Last year, your Fearless Forecaster lucked out. After sweating out a second-half lead by the New England Patriots, the New York football Giants pulled out a late victory, exactly as I’d called it: “Defense will win the day, and the Giants’ defense overall is better than the Pats’ defense; even though the Patriots are slightly better on offense, I believe the Giants will win a thriller.”
So this year, I’m back to go on record, fearlessly once again (and once again some might say fecklessly), with an outcome in Sunday’s Big Game No. 47. And your winner is:
The Baltimore Ravens.
As I said before last year’s game, I am a strong believer in the adage “defense wins championships.” And, if there is any squad that personifies tough, blue-collar, smash-mouth defense (well, aside from a certain black-and-yellow squad from the same division), it’s the Ravens. Add in the X-factor that this will be middle linebacker Ray Lewis’s Very Last Game, and, well, you get a recipe for an inspired bunch of fellows on that side of the ball. Let’s not forget Baltimore’s offense, while we’re discussing the AFC champs. As a #4 seed, they have arguably had a much tougher path to New Orleans than have the San Francisco 49ers. They’ve managed to outduel the top wild card squad in Indianapolis; the AFC #1 seed Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning; and the #2 seed New England Patriots and Tom Brady – and the latter two games were road wins. Joe Flacco has rounded into top form under the watchful eye of Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who replaced former OC Cam Cameron late in the season. Receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith have been effective, along with Dennis Pitta and running back Ray Rice out of the backfield. Rice is also by far the Ravens’ top ground gainer, over Bernard Pierce. The 49ers, on the other hand, are bringing a quarterback to the table who has the third-least starting experience (seven games) among Super Bowl starting QBs (after Jeff Hostetler’s four and Vince Ferragamo’s five) – Colin Kaepernick, who replaced Alex Smith midway through the season and has not looked back, except on long runs to the end zone. Kaepernick has effectively run the Niners’ version of the read-option offense that became popular this season. After leading rusher Frank Gore, Kaepernick has rushed for enough yards to be the team’s number two ball-carrier. In addition, Kaepernick has a number of top receivers who can get out after the ball, including Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Mario Manningham, and longtime vet Randy Moss. On the other side of the ball, keep an eye out on linebacker Aldon Smith, who led the squad in sacks with 19.5, another linebacker, NaVorro Bowman, led the team in tackles. In the defensive backfield, Dashon Goldson picked off three passes, while Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver each accumulated 14 passes defensed for top marks. Overall, while this game could very well come down to the wire, it’s not particularly likely this year. Even though the NFC champs are favored slightly, expect the Ravens defense to contain the second-year Kaepernick, while quarterback Flacco will prove that experience (as well as a stout, punishing defense) wins games. Plus, there is one last intangible factor to consider: 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is a product of That School Up North — and as an Ohio State fan, it just wouldn’t be right for him to win. Now once again, if you’ll excuse me, my annual pot of Super Bowl chili awaits brewing…