There are a number of sub-plots to this one, not least the Harbaugh vs Harbaugh element and the last chance at glory for Ray Lewis, but lets not forget that after fifteen seasons in the NFL this is also likely to be Matt Birk’s last game at centre for Baltimore. There is also the small matter of Ray Lewis’ alleged usage of ‘deer antler spray’ and Ed Reed supposedly saying he’d be open to joining the Patriots. This game is, for a lot of the Ravens, a chance to silence some doubters, San Francisco are the bookmakers’ favourite, although we all know this means nothing. The team who plays well and plays hard will probably win.
This game involves two quarterbacks vying to add their name to a list of elite luminaries that includes the names Manning, Brady, Montana and many more.
Should the 49ers win, Colin Kaepernick, the second year, second round pick, quarterback drafted by Jim Harbaugh will have exceeded any pre-season expectations placed upon him. Joe Flacco, on the other hand will leave none of his doubters surprised if he loses, any more-so than his supporters will not be surprised should he lead the Ravens to the win.
Neither team has won this trophy for a few years, since the Ravens won it back in 2001 in Tampa. The 49ers have been waiting since 1995 when Steve Young was under centre for the Red and Gold and they beat the Chargers 49-26.
Anyone who thinks this game is just about the QB battle though, is deluded. It is likely to come down to defence. The 49ers have the second best defence in the league, with only 17.1 points allowed per game, the Ravens undeniably elite defence has suffered with injuries this season but still finished 10th in points allowed with 24.9.
The Ravens patched up defence is still suffering with injuries, but one of the bigger misses could be running back Bernard Pierce, whose inclusion helps Ray Rice. Pierce is, like Vonta Leach, questionable.
Rice should still be effective, and will likely play a part in the passing game, as he did in the dismantling of the New England Patriots.
The 49ers appear to have the healthier roster, though it is not always possible to tell with the NFL as every little stub or tweak has to be added to the injured report.
In the post season the 49ers have seven rushing touchdowns and only three receiving. The Ravens, meanwhile have three rushing and 10 passing touchdowns. This would imply that one team will be passing and one rushing, but don’t rule Michael Crabtree out of the receiving game, he has two receiving touchdowns and has looked revitalised of late.
Both teams will be looking to give away as few penalties as possible, but do not be surprised if this one comes down to the kicking game. Jacoby Jones is a formidable kick-returner for the Ravens and LaMichael James has the potential for the 49ers to make a special return, he certainly is no slouch.
Field goals could be key though, and that is not something Jim Harbaugh will be hoping for. David Akers, the 49ers’ kicker has been a shadow of his former self this season and seems to have lost accuracy, confidence or a mixture of both. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is having a very good season, missing only three of his 33 attempts, giving him a 90.9% completion percentage. In contrast, Akers has made just under 70% of his kicks.
Whatever happens, this one should be compelling for the neutrals, with one Harbaugh picking up the Lombardi trophy alongside their chosen champion. Kaepernicking could be about to go global, I don’t see Flacco-ing taking off myself.