Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Analyzing the "Harbaugh Bowl"

Super Bowl XLVII will likely always be called the "Harbaugh Bowl" (or "Harbaugh Bowl I" if brothers Jim and John Harbaugh face each other more than once in the NFL's biggest game) but the outcome will not be decided by coaching--the two excellent coaches will cancel each other out--but rather by matchups and the ability to execute under pressure.

The 2000 Baltimore Ravens won the franchise's first and only Super Bowl with a dominant defense supplemented by just enough timely scoring: their blueprint was to hold opposing teams to fewer than two touchdowns (they gave up a league-best 10.3 ppg during the regular season and an astonishing 5.8 ppg in four postseason games) and then figure out how to muster up at least 14 points from the offense and special teams (and, occasionally, the defense). The 2012 Ravens score 4.1 ppg more than the 2000 Ravens did and they allow their opponents to score 11.2 ppg more than the 2000 Ravens did; the 2012 Ravens gave up 19 ppg in their three playoff wins prior to the Super Bowl but they scored 30 ppg. Quarterback Joe Flacco may be the best long ball passer in the league, so the 2012 Ravens can threaten the entire field and thus spread the defense out to pave the way for the Ray Rice-led rushing attack.

The San Francisco 49ers were established as the early favorite and even though the initial line has tightened a bit the oddsmakers still lean toward the NFC Champion. Second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick became a starter when Alex Smith suffered a concussion and Kaepernick kept the job by proving that he could provide a big play dynamic that Smith lacks; Kaepernick initially made his name as a runner but he also has a strong arm and he reads defenses surprisingly well considering his lack of NFL experience. The 49ers are a big, physical team on both sides of the ball, ranking fourth in rushing--the hallmark of a physical offensive team--and second in points allowed. Kaepernick shredded the Green Bay Packers with 181 yards rushing (setting the NFL single game record for rushing yards by a quarterback in the regular season or playoffs) in a 45-31 Divisional Round playoff win and then he picked apart the Atlanta Falcons with 16-21 passing for 233 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in a 28-24 NFC Championship Game win.

The biggest key to the Super Bowl will be whether or not the Ravens can contain the running game featuring Frank Gore, LaMichael James and Kaepernick without getting gashed by Kaepernick's precision passing. My rooting interest in this game is well-documented--my heart does not want to see Ray Lewis lead Art Modell's former team to victory--but that does not affect my ability to objectively analyze this contest: I would pick the Ravens if I thought that they were the better team but, even though they may be able to match the 49ers' physicality, the Super Bowl will be decided by two or three explosive offensive plays created by the hands and/or feet of Kaepernick. San Francisco will win, 31-21.

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