When people make their Super Bowl prediction they have to analyze every aspect of the game from coaching strategies, individual player matchups, their path to the Super Bowl, and x factors.
The coaching strategies will be very similar seeing that both the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers are coached by a Harbaugh. The Ravens are coached by John Harbaugh and the 49ers are coached by his brother Jim Harbaugh who is only 15 months younger than John. Both of these coaches believe in running the football and playing solid defense. However, there are little differences that make these coaches philosophies a little bit different.
John Harbaugh stresses the importance of the run game and it shows because the Ravens’ speedy running back Ray Rice has a post season leading 247 rushing yards. However, since John fired his offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in Week 14 the Ravens’ offense has opened up with the emergence of the passing game. In the post season Baltimore’s quarterback Joe Flacco had the highest passer rating with 114.7 and a league leading 828 passing yards. Flacco has also thrown for eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions. This has caused the Ravens to lead the league in post season points with 90. Even with all this offensive success, John Harbaugh still believes in playing tough defense. John has a very aggressive defense that flies to the football to make a tackle and loves to rush the passer. This shows because the Ravens have the top five leading tacklers in the postseason and Paul Kruger, Ravens’ defensive line backer has 2.5 sacks in the playoffs and Baltimore linebacker, Terrell Suggs, has 2.0 sacks. These two guys are two and three respectively in total sacks in the playoffs.
Jim Harbaugh also believes in running the ball in order to be successful but his offense runs the ball in a different way. When Jim made the change of quarterback from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick he knew he could open up the run game because Kaepernick is a very mobile quarterback who can run out of the pistol offense. This has shown in the playoffs because Kaepernick has the fourth most rushing yards with 202 yards. Along with a running Kaepernick, the 49ers have a big running back in Frank Gore. Gore is not very fast and prefers to run people over running through the tackles. Gore has the third most running yards this post season with 209 yards. Even though the 49ers have a lethal ground attack, Kaepernick has shown that he can throw the ball as well having 496 passing yards with three touchdowns and one interception. But along with this dynamic offense comes a stingy defense. The 49ers share the same beliefs as the Ravens by rushing the passers and everybody flying to the football to make the tackle. They are led by two elite pass rushers in Aldon Smith and Justin Smith and a hard hitting middle linebacker Patrick Willis.
Another factor in determining who will win the big game is to consider each team’s path to the big game. In other words, does either team have momentum?
The Ravens have a substantial momentum going into the Super Bowl. They have defeated three very solid teams and three elite quarterbacks. The first team in the playoffs the Ravens played was against the Indianapolis Colts at home. They defeated the Colts easily with a score of 24-9 holding the Colts to only three field goals. This was an impressive accomplishment seeing that the Colts had a lot of emotion of their side with the return of the head coach Chuck Pagano who was battling cancer this year. They also had to stop quarterback Andrew Luck who is candidate for Rookie of the Year. In their second game in the playoffs the Ravens had to go to Denver for a game with the Denver Broncos. The Broncos, led by the future hall of fame quarterback Payton Manning, were on an 11 game winning streak. The Ravens offense had to overcome a very tough Bronco defense who only gave up 32 points in their past three games before playing Baltimore. Baltimore scored more than the 32 points given up in the past three games by scoring a total of 38. Baltimore went on to win the game 38-35 in overtime. After this game it was on to Foxborough for a matchup with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Ravens took care of business in this game and dominated the second half by holding the Patriots to zero points. The Ravens on the other hand scored 28 making the final score 28-13. To put this in perspective Tom Brady is 11-3 at home in the playoffs.
The 49ers have also had an impressive route to the Super Bowl. The 49ers only had to play two games because they had a first round bye. Their first matchup of the playoffs was against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at home. They started their playoff run with a 45-31 win. This was arguably Kaepernick’s best game because he had a total of 444 yards running and passing along with 4 touchdowns. Not to mention the 49ers defense held Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense to 31 points which is very hard to do. With the win, the 49ers won the right to go down to Georgia Dome to face the Atlanta Falcons for a right to go the Super Bowl. The Falcons, led by experienced quarterback Matt Ryan and two dynamic wide receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones have an offense that is capable of putting up points. San Francisco was trailing by 14 in the first quarter but a strong second half led by the strong San Francisco running attack and a stifling the 49ers’ defense held the Falcons to zero points in the second half. This propelled San Francisco to a 28-24 victory.
The last aspect of the game that must be analyzed are the x factors. One significant x factor that the Ravens have is the retirement of Ray Lewis. During the last week of the regular season Lewis announced that it would be his final season. Lewis is a 17-year-veteran and is the heart and soul of the Ravens organization. Over the last few weeks the Ravens have been playing inspired football because they want to send Ray out with a Super Bowl ring.
An x factor the 49ers have is their place kicker David Akers. Akers, a 14-year-veteran has been going through a slump this year. He was 29-42 in the regular season and 1-2 in the playoffs including a 38-yard miss last week. Last week the 49ers brought in another kicker Billy Cundiff who competed with Akers for the job. After a weeklong competition San Francisco decided to stick with Akers. This could affect Jim Harbaugh’s decision making in the Super Bowl because if it is 4th and 5 and it is a 50-yard field goal attempt, Jim might be more tempted to roll the dice and go for it rather than kick the field goal.
If you are placing a wager on the game pick the Ravens 31-28.