By Jake Thompson
— With the biggest sporting event in America on tap for tomorrow, I thought it prudent to put together a small preview with my predictions for the game, along with a projected outcome.
Both teams have a good shot at bringing home a title. For the San Francisco 49ers, it would be their sixth Lombardi trophy in six attempts and for the Baltimore Ravens, it would be their second in two tries.
For either team, a win solidifies their franchises in different ways. For the 49ers, it puts them in the conversation as one of the greatest franchises ever. For the Ravens, it puts them on their way to current AFC supremacy.
First and foremost, this is a game that will be dictated by two stout defenses. Both teams offer a throwback to old school football with their approaches on that side of the ball.
San Francisco had four players — Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, and Dashon Goldson — on its unit honored as defensive first-team all-pros. With only 13 positions available, that’s pretty impressive.
Baltimore plays the old guard to San Francisco’s new guard with stalwarts such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Haloti Ngata anchoring each level of the Ravens’ defense.
Although there has not been much the Ravens’ veterans have not seen in their tenure, I have to give the advantage to San Francisco. The 49ers are a younger bunch with more athleticism and a penchant for creating a little more havoc with their play.
Offensively, the Ravens are built for old school, possession-dominating football. Running back Ray Rice is a load to bring down and will be a workhorse for Baltimore. Quarterback Joe Flacco has a deep threat in Torrey Smith, along with sure-handed Anquan Boldin on the outside. Bernard Pierce is also a good change of pace back in third-down situations.
San Francisco brings a new element of offense into this contest and one the Ravens’ defense has not seen all that often. With Colin Kaepernick taking over for Alex Smith midway through the season, the 49ers now have a potent spread option attack suited to Kaepernick’s play. The option may cause some problems for the Ravens’ defense if they are not disciplined on their reads.
The 49ers also have some explosive players surrounding Kaepernick. Frank Gore makes defenders respect the option with his potent rushing attack and with the emergence of Michael Crabtree at receiver, teams must respect the pass. San Francisco also has a stable of other good receivers including Randy Moss.
With the use of the spread option against a defense that is aging and hasn’t seen it often enough to truly prepare for it, I give the advantage to San Francisco.
But even going with San Francisco on both sides of the ball, it would not surprise me for this contest to come down to a field goal kicker late in the game.
If that is the case, I wouldn’t bet on either one of them making it. San Francisco brought in former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff right before the playoffs to test shaky kicker David Akers. Akers has had a less than stellar year so far. Baltimore let Cundiff go after missing a field goal that would have sent last season’s AFC Championship into overtime. The Ravens brought in rookie Justin Tucker to fill that void. If the game comes down to Tucker making a field goal to win or tie, I bet his nerves get the best of him.
With all of that analysis out of the way, it’s prediction time and I’m going with the 49ers to win their sixth Lombardi.
— Jake Thompson is the sports editor for the Hendricks County Flyer and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.