Friday, February 1, 2013

Super Bowl XLVII Preview

Greetings! With two weeks to prepare, the time period between the Championship games and the Super Bowl always feels incredibly long, and this year is no different. With that said, we've had plenty of time to dissect the two teams, and it's time to pull out a massive Super Bowl preview breaking down each positional group against one other with a couple fun things thrown in. Let's go!

  • San Francisco - Carlos Rogers, Terrell Brown, Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, Perrish Cox, Chris Culliver
  • Baltimore - Corey Graham, Cary Williams, Ed Reed, James Ihedigbo, Bernard Pollard, Jimmy Smith
This is an interesting battle. Baltimore has the one huge name with future Hall-of-Famer Ed Reed, but San Francisco has been the better unit all season. The Niners allowed the 4th-fewest passing yards in the NFL this season, and while their pass rush obviously helps that, their secondary is better than you think it would be. Baltimore lost Ladarius Webb earlier in the year and since he was their best cover guy, that was a significant blow. Both teams were opportunistic all year (14 and 15 INTs respectively), and whoever makes the big play will likely "win" the match-up. Slight edge: San Francisco

  • San Francisco - Aldon Smith, Navarro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks (questionable), Clark Haggans
  • Baltimore - Courtney Upshaw, Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe (Questionable), Terrell Suggs
One of the more higher profile positional match-ups. Ray Lewis is the biggest single story of the game (outside of the Harbaugh brothers phenomenon) and while he's a sure-fire hall of famer, he's not the same player he used to be. Throw in a less-than-100% Terrell Suggs (all season, really) and a banged-up Ellerbe, and the Baltimore linebackers could suddenly be average or worse. On the opposite side, Aldon Smith is an All-Pro, Patrick Willis is an All-Pro, and Navarro Bowman is playing very, very good football. For years, Baltimore has had the best of it in the linebacking corps, but not here. Also, please note the intentional lack of Ray Lewis/Deer Antler coverage. This means nothing for the game, and there's no risk of a college-football-like stripping of wins. Godspeed, Ray. Edge: San Francisco

  • San Francisco - Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald, Ricky Jean-Francois
  • Baltimore - Paul Kruger, Haloti Ngata, Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Pernell McPhee, Terrence Cody
Really close battle here. For San Fran, it is absolutely huge to give Justin Smith two weeks off as he tries to get to 100% health. He's an absolute terror and would be the best player on either defensive line if he's going right. Next to him, the Niners don't have any stars, but they are deep and effective. For Baltimore, I'm cheating and putting Paul Kruger on the D-Line because he's a pure pass rusher for the most part. Ngata is still a tremendous player even though he's taken a small step back, and they have some quality depth including the run-stuffer in Cody. Because both teams play 3-4 systems, pass rush isn't the real key to their defensive line at all times, but if either team can get pressure without out-right blitzing, that'd be huge. Edge: Push

  • San Francisco - Anthony Davis, Alex Boone/Leonard Davis, Jonathan Goodwin, Mike Iupati, Joe Staley
  • Baltimore - Michael Oher, Matt Birk, Marshall Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Bryant McKinnie
Probably the biggest mismatch of them all. The San Francisco offensive line may be the best in the league right now, with absolute studs everywhere and cohesion to boot. It helps to have a mobile quarterback, but the SF O-Line is also dominating in the run game, and the left side is scary good. For Baltimore, they have finally found a 5-man unit that works for them with Oher on the right side and Bryant McKinnie in the lineup. That said, they only have one real stand-out (Yanda) and even with the new and improved look, they're still likely only a league-average unit. Big edge: San Francisco

  • San Francisco - Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Vernon Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Delani Walker
  • Baltimore - Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss
I've combined receivers and tight ends because it makes sense to me (lol) and this is certainly not the strength of either of these offenses. Crabtree is the best pass catcher on either team, grabbing 85 catches for over 1100 yards and 9 touchdowns this year. Outside of him, however, San Francisco struggles to make waves. Their #2 wideout (Mario Manningham) is gone for the year, leaving them with Randy Moss, who actually had a good game against Atlanta but who is pretty washed-up, and Vernon Davis as their secondary pass receivers. Vernon Davis has the name of an elite tight end, but he certainly didn't perform like one this year (41 catches for 548 yards) and outside of a break-out against the terrible-against-the-tight-end Atlanta defense, he's been a non-factor. For Baltimore, Torrey Smith had a nice season (855 yards and over 17 yards per catch) but Anquan Boldin is the X-factor. He's been huge in both playoff games, and he's the type of gritty, over-the-middle guy that could come up huge against San Francisco. Throw in Dennis Pitta, who is emerging as a high-level tight end, and Baltimore isn't bad on the perimeter after all. Edge: Baltimore

  • San Francisco - Frank Gore, LaMichael James
  • Baltimore - Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce
Most of the time, San Francisco gets an advantage at the running back spot. Frank Gore is a perennial top-10 back who ran for 1200+ yards and 8 touchdowns this season, and LaMichael James provides a very nice change-up with some game-breaking skills. I don't expect to see James a ton in this game outside of 3rd downs and obvious passing spots, but he's capable of being electric. With all of that said about San Francisco, Baltimore has a top-5 RB in the game in Ray Rice, and a suddenly awesome backup in Pierce. Rice ran for "only" 1143 yards and 9 TDs this season, but that was mostly a product of Baltimore's refusal to actually hand him the ball, and he also caught 61 passes for 478 yards to bring his total over 1600 yards from scrimmage. He's an elite player. Pierce has really blown up ever since his start in Week 17, going for 103 yards against Indy in the wild card game and over 50 yards against New England. You'd have to imagine that Rice gets a huge portion of the touches, but look for Baltimore to use Pierce as long as he as effective to spell Rice. Edge: Baltimore

  • San Francisco - Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith
  • Baltimore - Joe Flacco
This is the match-up that everyone will focus on and rightfully so. Colin Kaepernick has a total QBR over 76 since taking over as the starter mid-season and that number would place him behind exactly two QB's in the NFL. Their names are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. That's the list. I am in no way saying that he's on that level, but with the way that he exploded against Green Bay (mostly on the ground, but still) and the way he led the comeback in Atlanta, he's earned respect. There's still some legitimate worry about his lack of experience from me, but he's really, really talented. I've noted Alex Smith because I can see the scenario where a) Kaepernick gets hurt because of the way that Baltimore swarms ball carriers, or b) he's a deer-in-the-headlights and Harbaugh elects to go to Smith in the 2nd half. Unlikely? Sure, but not insane, and San Francisco could still win this game with Smith under center. On the Baltimore side, it's becoming comical around Joe Flacco. On the one hand, he was 25th in the league in QBR this year behind such giants as Jake Locker, Ryan Tannehill, Christian Ponder, and Sam Bradford. On the other hand, Flacco has already won two road playoff games in this post-season (bringing his career total to a record six), has 8 touchdowns and zero interceptions, and continues to make plays in big spots. I'm on the record as a Flacco detractor overall, thinking he is way too inconsistent to be an elite QB, but if he plays like he has in the last three weeks, Baltimore is going to win this game. ESPN is already on record in their "scouting report" saying that Baltimore has the QB advantage, and most people seem to be leaning that way. I'm not there yet. I'm going to make Joe prove it one more time. SLIGHT edge: San Francisco

  • San Francisco - David Akers (K), Andy Lee (P), Ted Ginn and LaMichael James (returns)
  • Baltimore - Justin Tucker (K), Sam Koch (P), Jacoby Jones (returns)
According to Football Outsiders' famous DVOA ratings, Baltimore has a significant special teams advantage, and I don't disagree. They have a huge edge at kicker with Tucker (who made 30 of 33 in the regular season) against Akers (who was the worst kicker in the league this season not named Mason Crosby), and one of the best return men in the league in Jacoby Jones. For San Francisco, they really, really need a super-human effort from Andy Lee, and they just may get it. He's one of the best punters in the league and actually led the league in net punting. He's their best chance at a special teams edge, but Ted Ginn can also be electric, so that's the hail mary chance. Overall, the kicker is the most important thing for me, and I can't take Akers. Edge: Baltimore

  • San Francisco - Jim Harbaugh
  • Baltimore - John Harbaugh
DID YOU KNOW THAT THE TWO HEAD COACHES ARE BROTHERS?! THEY ARE REAL, LIVE BLOOD RELATIVES! THIS IS INSANE!!!! Okay, that was the media from the last two weeks coming out in me. The funny thing is that I don't see a coaching edge, and I guess that is fitting. Jim has gotten the huge, huge props nationally for transforming that San Francisco team from the ruins under Mike Singletary to a perennial power. The thing is, isn't it possible that Singletary was just SO bad that the difference isn't that big? Jim Harbaugh is a great coach (and a Michigan man), but he's not Vince Lombardi. On the other side, John has done nothing except make the playoffs every season that he's been there, and somehow continues to win at this level with Joe Flacco, the corpse of Ray Lewis, and without a single top-40 pass-catcher in the league. Both guys are great. Edge: Push


Overall, San Francisco has the 4-3-2 edge in "units", and that sounds right to me. The Niners were the better team (easily) through the regular season, and while they haven't had quite the level of wins (beating the Packers at home and Falcons on the road isn't as good as the Denver/New England road wins), they're the more talented squad. Baltimore is riding the emotion of Ray Lewis and his last stand, but that can only take you so far with two weeks to prepare and everyone being jacked up because it's the Super Bowl. As cliche as it is, I firmly believe that whoever plays better between Flacco and Kaepernick has the significant edge, but if the two of them play to a draw, San Francisco is the better team. As a result of that, I'm going with: San Francisco 30, Baltimore 23


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