By Jerrell Richardson
Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Head Coach: John Harbaugh
Players to Watch: Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs
There is of course, the Lombardi Trophy in the balance, but Super Bowl XLVII is also about respect, and for one specific player, money. For many years, the darling of the AFC has remained the New England Patriots, despite the fact that they have not won a title in almost 10 years. But this could all come to an end on Sunday. With one more win this season, the Baltimore Ravens will get the respect they deserve and step out of the shadow of their conference rival, all while allowing Joe Flacco to shed the nickname “Fluke-o”, and cash himself an elite quarterback check. A loss for the Ravens though, will leave them not only just shy of their goal, but also with far more questions than answers heading into next season.
When Baltimore Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
Offensively, Baltimore is a slightly above average team. They have the big names with Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and Joe Flacco leading the way, but their game plan is oftentimes conservative and predictable. It’s hard to fault play calling when the Ravens are on the verge of a title, but this will not work against an elite defense like San Francisco. The Baltimore ground game was ranked 11th during the regular season, but will have a hard time running against the 49er front. Rice is as strong as any back in the league, but he does not fit the mold of the physical, bruising back (see Marshawn Lynch and Ahmad Bradshaw) that has given San Francisco trouble this season. If unable to get anything from the ground game, the Ravens will have plenty of options to throw too, and this is where they can cause the most damage.
Joe Flacco has played lights out this post season, throwing eight touchdowns with a single interception. It’s no coincidence that he is the middle of contract negotiations, as there is sometimes no greater motivator than money. A win in the Super Bowl will ensure him a big payday, but it will not be easy, especially if the running game is ineffective. Flacco has his deep threat option in Torry Smith and his possession and red zone target in Anquan Boldin, but will have to utilize tight end Dennis Pitta to keep pace with the 49ers. If Flacco does not have a big day passing, it will be on the defense to contain the San Francisco offense.
When San Francisco Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
The once dominant Ravens’ defense has looked vulnerable this season. Part of it has been injuries and players missing games, but even in the playoffs with everyone back, they have been less than impressive. The bend-but-don’t-break mentality — giving up yards, but not points — has obviously worked, but that’s because they have been able to create turnovers. In Ed Reed they have a player who not only has the ability to quickly diagnose a play and put himself in a position to force a mistake, but one who is thinking of scoring when he gets his hands on the ball. It will be on him to trick young Colin Kaepernick into a game changer. Ray Lewis has played well during the post season, and will only play better in the final game of his career. However, if the Ravens do not create turnovers, they will find themselves unable to stop the 49ers.
Best Team Should Win
Although the 49ers hold the advantage on both sides of the ball, it’s not by a large margin, and Super Bowl XLVII will be close. Baltimore will hope to jump out to a quick start, but even if they fall behind early, with Ray Lewis leading the way, they will respond as they have all year and will fight to the final whistle. But it will not be enough. In the end, overall talent will prevail, and after the 49ers win their sixth Super Bowl, Baltimore will be left wondering how much to pay Flacco, what parts of their already suspect defense will be coming back, and what to do as they step back into the shadow of the Patriots.
For more Super Bowl content and the latest 49er news, see CBS Sports San Francisco.
Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.