The big game is finally here.
For the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, only 60 minutes stands between heart wrenching defeat and sports lore.
Will Ray Lewis walk away from the game a champion? Will Colin Kaepernick cap off his brilliant first year as a starter with the Lombardi trophy? Will Chris Culliver do or say anything else so stupid that we concuss ourselves with a facepalm? It all comes down to this one outing.
The Harbowl is upon us.
For the San Francisco 49ers, just being at the Super Bowl doesn’t mean anything. This team was expected to at the very least be here – they simply did their part not to disappoint. The organizational depth is top notch. Heck, they even have two starting quarterbacks. They are the 3.5 point favorites and are deserving of that distinction. The only question now is: will their favorite status give them confidence or lead to them being burdened by over-the-top expectations?
The Baltimore Ravens have no business being here. They lost arguably two of their best players on defense mid season in Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb. They started the season without Terrell Suggs. They fired their offensive coordinator late in the season. Not exactly a recipe for success. After limping their way into the playoffs they continued to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to get to the Super Bowl, beating New England and Denver. On the road, no less. Can’t imagine confidence is an issue with this group. And it shouldn’t be.
As is the case with any Super Bowl, nerves are going to be a factor. Haven’t seen a Super Bowl where they haven’t been. Both teams are just going to have to find a way to survive the first quarter; make sure they don’t beat themselves. Expect both to come out running. Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice versus Frank Gore and LaMichael James should be a fun match-up. Both teams use the more physical and bruising backs to set the tone, but have also worked the backups into their game plans of late.
It’s a quarterback’s league, though, and ultimately it will come down to the two unlikely Super Bowl pivots. Joe Flacco, who got the Eli Manning treatment when he essentially said he was in the same class as Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick who didn’t even have his first NFL start until week 11.
Now Joe Flacco is playing with such confidence, it almost doesn’t seem utterly absurd that he would consider himself better than Tom Brady. In this playoff run he set a new record for playoff road wins with six. Think that’s good? In this playoff run he has thrown 8 touchdowns to zero interceptions. With contract negotiations surely following the Super Bowl, he couldn’t have picked a better time to break out.
One thing that Flacco has really started doing masterfully is playing to his receivers strengths. He has a real knack for getting the ball into spots where only his receiver can get it. Be it Torrey Smith with the long ball, or Anquan Boldin with the contested catches in tight coverage he gives them the best chance to make the catch.
The Niners pivot hasn’t had all that bad a run himself. It started with a pick six on only his second throw, but it’s been all good since then. He set an NFL record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback with 181 in the same game and has an otherworldly QBR of 94.1. Experience beyond the years with Kaepernick. If the Ravens can’t find a way to keep him contained, they don’t have a hope in hell of winning this game.
Talk about a great matchup. Two very evenly matched teams, with similar strengths and weaknesses. If you haven’t already heard, the two coaches are brothers. As much as I want to see Ray Lewis retire a champion, can’t see it happening. This 49ers team is on fire and relatively healthy. They have one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the game and a punishing defense to match. Regardless of who wins, I just hope it’s a great game for all of us to enjoy. It’s been a great season.
You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDBurkeOV