Sports Opinion & Analysis

Behold Our Super Bowl Predictions! Roundtable Style!

In NFL on February 2, 2013 at 11:02 am
A lot of hype for a Beyonce concert.

A lot of hype for a Beyonce concert.

By the HTLF Staff

In the past, I’ve quietly gone about making my predictions for the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup, and World Series on my own, but this is the Super Bowl, so it’s time to go big or go home. Instead of flying solo on the fine art of guessing who’s winning a game in which I have absolutely no interaction with its result, Chris, Jeff, and myself are doing a group prediction, roundtable style.

I would have done this in the past, but quite frankly I didn’t have a staff before, so that was entirely impossible. Either way, stay tuned, because we hope this, or something like it, will become standard practice for all our future championship predictions.

Here goes.

1. Which Quarterback Will Have More Success On Sunday?

2012 reboot of "The Odd Couple."

“The Odd Couple,” coming this Sunday on CBS.

Chris: Right off the bat I thought that these teams didn’t match-up very well: i.e. the 49ers are just simply better on both sides of the ball. After more careful thought I realized how great Joe Flacco has played in these playoffs (better than he ever has); however, it wasn’t necessarily against strong defenses (Denver being the exception).

On paper at least, the 49ers have the superior passing game: better receivers, a more dynamic quarterback. The difference will be if the Ravens can beat up the 49ers receivers at the line of scrimmage, punish them with big hits, and get Kaepernick on the ground at all. For Flacco, if he can find the protection he needs, two things happen: the big play down-field to Torry Smith or Anquan Boldin will be there and the best player on the field, Ray Rice, is still an option. Neither quarterback has Super Bowl experience, but I’ll take Flacco because there’s less risk involved in his overall game.

Jeff: If we define success as “winning the game,” then probably Kaepernick. If we define success as “having really great numbers, including hundreds of yards and three of four touchdowns,” then probably Flacco. In fact, the most probable outcome is that Flacco puts up one of those Kurt Warner games but in a losing effort.

Jonathan: I’m probably the last person on Earth who isn’t entirely sold on this whole read-option offense yet. That isn’t to say I don’t think Kaepernick (who I’m now just referring to as Kap, because writing his name in full is too much a repetitive hassle) isn’t a good quarterback. He’s poised, displays mostly good judgment despite his experience, and throws, quite possibly, the tightest spiral of any NFL quarterback in the history of the league, Dan Marino being the exception. Yet I think on a long enough timeline, QB’s such as Kap, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III will soon only be flashes in the pan, once the length of their careers (and quarterbacks like them) become the same length as running backs, and once defenses figure out how shut their running game down, and force them to throw.

What’s fortunate for Kap though, is that I don’t see the Raven’s defense figuring him (or quarterbacks like him) out anytime soon. At least not by Sunday. Flacco will probably end up throwing more yards on Sunday, but when you add up the amount of yards thrown by Kap with the amount of yards he’s bound to run, he’s the QB having the bigger day.

2. Which Running Game Will Have A Bigger Day?

You hope both running backs drink their milk that morning. Yes, I said running backs.

Hopefully both running backs drink their milk that morning. Yes, I said running backs.

Jeff: San Francisco’s offensive Estimated Points Added per Play (EPA/P) is 0.14 for the season, which means that with every running play they’re adding on average 0.14 points to their score (based on this season’s data). Baltimore, on the other hand, has a defensive EPA/P of -0.01, which means they’re more or less not impacting at all their opponent’s ability to run the ball. So it seems likely that the 49ers will have a good day on the ground.

Chris: I’m a big fan of both the feature backs in this game, and both were crucial to their team’s respective victories in the championship round. Frank Gore’s good performance against Atlanta was the result of Kaepernick’s mastery of the option and Ray Rice is just an awesome player (the Patriots defense is poop but he did play great).

The Ravens were criticized heavily this year for not utilizing Rice’s versatile abilities, and they’d be really stupid to misuse him here. The most balanced attack will win, so I’ll take Ray Rice in a push. Gore remains an x-factor in the game.

Jonathan: A few years ago, Frank Gore broke his hip. You know who else broke their hip? My grandmother. I’m just saying (Rice). 

3. Which Defense Will Play A Bigger Role In Their Team’s Victory?

The Ravens and 49ers defenses (it was either this, or a picture of a bear fighting a shark).

The Ravens and 49ers defenses (it was either this, or a picture of a bear fighting a shark).

Jeff: If San Francisco wins, it’ll probably be the result of a balanced attack on both sides of the ball. But if Baltimore wins, it’ll probably be the result of the Ravens’ D actually manufacturing some well-timed three-and-outs, which hasn’t been their calling card much of the season. Which I suppose makes defense more important for the Ravens than the 49ers.

Jonathan: I can tell you which defense needs to have the bigger role, and that would be the Ravens. The 49ers have been dominant all season long, and the Ravens have sometimes looked old. Real old. And by old, I mean age appropriate to their roster.

I expect the 49ers to be their reliable selves. The Ravens on the other hand, need to put down their AARP magazines and step up if they want Flacco to have a chance.

Chris: This has the potential to be a low-scoring game, given the nature of these two really good defenses. The Ravens played spectacularly against Tom Brady, limiting him to one touchdown and picking him off twice (they did give up a lot of yards from scrimmage though). The 49ers are the better defense, case closed, with as many as six (!) pro-bowlers lining up on Sunday (including 3 of their 4 starting linebackers). It’s probably a simpler formula for the Niners to stop the Ravens offense: get to Flacco. Because of that, I’ll say the Ravens defense has the more important task on Sunday. If the game gets high-scoring, the Ravens are in big trouble.

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/images/cleardot.gif4. What Aspect Of The Game Will Be The most Important For Either Team To Win?

Play this in the background while you read this section.

Play this in the background while you read this section.

Chris: Who can get to the opposing quarterback more effectively will win the game. The Niners’ big play potential is too great if Kaepernick has any freedom and Flacco is decent to pretty good if left untouched in the pocket.

Jeff: For the Ravens, it’s all about defense. If they can match the 49ers’ D-line stop for stop, that will go a long way towards putting them in a position to win it late with some offensive heroics (of which they’re more than capable). For the 49ers, however, it’s probably consistency on offense. Unlike the Ravens (who can come out of hibernation at any point and start dropping bombs on the other end of the field), the 49ers are probably toast if the fourth quarter rolls around and they’re down two possessions. Accruing yardage when it’s at a premium is never easy for a run-heavy offense. (And yes, San Francisco came back from a 17-0 deficit against Atlanta, but their offense was consistent the whole game; the only inequality was between their first- and second-half defense.)

Jonathan: When I look at the 49ers and Ravens, I see a similar color, just different shades of it. For me, the two teams are like Superman and Bizzaro Superman, that is if Bizzaro Superman wasn’t (as Joe Flacco elegantly described next year’s Super Bowl being played in an open air stadium in New Jersey) “retarded.” In a way, these teams are like Fun House mirror images of themselves. 

Both teams have big armed quarterbacks, and while Flacco has the bigger arm of the two, Kap makes up for any discrepancies with his ability to run, and run really fast. Anquan Boldin is to the Ravens what Vernon Davis is to the 49ers (if Kap ever throws to him). Both are big and physical, and earn considerable Yards-After-The-Catch, as well as offer an obvious choice in a crowded end zone. Ray Rice is the more finesse running back compared to the ground-and-pound Frank Gore; Patrick Willis is the Niners’ Ray Lewis (minus controversy, or inspiration), Aldon Smith is the quieter Terrell Suggs, etc, etc, etc. Torrey Smith is the Ravens’ Randy Moss, in that Moss is older and missing a step, and Smith is young and never had that step to begin with. Both though find ways to get open and make plays. Maybe Smith is Crabtree. Maybe he’s not, you can make your own comparisons, but you understand what I’m getting at; both teams are weirdly comparable to one another. Heck, even their coaches look eerily similar.

In a way though, each team’s strength is the other’s weakness, but that isn’t to say either team is weak in their respective areas. The X-Factor really will come down to which team can enforce more of its will in its strength, in order to create a larger gap between those differences. This is an obvious statement, but it comes down to this: will the Niners defense be able to push through and get to Flacco, or will Flacco be able to exploit the secondary for big plays? Will the Ravens corners force Kap to run, and if so, will will Lewis and Suggs be able to stop that run with only small or reasonable gain? That’s what this game will come down to.

5. What Has Been The Most Irrelevant “Story” From This Year’s Media Day?

Randy Moss's name tag for most of the season. That is, until he spoke at media day.

Randy Moss’s name tag for most of the season. That is, until he spoke at media day.

Jeff: It seems like either every story from media day is relevant or none of them are. I imagine one’s opinion on this will be influenced by how much one cares about the purity of the Super Bowl, the ability to sit down and watch it without distractions. It also depends on how much one wants to separate on-field exploits from their off-the-field cousins. If it matters to you that the team you root for is full of saints, the kind of people that don’t use banned substance, that support LGBT organizations and gay marriage, and that donate their time (and not just their money) to charity, then most of the stories from media day were probably incredibly aggravating. If you don’t care at all about what the players do once the pads are off, then you probably didn’t even pay attention. I’m somewhere in between (more from hand-wringing indecision than anything else).

Chris: The most inane one in a long list is the “Randy Moss said he was the greatest receiver of all-time” nonsense. I have to say, I love Moss, always have, and this is precisely why. It was a statement tailor made to drive hero-worshiping sports journalists crazy: “How dare he!! Blasphemy!!” I love it. Dude is obviously feeling confident and I would like to see him earn his first Super Bowl ring.

Jonathan: Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend, Alex Rodriguez being accused of something everyone already knew, Lance Armstrong being a sonofabitch, and every time ESPN cut away to talk about how the Lakers lost. They’re old and they suck. We get it.

Next!

6. Who Wins Super Bowl XLVII?

The Super Bowl's in New Orleans, so supposedly the winning team won't have to lift up their jerseys for their beads.

The Super Bowl’s in New Orleans, so supposedly the winning team won’t have to lift up their jerseys for beads.

Jonathan: I just wanted to say that a Harbaugh was going to win it, and leave it at that, but the guys wouldn’t let me. Oh wait, I’m the editor, so I can do what I want. See above above for my Superman/Bizzaro Superman comparison, and you’ll understand why I can’t choose.

Eh, probably the 49ers.

Jeff: 49ers by more than a touchdown

Chris: The most important thing is momentum, and the Ravens just have tons of it right now. “Playing for Ray Lewis” aside, they have strung together amazing win after amazing win. I can’t pick against them, they’ve already won two games they had no business winning and that, strangely, is the proven winning formula in the recent Super Bowls. Ravens by 4.

7. Who Wins The MVP And Why?

This is a trick question, because Tom Brady wins all Super Bowl MVP awards, even in Super Bowls he doesn't even play in.

This is a trick question, because Tom Brady wins all Super Bowl MVP awards, even in Super Bowls he doesn’t play in.

Chris: I’m gonna say Ray Rice just because my gut says so.

Jonathan: If I say Kap will win the MVP, that means I’m doubling down on my earlier prediction, because only players from the winning team are named Super Bowl MVP. Let me tell you though, if I’ve learned two things in Vegas, it’s that free drinks are never free, and you never double-down unless you’ve had a couple of Jack-and-Cokes in you, and you’re invincible to the world. So I’m also going to offer Anquan Boldin as my alternative. Why? Because if Baltimore wins, it’s going to be because of the ability of Flacco to get the ball down the field before he’s mercilessly destroyed by the Niners pass rush. And if he does that, Boldin is the wideout who has proven he can consistently catch the ball when it really, really, really counts. If Flacco throws, Boldin’s going to be the one catching, and if that happens, those catches are going to be in the end zone.

Actually, check both of those, I’m doubling down on Beyonce, as long she does “Single Ladies.”

Jeff: Kaepernick. I could see Frank Gore running away with it (pun intended) if the 49ers really get that ground game cooking, but more than likely if the team from the Bay Area walks away with the trophy it’ll be because their young quarterback made all the right decisions (or was at least vindicated in retrospect for making what looked like strange and bewildering decisions). In which case he’ll get the MVP.

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