(Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)
Hey, have you heard the news? This is Ray Lewis’ last game. Yeah, in a week with not many storylines the Ray Lewis retirement is story #1.
Maybe it’s just me but this Super Bowl seems a little boring, right? Like where are the fireworks? Where’s the trash-talking, the arrests, the fun stuff? This year we have a few pretty basic stories, but not much else. These are the only three stories that are making news this week:
Ray Lewis is retiring – This has been the top story all through the playoffs. Ray Lewis is playing in his last season. He came back from a late season injury and led his Ravens to the Super Bowl by winning two playoff road games as huge underdogs against Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. So yeah, this is the hot story. Add in that Ray Lewis loves the spotlight, he loves to give interviews and you get a story that won’t quit.
Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh – this was a novelty story when it happened “OMG, two brothers are coaching against each other in the Super Bowl”. And yeah, it’s pretty cool. But let’s be honest, the Harbaugh brothers aren’t exactly the Marx Brothers, or even the Ryan brothers, so they really haven’t had too much to say about the situation. This angle will pop up at kickoff, and they’ll show their parents in the stands a few times but that’s it.
Deer antler spray – What? A few days ago I didn’t even know this stuff existed, let alone that it was on the NFL banned substances list. But first let me recap: Ray Lewis (allegedly) has used deer antler spray over the past few years. This spray is supposed to help you recover from injuries quicker, and it contains growth hormone called IGF-1 and it is on the NFL’s banned substances list. Did it help Ray recover quicker than normal from his recent tricep injury? Most experts say probably not, and the NFL is mum about the whole thing, but it’s still a great little nugget to uncover during Super Bowl week. Did this alleged deer antler spray story impact my selection in the game? Not in the least. But I did take some before writing this article, so maybe it will have a positive effect on my picks.
Speaking of the picks, in the Championship weekend we went 0-1-1. We lost with the Patriots -9 and tied with 49ers -4. So going into the “big game” we are 4-5-1 in the playoffs, let’s get back up to .500 and end this season with a winner.
Let’s get a winner and close out this season on a high note…
Last Week: 0-1-1
Playoff Record: 4-5-1
Season Record: 126-105-4
Sunday, Feb. 3rd
San Francisco 49ers vs. Baltimore Ravens (+3 1/2, O/U 47)
Like Huey Lewis and the News said, “This Is It.” The Super Bowl is finally here but can we do some ‘real talk’ for a minute? This game is boring. I know it’s the Super Bowl, but there isn’t a buzz here. I know Ravens and 49ers fans are yelling “what do you mean?!?!”, but trust me for the rest of the football world that doesn’t have a dog in the fight this game doesn’t have swagger (can games have swagger, or just people? Oh well, you know what I mean).
Do you hate the 49ers? Why? I can’t think of one reason. Their coach seems like a decent guy and their QB, Colin Kaepernick, is the new hotness. And Kaepernick hasn’t been around long enough for people to dislike him (unlike say, Eli Manning or Tom Brady). The 49ers defense is great, but mostly faceless. Ask a casual fan who is on the 49ers defense, you’ll get blank stares.
And this is their first trip to the Super Bowl (this current crop of 49ers I mean, not the franchise as a whole) so we don’t have any 49er fatigue.
Now let’s turn the spotlight on the Ravens. Anything fire you up on their side? Ok, maybe Ray Lewis. I can see the whole “look at me, I’m so religious” angle getting a little old but it’s Ray-Ray’s last game so you gotta feel good for him and I can’t help but laugh at his wild pre-game dance and that over-the-top emotional national anthem from the Patriots game.
What about QB Joe Flacco? There’s no way you can have any feelings for him one-way or the other. Even his dad said he was dull. But he wins, more so than most QB’s and he is 8-4 as a playoff starter. That’s pretty good. But does he fire you up? Not really.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m watching the game. I’ll be placing my bets, tracking my block pools, watching the commercials and eating bad food like the rest of the country. So without further ado, let’s break down the matchup…
First, let’s get the coaches out of the way. Maybe you’ve heard about these guys, John and Jim Harbaugh? They’re brothers (seriously). And pretty successful brothers to boot. Here’s a stat to impress your mates at the Super Bowl party: both Harbaugh brothers are undefeated coming off of a bye week, John is 6-0, Jim is 3-0-1. So, obviously one of those streaks will end here.
In terms of point spread records, San Francisco is 5-1 ATS this season when favored by less than a touchdown. Baltimore is 2-4 ATS when they are an underdog of less than 7 points, so that trend favors San Francisco but really the Super Bowl is a ‘throw out the trends’ game. This game is a whole different animal.
As I was thinking through this pick the 49ers/Falcons NFC Championship game was sticking in my mind, because in that one the 49ers quickly fell behind 17-0. And something is making me think that it could happen again. If Matty Ice didn’t turn into Matty Puddle in the 2nd half of that game the 49ers would be watching the Super Bowl from their living rooms. Matt Ryan was able to throw for 396 yards in that game, so you have to expect Flacco to put up decent numbers.
In the Divisional Round the 49ers blew past the Packers by unveiling the wildcat formation (or pistol, or read-option, whatever you want to call it). But it wasn’t as successful against the Falcons, in fact Kaepernick only rushed twice, for 21 yards. And I think this week, with that 49er offense being scrutinized and analyzed for two weeks by the Ravens coaching staff Baltimore should be able to control Kaepernick and force him to win the game through the air. Can he do it? Maybe, but I wouldn’t want to count on it if I was a 49er fan.
Joe Flacco has had three great games in the playoffs this year, including three masterful drives against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. I know the 49ers defense is rock solid, but like I said earlier they gave up 396 yards passing to Matt Ryan so I think the Ravens should be able to move the ball with Flacco throwing to WRs Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and TE Dennis Pitta. And RB Ray Rice will be a nice compliment to the passing game.
One X-Factor that needs to be mentioned is 49ers kicker David Akers. He’s been shaky to put it mildly. He missed 12 field goals in the regular season (most in the NFL), and he shanked a 38 yarder in the NFC Championship game in a dome in Atlanta. So, in a game that will probably come down to field position and getting every point possible, I would be hesitant to put my money on Akers.
I’ve picked against the Ravens in their last two games, and they’ve won. Actually, I’ve said some not nice things about Joe Flacco and his boys. Against the Broncos I wrote this, “I don’t think the Ravens are very good.” Well, that wasn’t very nice of me. Against the Patriots I did show them some respect, I only picked them to lose by 10. So my track record of picking against the Ravens isn’t very good. But this week, on the biggest stage of them all I had to throw out my biases and pick the better team. And I think that team is the Ravens. My money is on Baltimore, they’re hot, their QB is playing great and they have an emotional edge with Ray Lewis’ retirement. I’ll say Joe Flacco stays hot, the Ravens D find a way to contain Kaepernick and the Ravens send Ray off in style.
Baltimore wins 27-24.
Pick: Ravens (+3 1/2)