Friday, February 1, 2013

The Super Bowl Pick

These People Are Freaking Spoiled
Baltimore at SAN FRANCISCO (-3.5)

Just because the game should be good, that doesn't mean I'm all that pumped to see it. There's no real rivalry here, unless you want to get into the whole sibling thing from the coaches, and if you want to get into that, you are reading the wrong blog. Unless you are a fan of one of the rivals of either team (and, well, Pittsburgh Fan is, which is why there's a mild public sentiment for the Niners), there's no great advantage to rooting against either team. At the end of this game, either Ray Lewis or Randy Moss is going to be really happy, so there's really no winning on that score.

So let's just get into the nuts and bolts of an actual football game, shall we?

Why the Niners will win: A spectacularly dynamic running game, with RB Frank Gore pounding the middle, RB LaMichael James gaining the edge, and QB Colin Kaepernick able to do either, or pull it back and exploit opportunities down field. TE Vernon Davis is the Niners' most explosive pass catcher, and the Raven defense has been susceptible to tight ends all year, even in the playoffs. WR Michael Crabtree moves the chains, and Moss usually distracts enough to give the other WRs room to operate. The offensive line has won every game they've played in the playoffs. The defense has moments of dominance, and the pass rush can make big plays. The NFC was better than the AFC this year.

Why the Niners will lose: The secondary has been porous at times in the post-season, and could give up the big plays to Raven WRs Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith that have been the bane of all of the Raven opponents this year. There's an awful lot on Kaepernick's shoulders here, and if he doesn't play well, they can't win. K David Akers is as shaky as they come. There's a history of problems in the return game.

Why the Ravens will win: Magical stuff has been happening here, which is pretty common when the #4 seed gets to the finals. The defense has been loads better in the second half of the year, and is as healthy and experienced as you can hope for in a February game. QB Joe Flacco does not impress on the numbers, but he wins an awful lot of playoff games, and his big arm and willingness to stand in the pocket opens things up for the ground and short game. They have the best RB (Ray Rice) and WR (Smith) in this game, and the offensive line isn't bad. RB Bernard Pierce and TE Dennis Pitta keep making big plays. They've got dramatically better special teams, and a lot more playoff experience.

Why the Ravens will lose: Flacco's history is erratic, with stink jobs showing up against good defenses pretty routinely. Rice has had fumble issues. The offense can take series, and quarters, off without warning. The defense is ancient and could get tired against the Niner ground game. A good amount of that playoff experience has been in losses.

The pick: I keep going against the Ravens to the peril of my bank account, and keep waiting for the flawed regular season team to show up. So far, that's happened in every game, but not to the point of problem. Now, you can point to that and say that they are a team of destiny, that MLB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed are just that gutty when it comes to winning, or that there is more to Flacco and this big-play offense than meets the eye, in terms of inspiring teammates to overcome adversity.

Or, and this is the dirty little secret of the NFL this year... they might have just played some mediocre teams.

Denver got the #2 seed by stomping over the AFC West, a division that had two of the five worst reams in football, and a second place team that was a sub-.500 turnover machine. Baltimore won the North in a year where Pittsburgh fell apart due to age and injury, Cincinnati squandered their resources and Cleveland was, well, Cleveland. Baltimore got this far by beating a rookie QB on the road, an elderly one with a history of playoff failure when they got amazingly lucky against a prevent defense, and the paper tiger team of the age.

Meanwhile, San Francisco dismantled the best QB in the NFL, then worked over a dome home team that, while not very well respected, might be better than New England.

I can't help but think that if Baltimore plays their best game, and San Francisco plays theirs, the Niners will win and cover. Or that if the Niners play their best game and Baltimore is a little flat, that this could be a runaway.

So I'm taking the Niners, with only a small amount of confidence, in the hopes that Akers will walk away with a ring without costing me another cover. And that we're not about to enter another age of Niner Dominance.

Niners 24, Ravens 20

Last week: 1-1

Season to date: 125-132-5

 Past Super Bowls: 3-3

Career: 670-661-30

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