We’ve finally reached the end of the road. After 256 regular-season games (I won by 11) and 11 postseason games (MDS is up three), it’s time to pick a winner in the Super Bowl.
So without further adieu, here are our predictions on one of the hardest Super Bowls to predict.
And, yes, we disagree.
MDS’s take: There wasn’t a single point in the regular season when I would have said the Ravens were a better team than the 49ers. Baltimore had a better record than San Francisco during much of the first part of the regular the season, but the 49ers looked like a more impressive, more complete football team than the Ravens. And down the stretch in the regular season, the 49ers got even better after replacing Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick, while the Ravens lost four of their last five to close out 2012. So the only way I could pick the Ravens now is if I think their three-game playoff run has shown that they’ve become a significantly better team. And while I do think the Ravens are playing their best football at the right time, I simply don’t see them as better than the 49ers on either side of the ball.
When San Francisco has the ball, the running of Frank Gore and LaMichael James is going to pose big problems for the Ravens’ defense. (And the running of Colin Kaepernick will be a nice bonus for the 49ers.) When Baltimore has the ball, the San Francisco safety combination of Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson is going to make it tough for Joe Flacco to do what he likes to do best, attack opposing secondaries deep downfield. I do expect Baltimore to have a decided special-teams advantage in this game, but I don’t think that’s going to produce enough game-changing plays to make the difference. The 49ers are the better team, and they’ll hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night.
MDS’s pick: 49ers 28, Ravens 17.
Florio’s take: I’ve gone back and forth all week on this game. When I convince myself that the 49ers will win, I think of the reasons why the Ravens will prevail. And then I think of the reasons the 49ers will prevail. And then I think of the reasons the Ravens will prevail.
And then I wish there could be ties in the Super Bowl.
I’ll agree with MDS on one point — if the 49ers win, it likely will be by seven or more points. For the Ravens, it likely will be a close game with one score deciding the winner of the Lombardi Trophy.
The 49ers are the better team on paper. But the Broncos and the Patriots were the better teams on paper, too. And the Ravens just keep winning. The offense has improved, and the 49ers pass defense has dipped in recent weeks, with a less potent rush and safeties who seem to get caught flat-footed all too often.
The Ravens defense will need to contain Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore. The concern is that, if the Ravens figure out a way to solve the read-option in a way that keeps both from burning them, Kaepernick will pull the ball back out and fire a pass to Randy Moss, who will lollygag off the line of scrimmage before sprinting down the field.
Still, there’s something about the Ravens this year, between the impact of Ray Lewis and the emergence of Joe Flacco and the reality that, after this season, Baltimore could have some rebuilding to do. For the 49ers, they could be back on a much more regular basis. In the end, there’s a good chance that each Harbaugh brother will get a ring. For now, the first-born son becomes the first one to hoist the trophy.
Florio’s pick: Ravens 30, 49ers 27.