are the best in football, and they never miss a tackle and can make great plays in coverage, as Bowman did when he knocked away Matt Ryan's fourth-down pass against the Falcons that saved the game for San Francisco.
The 49ers allowed 17.1 PPG and finished third in total defense this year, and they have completely stopped the run. Last year, no one ran for a touchdown on the 49ers until Week 16, and they have been just as good against the run this year. Lots of 49ers fans have been saying that the Ravens are just an older, less talented version of the 49ers, and they may be right. San Francisco has more talent on defense, and probably on offense as well.
But then, there's the Baltimore argument.
Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis have carried Baltimore through tons of adversity, and it seems like destiny for Baltimore and the retiring Lewis to win it all. Lewis has 44 tackles in three playoff games, and the Baltimore defense has stepped up in the playoffs. Corey Graham has stepped up, but he might not even need to be great. San Francisco doesn't have much depth at wide receiver at all, and Graham will likely be matched up with the older Randy Moss. The same goes for Cary Williams when he is on the field.
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce have both been great in the playoffs, and the combination will have the 49ers on their heels. Joe Flacco has been great when he has had time, and the 49ers gave Ryan all the time in the world in the NFC Championship game. Flacco will have time, and I forecast him making some nice plays for the Ravens.
Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta are very hard to stop, and all three will get open when given time. Baltimore has a very good offensive line, and they can stop the 49ers defensive line. They can beat the 49ers as well, even though the 49ers are physical. San Francisco hasn't faced a physical team this postseason.
Both teams can definitely win and take home the Lombardi Trophy. But which team will?
The 49ers and Ravens both got to the conference championship last year, and they are both coached by incredible brothers who have made incredibly tough decisions to help their team. Both are talented, but one will walk away. And I'm 80 percent sure that the team will be the 49ers.
Baltimore has beaten finesse teams, but the 49ers are anything but that. The 49ers always surprise their opponent, and they are nearly impossible to stop. Frank Gore is a bruising running back, LaMichael James is a change-of-pace back, and Kaepernick can run and throw. The linebackers respect Kaepernick's running ability, which gets one-on-one coverage on semi-deep routes over the middle.
San Francisco's offense is nearly impossible to prepare for and stop, and I doubt that the defense will allow a shootout. Baltimore's will give up points, and the 49ers won't give up a big lead and they won't back down if they fall behind. However, Flacco might have trouble if he is forced to do too much, as I believe the run game will be stopped.
And if the run game is stopped, Flacco will have to do a lot. And if he has to do a lot, he will struggle. So what does that mean?
It means the 49ers will be winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday.
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