It’s not often that you get a second chance in sports, but the Baltimore Ravens and San Fransisco 49ers both were able to make it happen and they used it wisely.
After each team was a heartbreak away from the Super Bowl last year, they have come all the way back, and this time, they have earned a spot in the big game.
The Ravens have done it after knocking off both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road. The Niners have done it after a controversial quarterback change in the middle of the year that somehow has turned out to be successful.
The bottom line is that these two teams have had the odds stacked against them. But here they are, both in Super Bowl XLVII. Unfortunatley, only one team can finish their storybook season with a championship. So will it be: John Harbaugh‘s Ravens or Jim Harbaugh‘s 49ers?
For John, it won’t be easy. San Fran is favored by 4.5, and they are led by a defense with great physical ability. They had six defensive Pro-Bowlers while only one other team had more than six on offense, defense and special teams combined.
In the regular season, they were in the top-3 in yards, points and first downs allowed per game. That is a pretty nice resume. However, don’t let all that make you assume that they will shut down the Ravens in this game.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is getting hot at the right time. With the help of receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, he has thrown for a combined 853 yards with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in the three Ravens playoff wins. And luckily for him, not only did the Niners just allow Matt Ryan to throw for almost 400 yards last week, but their notorious pass rush was weak.
Outside linebacker Aldon Smith led the NFL in sacks, but hasn’t gotten one since Week 14, which is five games in a row without one. San Fran has only had two sacks in their two playoff games. Meanwhile, the Ravens have allowed just four sacks in their three playoff games.
Flacco certainly has the potential to enjoy another big game. If he can have success, then it will open the game up for running back Ray Rice. Rice, who turned 26 just a week ago, has eclipsed the 1,140-yards mark for four seasons in a row and has become one of the NFL’s premier running backs.
But while the Niners pass rush has not been up-to-par, they have indeed been able to stop the run. They had the fourth-ranked rush defense in the NFL this year, and allowed Jacquizz Rodgers and Michael Turner of the Falcons to just 62 yards on 18 carries last week, just one week after the duo had ran for 162 yards on against a top-ranked Seattle defense.
The Ravens will need to get Flacco going if they can win this game, because Rice could be in trouble on the ground.
The man everybody will have their eyes on is 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The second-year pro out of Nevada started the year off as a Wildcat quarterback, serving as a backup to Alex Smith, but replaced him after he went down with injury. And so far, Kaepernick has never looked back.
He has led San Fran to this point with a 7-2 record in the games he has started. His running ability is exceptional, as he set the NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a game with 181 against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round.
He’ll play against a Baltimore secondary that has looked unsteady at times this year, but they are also a game off of going into Foxborough and holding Tom Brady and the Patriots to just 13 points. However, unlike New England, where the Niners really hurt defenses is on the ground.
Running back Frank Gore has had a stellar this year, averaging nearly five yards per-carry. The Ravens come into this game allowing just four yards per-carry, tied for seventh in the NFL. The tough job of stopping Gore in this game could be their biggest key to a win.
Despite his excellent numbers, the Ravens do have good reason to think that they`ll be able to stop him. This is because in Week 12 of the 2011 season — the last time these two teams met — the Ravens were indeed able to shut down Gore, as he ran for just 39 yards on 14 carries.
That’s the least amount of yards he’s had in a game this year or last year (min. 10 carries). Considering that, Gore and the Niners run game have a very intriguing match-up against Baltimore.
This game features two evenly-matched teams and has the storylines of a great Super Bowl. At first, I thought that the Niners looked like a clear winner, but as I see all the numbers, this isn’t so clear anymore. Baltimore is simply on fire at the right time, and I believe that they will carry their momentum into the big game.
Still, whatever happens, this could be one for the ages.
Final Score: Ravens 24, 49ers 23
By Jared Goodman
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