After a month of mini-camps, a month of training camps, 65 pre-season games, 512 regular season games, 10 playoff games, and way more HDTV close-ups of Jerry Jones’ Botox-filled face than America should be forced to endure in a lifetime, we have finally arrived at Super Bowl Week.
There can be no doubt that we’ve had a lot to try and digest this season. From Bountygate to Rex Ryan tattoos to ill-timed, cringy-worthy Tweets by players’ wives to talk of past Super Bowl “sabotage”, there seemed to be a new, entertaining story developing every week.
We will remember this season as the one where some teams finally began to show their age (yes, we’re looking at you Pittsburgh Steelers), young teams began to emerge right before our very eyes (thanks for the memories Seattle Seahawks), a new generation of quarterbacks emerged to change the game, and thanks to Mark Sanchez, we can now use the words “butt” and “fumble” in the same sentence.
But more than anything else, the 2012 NFL season will be fondly remembered by yours truly as the season when I finally got it right.
After a dozen years of preview columns trying to predict the AFC and NFC’s representatives in the Super Bowl, I finally got one right as my prediction of a Harbaugh brothers battle in New Orleans will come to fruition this Sunday when John’s Baltimore Ravens take on Jim’s San Francisco 49’ers. (Don’t believe me, check out my Sept. 5, 2012 column. It’s there in black and white. Yes, I’m going to gloat for a minute.)
Although the Harbaugh brothers faced off on Thanksgiving Day in 2011 (with the Ravens posting an ugly 16-6 win), this will be the first time two brothers have met as opposing coaches in the Super Bowl, making this the biggest sibling rivalry since Cain versus Abel, or at least since Leaping Lanny Poffo took on the Macho Man Randy Savage.
Both teams took different paths to finally get to the Big Easy.
Baltimore had to fire its offensive coordinator just past mid-season to get out of its slump, while an aging defense has found new life while collectively trying to send out Ray Lewis as a winner in his final NFL game.
Meanwhile, Alex Smith’s timely concussion gave Jim Harbaugh to opening he needed to stick Colin Kaepernick under center, and the results have spoken for themselves. And while the San Francisco defense hasn’t looked as strong lately as it did a year ago, the Niners have made the plays when they’ve needed them the most (i.e., the fourth quarter against Atlanta two weeks ago).
I still can’t bring myself to call Joe Flacco an elite quarterback yet, but he just keeps performing big in big games. Yes, he does have a very good, very physical set of receivers working with him, not to mention an outstanding one-two backfield punch in Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, but he still has to get the ball to them, something he’s been doing on a very consistent basis.
Then you have Kaepernick, who will be the biggest wild card ever to suit up in a Super Bowl. If you are Baltimore’s defensive coordinator, what do you do? Kaepernick’s too good on the run and you know your aging defense can’t keep up with him. But if you try to contain him at the line of scrimmage (a la Atlanta in the NFC title game), you run the risk of letting Frank Gore and LaMichael James burn you on the read-option that Kaepernick runs so well.
Give the Niners the edge on the offensive line and in the front seven on defense, but both secondaries are aggressive and hard-hitting enough to match up with the others’ physical group of tight ends and receivers. (And being the Super Bowl, players won’t have to worry about getting suspended for next week’s game, meaning there are going to be some absolutely hellacious hits in this game. Count on it.)
You start to wonder if this “team-of-destiny” thing really applies to Baltimore. By all accounts, they shouldn’t have gotten this far, and if not for perhaps the biggest late-game secondary goof in NFL playoff history (nice job Denver), the Ravens would have been eliminated weeks ago.
And considering that Baltimore missed going to the Super Bowl last year on a missed field goal at the end of the AFC championship game, AND the fact that San Francisco kicker David Akers has been about as dependable as an 1985 Yugo for most of this season, you just have to wonder if the football gods will try and balance things out this time around.
But in the end, it all comes down to a certain tattooed quarterback that wears No. 7.
Baltimore faced two other athletic, running quarterbacks with big-time arms in the regular season, Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III. Vick threw for 371 yards and a TD, and rushed for 34 yards and a TD against the Ravens in Week 2, while Griffin had 242 yards and a TD pass against them later in the season.
Focusing on Vick, the Ravens defense allowed LeSean McCoy to rush for 81 yards and a TD for the Eagles, and while Griffin III left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury, it was the threat of his running ability that helped Alfred Morris rush for 129 yards and a TD for the Redskins that day.
If you haven’t guessed by now, Baltimore lost both games — 24-23 to Philadelphia, and 31-28 to Washington in overtime, so why should this Sunday be any different?
Look for Gore and James to have big games on the ground, and Kaepernick to get loose for at least one big TD run. And just as I predicted back in early September, polish up a sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy for the Bay Area.
The pick: San Francisco 35, Baltimore 24
Scott Herpst is Sports Editor of the Walker County Messenger.