After two weeks of hype and preparation, Super Bowl weekend is finally upon us.
With such high stakes on one game, the Super Bowl lends itself to unpredictability. So, who will take home the Vince Lombardi Trophy?
Here, the football panel at sportsnet.ca predicts who will win the big game and the Super Bowl MVP.
The Pick: Baltimore Ravens
Final Score: 27-24
Super Bowl MVP: Joe Flacco
Breakdown: The Ravens will try to establish the run and they will make sure that Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce get their touches. But ultimately the Ravens will win on the strength of Joe Flacco and their passing game.
After a respectable regular season, Flacco has been superb in the playoffs In three games, Flacco has thrown eight touchdowns, zero interceptions and has a passer rating of 114.7. What makes Flacco’s post-season numbers even more impressive is the fact six of his eight touchdown passes have come in the second half.
When the Ravens line up with three wide receivers, Flacco has his choice of either Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones and then there’s the Ravens under-rated tight end Dennis Pitta.
According to ProFoootballFocus.com, Pitta dropped a total of three passes this year. To put that into perspective Pitta caught 61 passes and was targeted a total of 93 times.
Make no mistake; the 49ers have a great defence. It is a group that can beat you up and make it nearly impossible to run on. However if the 49ers have one weakness it is in their secondary, especially at cornerback.
The Ravens win over the 49ers will have little to do with some fiery speech from Ray Lewis. It will have everything to do with the red-hot quarterback.
Flacco is so confident in his abilities, and the abilities of the players around him on offence, that he doesn’t fear the 49ers. Flacco has burned the Colts, Broncos and Patriots with the deep pass and he will do the same to the 49ers on Sunday.
Final Score: 30-24
Super Bowl MVP: Ed Reed
Breakdown: Colin Kaepernick may be the NFL’s next elite quarterback, but he may be not ready for what he’s about to face.
Kaepernick will face a defence on Sunday that has both the pass rushers to get in his face quickly and the veterans capable of sniffing out the misdirection the 49ers employ.
Amid the highlight-reel material, Kaepernick has shown a tendency to make hurried decisions under pressure, and since Terrell Suggs returned to the Ravens lineup, they’ve been getting to the quarterback with regularity. The Ravens lead all playoff teams with six sacks, and Suggs and fellow quarterback hunter Paul Kruger have combined for 21 additional quarterback hits and hurries.
Beyond the pass rush, the Ravens may not be the truly dominant defensive unit they once were, but they possess the kind of battle-tested, veteran wisdom that comes in handy against an offence that relies on surprise. It’s hard to imagine Ray Lewis and Ed Reed falling for the same tricks that suckered in the Bears two months ago.
The Ravens defence (minus Lewis) has even had a little bit of advance preparation, thanks to a Week 14 tilt against Robert Griffin III and the Redskins, who also employ the pistol.
It’s not that the Ravens will shut the 49ers down completely — they won’t. But they also won’t fold up shop when Kaepernick’s offence starts to click the way the Packers and Falcons did.
The Baltimore defence will bend, but not break. The 49ers haven’t faced a truly scary defence in these playoffs. The Ravens have faced two truly scary offenses and triumphed each time. I’m betting on the guys who have been there before.
The Pick: San Francisco 49ers
Final Score: 31-21
Super Bowl MVP: Colin Kaepernick
Breakdown: Colin Kaepernick has transformed the 49ers offence from a methodical, efficient, power-running machine into an unpredictable juggernaut. Thanks to Kaepernick and the pistol read-option offence, San Francisco will overcome Ray Lewis and the red-hot Baltimore Ravens to win Super Bowl XLVII.
Only one team has held the Niners to less than 121 yards rushing since Kaepernick took over under centre against the Bears in Week 11.
According to ESPN’s Michael Smith, when running read-option plays, San Francisco’s running backs average 5.8 yards per carry while Kaepernick racks up a whopping 11.8 yards when he keeps the ball.
Baltimore has struggled to stop the run all year, ranking 20th in a regular season when they allowed more than 150 yards rushing five times. The Ravens have given up 385 yards on the ground in the post-season.
In a Week 14 loss to RGIII and the Redskins, who run a similar pistol, Baltimore got exposed, allowing 423 total yards. Washington running back Alfred Morris went off for 129 rushing yards and a score.
The Redskins also burned the Ravens with play-action passes out of the option. It won’t get any easier against Kaepernick. According to Smith, on play-action out of the option, Kaepernick completes 54 per cent of his passes deeper than 20 yards this post-season, best in the NFL by a mile.
Facing a strong run game, Ravens’ safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard will be expected to play a big role in run support leaving Corey Graham and Cary Williams to fend for themselves. Baltimore’s cornerbacks have been inconsistent at best and Jim Harbaugh will be able to take advantage.
With an all-star cast on the offensive line (Kaepernick has only been sacked five times in the last five games), it’s going to be tough for the Ravens pass rushers to get to the quarterback and disrupt the option.
Sure, Ray Lewis has brought some life back into the Ravens’ defence, but the defence’s mismatches against the 49ers can’t be overlooked.
Final Score: 24-20
Super Bowl MVP: Anquan Boldin
Breakdown: At no point did I ever believe the Ravens were a better team than the 49ers during the regular season. San Francisco may even win this game seven times out of 10.
Some call it a team of destiny but I believe the Ravens have the right mix to beat the better team on the biggest stage. Just like the New York Giants were able to do last year and in 2007.
Colin Kaepernick and the multi-dimensional 49ers running game will pose a problem. But Baltimore’s time is now. They have already taken down Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. Can you be more battle tested than that?
The Ray Lewis storybook ending just seems written by the football gods. It happened with Michael Strahan, it happened with Jerome Bettis. This isn’t exactly a new thing.
Lewis looked washed up at points during the regular season but since he informed his teammates of his retirement, the Lewis of old suddenly returned.
It won’t only be Lewis that will provide Baltimore with the boost they need to defeat a tough, hard-nosed San Francisco team.
Keep your eye on Anquan Boldin. He consistently dominated the 49ers during his time in the NFC West with Arizona. Boldin has been an absolute beast this post-season and his outstanding size and strength matches up very well with either Carlos Rogers or Tarell Brown on the outside.
The 49ers are surely the more complete team on paper. But paper didn’t work out for the Patriots or the Broncos, did it? The Ravens will complete their storybook season with a Lombardi trophy.
Who do you think will win Super Bowl XLVII?