There are plenty of storylines heading into this game: Hey, did you hear that the head coaches are brothers! How about Ray Lewis is retiring and how many times have you Googled something or anything to do with deer antler spray?
San Francisco and Baltimore are two very good football teams. They are well coached, thrive on emotion and bring a sense of physicality both offensively and defensively to the field. Quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick are intriguing. Frank Gore and Ray Rice are two of the best running backs in the NFL. Michael Crabtree, and Vernon Davis have made big plays in the passing game for San Francisco; Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith have been big play receivers for the Ravens. Ray Lewis and Randy Moss are a pair of future Hall of Famers that have made it clear they want to put their imprint in this game, quite possibly the last in their careers. Lastly, both teams have made names for themselves based on their defenses.
Kaepernick has given the 49ers another dimension on offense with his legs and escape ability to go with a strong arm and more importantly has gone 7-2 as the starter. Kaepernick in those nine games has completed 62 percent of his passes while averaging 7.2 yards rushing to go with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. Flacco has long been criticized as a quarterback that can’t win a big game, and not a quarterback who can lead a team to a championship. All Flacco has done these playoffs is take that opinion and made it wrong. Flacco has thrown 10 TDs with a passer rating of 111.5 leading the Ravens to four wins in its last five games, and -- oh, by the way -- he hasn’t thrown an interception during that stretch. Flacco’s postseason has been fantastic with eight touchdowns in wins over the Colts, Broncos and Patriots with the last two coming on the road.
Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk told me this week when I asked about the running backs for both teams that he feels they are the engines that run the offense. Gore for the 49ers rushed for 1,214 yards this season to go with eight touchdowns. San Francisco as a team ranked fourth in the NFL averaging 155.7 yards a game. Baltimore ranked 11th this season with 118.8 yards on the ground for an average as Ray Rice finished with 1143 yards and nine touchdowns for the year. As for how they stop the run, Baltimore is 20th in the NFL and San Francisco is fourth overall in the league.
If Flacco and Kaepernick can get anything going in the air they both have solid targets that make plays. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree is the 49ers leading pass catch with 85 grabs for 1105 yards to go with nine touchdowns. Tight end Vernon Davis is next with 41 catches and 548 yards to go with his five touchdowns on the season. Recievers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith didn’t have 1000 yards this year but Boldin had 17 plays of 20 or more yards while hauling in 65 passes for 921 yards. Smith had 855 yards on the season and had 16 plays go for 20 or more yards to go with his eight touchdowns. Tight end Dennis Pita may not be a household name like Davis is in San Francisco but he has seven touchdowns this year.
The story of two future Hall of Famers playing likely their last games has also fed into the emotion for each squad. Ray Lewis announced just prior to the start of the post season that he was calling it quits when the Ravens post season concluded. The team has kicked it up a notch with battle crys of “win it for Ray”. Lewis hasn’t been shy about how this game is his “moment” as he said back on media day. Moss hasn’t had as much fanfare in San Francisco about his possible last ride but after not playing last year and joining the 49ers this year for what he had hoped to make a Super Bowl run. Moss this week made the self proclamation that he was the greatest receiver of all time. He may not be the focal point of the game plan offensively for San Francisco but you can bet he is aware that just one play can immortalize him in Super Bowl lore.
Atlanta threw the ball well on San Francisco in the first half of the NFC Championship game but the defense settled down in second half as the Falcons failed to score. Baltimore keeps finding ways to win. The 49ers are the better team. They should win. Baltimore for some reason I think can pull this off because of Flacco. The guy is playing like he is ought to prove everyone wrong yet playing within himself.
One post season ago, we saw Drew Brees and the Saints offense eventually settled down, after the five turnovers, and pass on the 49ers. Flacco in the game against Denver was airing it out in sub zero weather like he was indoors. I don’t know why and probably am wrong but I think that Flacco makes enough plays to pull off the upset. I see it Ravens 27 and the 49ers 24, thanks to the one fact that might get passed over by many: Baltimore has the better kicker. That’s right. A kicker will decide this game.