We’ve finally arrived.
The last game of the season. It’s been a long road for both teams (one that I chronicled in last week’s picks and won’t bore you with again) and one of them will walk out of the Superdome as Super Bowl champions.
But that you already knew. What we haven’t discussed since the Conference Championship games are the actual results.
Simply put: they did it.
Who did it? Joe Flacco did it. Colin Kaepernick too. Ray Lewis as well (and is still crying about it). Not to mention that the Brothers Harbaugh did “it” and will coach against one another on football’s biggest stage.
We’ve heard a lot about greatness these past few weeks; partly because of what could be Lewis’s last games and his future Hall of Fame induction, but as I referenced in the HOF Worthy article, the perception of greatness is naturally in the air during this weekend. We started yesterday with the announcement of the 2013 Hall of Fame class. Then the NFL Honors show, in which the Associated Press presents its season award winners. And it all comes to a head this afternoon with the Super Bowl.
It’s natural for us to value Super Bowl rings as much as we do. But one of the hardest things for teams to do is repeat their success after winning/losing the big game the year before.
That’s part of the reason why the Buffalo Bills teams of the early 90s impressed me so much, almost more so than the Cowboys or Broncos teams of the same era. Yes, they lost four consecutive Super Bowls. Yes, we live in a cynical sports world where we focus on what went wrong more than what went right (see: any “did [the winning team] win or [the losing team] lose debate”). But most teams would kill for four straight Super Bowl appearances.
I’ve basically said all of that to say this: are either Baltimore or San Francisco built for long-term postseason success?
The simple answer is yes to both. Each has the weapons on offense and defense to win games and don’t show many signs of dropping off next season. But I would give Baltimore the higher odds of making it back next season.
Obviously, the biggest variable is who becomes the new defensive leader in Ray Lewis’s absence, but Ed Reed has already ruled out retirement after this season. Not to mention the presence of Terrell Suggs, should he remain healthy. Now the 49ers defense is well intact, as well with Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman in the middle. And if there’s any inkling of truth to the rumors surrounding Darrelle Revis being traded, the rest of the league better hope he doesn’t go to San Francisco.
But where I give the Ravens a long-term advantage is on offense. It’s not always the flashiest, but know what you’re getting with Flacco, Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, and Torrey Smith. The sample size of this Niners offense is too small for me to buy in yet. Kaepernick will be making his 11th career start to begin next season and their receiving corps as a whole is less talented than Baltimore’s (after Davis and Crabtree there’s whom?).
But the thing about projections are that they’re just that. If Revis comes to town and Kaepernick continues to improve, we have an entirely different landscape. Now let’s pick.
I’m taking San Francisco.
Why? Similar reasons as to why I picked Denver and New England over Baltimore this past month, if that tells you anything. San Francisco’s defense matches up well with Baltimore’s and I see the Niners getting the better of Baltimore’s defense once Kaepernick settles into the game.
So Baltimore needs to generate pressure. Yes, Kaepernick will gash you if you’re not careful, but you want Kaepernick moving around in the pocket. As big of a deal that’s been made about his running ability, people forget how deadly of a passer he is when he has time.
And with Crabtree and Davis playing lights out this postseason and the still-dangerous Randy Moss attracting attention, he should get his share of one-on-one matchups down the field.
I expect it to be close (as recent Super Bowls have been), but I see the 49ers winning their sixth Super Bowl.
San Francisco over Baltimore