Watch, Vegas—the Baltimore Ravens are coming.
While Jim Harbaugh's team rode an aggressive defense and an unconventional style of offense led by quarterback Colin Kaepernick to the Super Bowl, the Ravens are a veteran squad that's embodied a hardnose brand of football for more than a decade. Whether it's Ray-Ray in the middle, Haloti Ngata up front or Ed Reed on the back end, the Ravens know how to bury an opponent.
That isn't to discredit the 49ers.
They're a fantastic team and probably one that will remain a Super Bowl contender for years to come.
But, in Lewis' last game, it will be the Ravens riding high.
Baltimore's patented brand of smashmouth defense and a ground-and-pound offense has undergone an evolution in recent years. Joe Flacco has been a lightning rod for criticism during his six-year career in Baltimore, but his winning record speaks for itself.
Since taking over as a rookie in 2008, Flacco has compiled a 54-26 regular-season record, while going 8-4 in the playoffs, leading his team to the conference championship the past two years before making the final push to the Big Game in New Orleans.
While he may have been labeled a game manager earlier in his career, the former first-round pick has developed into a playmaker.
In seven of his last eight playoff outings, the strong-armed Flacco has posted an elite 15:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He hasn't thrown a pick at all this postseason.
Flacco's ascension to elite status, particularly in the postseason, has given Baltimore a huge boost; one that could put them over the top. It couldn't have come at a better time for a team whose defensive stars have been hobbled in recent years. Terrell Suggs missed significant time with an Achilles injury, Ed Reed has battled various nicks and bruises and Ray Lewis started just six games in the regular season after tearing his triceps.
With a team that's finally healthy, Baltimore looks poised to topple the 49ers.
San Francisco's defense is certainly a tough matchup, but its secondary struggled against the Atlanta Falcons and may not have the talent to compete with Baltimore's firepower.
The Ravens' trio of Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones doesn't appear lethal on paper, but the three receivers have carved out roles in this offense. Smith and Jones are premier deep threats, and just ask the Patriots if Boldin has anything left in the tank.
And let's not forget about Ray Rice.
The former second-round pick has been a work horse during his six-year career, carrying the ball over 1,200 times. Although he hasn't been great in the playoffs, you have to imagine he'll step up in the biggest game of his life.
Defensively, the Ravens have a more complete team than the 49ers, who have struggled to get after the passer lately.
Sure, Colin Kaepernick is a huge threat—both through the air and on the ground—but it seems wrong to doubt the experience and instincts of Reed, Suggs, Lewis and Ngata.
Four points isn't exactly a tough thing to overcome for either team. In fact, it wouldn't be a surprise to see this game end on a field goal.
However, Baltimore has beat up on Andrew Luck, toppled Peyton Manning and stomped Tom Brady in the playoffs. The offense is diverse and only getting better with the emergence of running back Bernard Pierce. If the offensive line can keep Flacco clean in the pocket, this could turn into a nightmare for San Francisco's overmatched secondary.
Safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson excel in run support, but simply can't keep up with speedsters like Smith and Jones. Throw in tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson to work the middle of the field, and the Ravens could easily start piling on the points.
With a lineup that's finally healthy and a core group of leaders that's desperate to go out with a Super Bowl ring, the Ravens look like the favorites to spoil the four-point spread.
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