The teams are in New Orleans, media day is over and Super Bowl XLVII is going to happen on Sunday—rain or shine.
Between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, we have two Harbaugh brothers coaching, countless All-Pros getting ready to square off at the line of scrimmage and two QBs looking for their first Super Bowl victory in their young careers.
By all accounts, Feb. 3 will feature two of the most intriguing teams in NFL history.
San Francisco has a dominating defense led by Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith. The Niners also have Colin Kaepernick making headlines each week as a dual-threat QB and the future of the position. The decision to start him over Alex Smith is one that will be regarded as one of the most important in San Francisco's journey to New Orleans.
Baltimore has overcome countless injuries, poor play down the stretch of the regular season and had the Jacoby Jones miracle to beat the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Ravens also went to Foxborough and took it to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. If there was ever a team of destiny, Baltimore might be that team.
Aside from the pre-game festivities and starting lineups, there's not much more we can do other than start making predictions. Here's a look at the spread information, some players to watch and a prediction for who will take home the Lombardi trophy.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans
When: Sunday, Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: CBSSports.com
Listen: Sirius XM Radio: 88, WBAL 1090 AM (Baltimore) or KNBR 680 AM (San Francisco)
Spread: San Francisco -4 (according to Bovada)
Being four-point favorites at a neutral site isn't a huge advantage for San Francisco, but most Super Bowl spreads are going to stay within a touchdown unless the proverbial "Cinderella" team goes 3-0 in the playoffs.
Both teams play stout defense, have QBs that can make big plays and coaches that expect their teams to compete at the highest level. Four points doesn't sound like much, and it isn't. This game could go either way, and it's going to be tough to pick a winner against the spread.
Over/Under: 47.5 (Bovada)
With the spread at four, Vegas expects the final score to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 26-21 San Francisco. Both of these offenses have put up huge games in the postseason, but each defense is also going to have two weeks of preparation for these offenses.
I might be in the minority, but I like the under here. Often times the offense is overrated with two weeks of preparation to stop it, and there's always an old saying hanging around in the back of our mind—defense wins championships.
Key Injuries (via CBS Sports as of 2/1/13)
Both teams have injuries to key defensive players that might force backups into a more prominent role (via Fox Sports) but there were no key absences on Thursday in practice and CBS Sports lists that Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks were the only players on either team that were limited.
LB Dannell Ellerbe (toe, back)—Questionable
TE Dennis Pitta (thigh)—Questionable
LB NaVorro Bowman (shoulder)—Questionable
DE Justin Smith (elbow, triceps)—Questionable
We expect Smith to play, just like NFL.com's Ian Rapoport does:
Players to Watch
Baltimore: RB Ray Rice
Much has been made about Joe Flacco's ability to lead the Ravens on Sunday, but it's Rice who can have a profound impact on the game without the same amount of press or expectations.
Flacco and the passing game has carried the Ravens in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Don't discount Rice, the man who the Ravens will rely on to put them in more favorable situations on first and second down and can be a huge threat in the red zone.
Since San Francisco boasts one of the most fearsome run defenses in the game today, this is no easy task. However, Rice is a top-10 NFL running back for a reason, and he's paid to have big games when his team needs him the most.
As ESPN's Stats and Information notes, Rice is trying to make history on Sunday, and if he does the Ravens have a good chance to win this game:
Baltimore needs to use a balanced attack to down the 49ers, and that will likely start with Rice making sure the Niners can't put too many guys in coverage due to a poor run game. The pressure is on Flacco, but Rice deserves an eye too.
San Francisco: WR Michael Crabtree
It's no secret that Baltimore has lost some key players in the secondary this season—the biggest being Lardarius Webb—but the unit has survived the gauntlet due to some great Baltimore offense and a team-first concept of stopping the passing game.
It's also no secret that Crabtree has been Kaepernick's favorite target since the second-year pro took over the reigns as the starting QB.
With so many weapons—specifically those in the backfield—how will Baltimore play Crabtree? He's been great against man coverage since Kaepernick took over, and he'll likely see a lot of it if the read option is working.
Key to Baltimore Win: Going Where No Team Has Gone Before
Can Baltimore stop Kaepernick?
No one else has this season, and even in the games he doesn't rush for a whole bundle of yards he still has a profound impact as a decoy and a passer.
Where is the middle ground between his passing and running? If John Harbaugh can find it and force brother Jim to do something different, the game plan might not be the same after Beyonce and the halftime show is over.
Key to San Francisco Win: Stay in Attack Mode
The 49ers' offense is at its best when forcing the defense to make a decision. Lead or not, the Niners must not stray from that game plan (not that they would).
San Francisco needs to look no further than Denver to see what can happen when you play it conservatively against the Ravens. By keeping the pedal to the floor, the Niners won't give the Ravens extra chances to find more Flacco magic.
I've been back and forth all week, but it's Friday and this one needs to be final. Here it is:
San Francisco 20, Baltimore 13