Super Bowl XLVII Matchup Prediction
The Ravens have proven something to me during this playoff run: they are a big-game team. They may look sloppy and flat-out terrible at times throughout the regular season, but when it comes down to a "win or go home" situation, these guys come to play.
The player who has proven this the most has been quarterback Joe Flacco. I still wouldn't consider Flacco an elite quarterback, even if he wins the Super Bowl. He's not the type of guy who will put up 45 points in a shootout to counter an opponent who lights up the scoreboard, the way a Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers does. However, I do consider Flacco an elite big-game quarterback.
It's tough to argue Flacco's 8-4 playoff record, which includes the most playoff road wins by any quarterback in NFL history. Did he get lucky in Denver? Sure he did, but he followed up by out-dueling Tom Brady in Foxboro the next week. He simply finds ways to win, and while I don't think he deserves the $100 million contract he's asking for, I have to give credit where credit is due.
Another factor working in the Ravens' favor is that this season just seems "meant to be" for them. Keep in mind, if Ray Rice doesn't take a dump off on 4th and 29 for a first down in Week 12, the Ravens probably end up in a Wild Card spot facing the Texans - who they lost to by 30 this year - in the first round of the playoffs. If Rahim Moore doesn't misjudge Flacco's game-tying bomb as badly as I've ever seen a safety play a deep ball, the Ravens don't even make it to the AFC Championship. This Ravens team just seems to be feeding off the return of Ray Lewis, fighting with everything they've got, and finding ways to come out on top when the clock hits 0:00.
The team they'll face this week, however, may not be the type of team they can beat strictly on inspired effort. These Harbaugh boys know how to get their team to fight, and while John has his Ravens leaving it all on the field every Sunday, Jim has his 49ers doing just the same.
The 49ers boast the best defense the Ravens will have seen all season, allowing the second least points in the league by both bottling up the run and shutting down the pass. Defenses that the Ravens have struggled to score on this season include the Chiefs (9 points), Texans (13), Steelers (13), and Chargers (16, three of which came in overtime). Those numbers don't bode well for the Ravens, who are facing a 49ers team that now features a high powered offense in addition to their dominant defense. But as I said, the Ravens are a big-game team. They're simply different in the playoffs. They only managed 17 points against the Broncos on December 16th. Less than a month later, they put 38 on the scoreboard in Denver.
Despite the fact that these two teams have been lauded for their defensive prowess over the past few seasons (or in the Ravens case, over the past decade), and the fact that the Ravens beat the 49ers by a score of 16-6 in 2011, I don't think either defense will shut down their opponent. What the defenses are going to need to focus on is holding the other team to field goals, and forcing turnovers. Turnovers don't just take points off the board - they often allow the beneficiary of the turnover to score more easily. I think whoever wins the turnover battle has a great shot at winning this game.
So who has the advantage? Here's a shocking stat: the 49ers and Ravens both gave the ball away 16 times during the regular season, and they also both forced 25 turnovers. So there you have it - no one has the advantage.
The way these two offenses are playing, I expect the game to start off in a ground and pound fashion, but quickly morph into a battle between the two quarterbacks. Either a Flacco bomb to one of his speedy receivers or an electrifying read-option by Colin Kaepernick is likely to spark the offensive game plans. Once the offenses get going, it will eventually come down to who can make the big play that wins the big game.
Who do I like? I know I've raved about Flacco's big-game excellence, but I'm taking the versatility of Colin Kaepernick. Not only can Kaepernick hit a home run to tie up the game or take the lead in a big moment, but his prowess in the rushing game can help the 49ers run the clock if they have a lead down the stretch.
In addition, it may not seem like it, but Kaepernick has been under an immense amount of pressure, and has responded incredibly. He replaced a quarterback in Alex Smith who was playing extremely well with a quarterback rating of 104.1. If Kaepernick didn't make it to the Super Bowl, a lot of people would have considered the 49ers' midseason quarterback change a bad move, but that didn't faze Kaepernick. The young dual threat simply took the NFL by storm with electric performances on his way to the biggest stage in sports.
I think Kaepernick steps up one final time for the 2012 San Francisco 49ers, using his versatility to put up points in a number of ways. Flacco will be ready to make his case for that giant contract he's hoping for, but when it comes down to it, Kaepernick makes the big play - whether it be a run or pass, and whether it be to take the lead or hold the lead - that ices the game.
49ers win 31-27.