Super Bowl XLVII has arrived and this game is set to be a defensive battle to the death. The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers will travel to New Orleans to compete on February 3rd, 2013 for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and this year’s NFL Championship. There are many stories to go along with this year’s Super Bowl. There’s the Harbaugh brothers, each a head coach and both in this game; there’s Ray Lewis, legend and super-star LB for the Ravens set to retire after this game; there’s San Francisco who has won 5 Super Bowls, but trails Pittsburgh who has 6 Super Bowls; there’s the surprising rise of the Ravens’ offense, after an inconsistent regular season; and there’s San Francisco’s young QB Colin Kaepernick who has only started 9 NFL games, but gives the 49ers a pass and run option.
The odds makers agree, this game will be a battle. With a spread this narrow and with very few people predicting anything otherwise, it’s worth looking at how these two teams compare on the stats sheet.
At QB the Ravens’ Joe Flacco has a clear playoff experience advantage having not only played in more playoff games but also having won twice as many as he has lost. He is also the league’s most dangerous down field passer having completed 101 passes for 20 yards or more this season without a single interception at that distance. Flacco had 10 INTs this season but has had 0 INTs during his 3 playoff games this season; he has thrown 8 TDs in this post-season and is averaging 9.17 yards a pass. Clearly these sorts of numbers would be useful in a hurry up scenario in the dying minutes of the game. Furthermore, the 49ers’ safeties have been suspect at times this season and made some big mistakes on deep routes against the Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons last week. 49ers’ QB Colin Kaepernick has made a name for himself this season with his blazing throwing arm and his willingness to run the ball. Kaepernick is young, improving and has yet to falter under the pressure of the playoffs. Kaepernick’s arm strength means that he rarely throws his ball off-target; the overwhelming majority of his incompletions have been receiver drops. That has led to a 63.5% completion rating and averaged 9.54 yards per pass; he has, however, thrown 1 INT in the post-season. Where Flacco ran for 22 yards this season on 32 attempts, Kaepernick ran for 415 yards on 63 attempts.
At the RB position each team’s starters have gotten about the same carries per game in the post-season but one has averaged more yards per carry than the other. 49ers’ RB Frank Gore has in two games carried 44 times for 209 yards, 3 TDs and 0 FUM. Ravens’ RB Ray Rice has in three games carried 64 times for 247 yards, 2 TDs and 2 FUM. That gives Gore an average of 4.8 yards per carry and Rice an average of 3.9 yards per carry. As in any close game, turnovers can be costly.
Both teams have an outstanding set of WRs so neither team really has an edge in its receiving core. Overall the Ravens’ offense has averaged 424.7 yards per game in the post-season and has scored an average of 30 points per game. San Francisco’s offense has out done the Ravens in average total offense with 476 yards per game. And, the 49ers have averaged 36.5 points per game in the post-season.
Baltimore’s defense has looked terrific under the leadership of LB Ray Lewis during the post-season; over their three games the defense has seen a huge number of snaps and still managed to deliver wins. The Ravens’ have had a total of 247 tackles in the post-season. To put that in perspective, New England, who played just two post season games, was the next closest defense with 148 tackles; San Francisco has amounted just 114 tackles. Baltimore has had 6 sacks while San Francisco has had 2 sacks. Baltimore has had 5 INTs to San Francisco’s 2 INTs. Baltimore has forced 4 FUM and San Francisco has forced 2 FUM. During the post season San Francisco has allowed an average of 22.5 points and Baltimore has allowed an average of 23.5 points. You almost have to give the defensive edge to Baltimore in this game. As a unit, and even down to each player, they have endured more, produced more and overcome more in this post-season than any other defense in the league, including San Francisco.
Does a 3.5 point spread make sense? It sure does, after what Baltimore has shown as a team in the post-season, but especially on defense, that per game margin of 6 points that the 49ers have scored is basically negated. A spread at 3 could even be generous to the 49ers. As for the 47 points, that score total probably will not be exceeded. In the NFC Championship the Falcons scored all their points in the first half, and then they got shut out in the second half. Nearly identical scoring happened the prior week in Atlanta when the Falcons score 20 points in the first half then just 10 points in the second half, just getting by the Seahawks’ tough defense. The Georgia Dome is a hostile place to play if you are a visiting team, that first half is clearly hard to get through but once the visiting team adjusts they play like themselves. Therefore it is more likely that the 49ers defense in the second half of the NFC Championship game is the defense we will see in the Super Bowl. Then consider how the Ravens played in New England, they kept the Patriots to 13 points while in Foxboro. Two games earlier they held Indianapolis to 9 points. In retrospect, the Denver-Baltimore game was really the AFC’s two best teams. Basically this will be a defensive game. The outcome will be decided by whichever defense can give up the least. As they say: defense wins championships.
So yes, the 49ers probably have the more consistent and balanced offense in this game, but Baltimore might have the better defense. That means it comes down to the 49ers’ defense against Baltimore’s offense, if that’s what the match-up comes down to then the 49ers win by a small margin.
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