It may not be the Super Bowl the sporting world at large predicted, even as late as last week, but it's the Super Bowl we're getting tonight (Feb. 2, 2013) from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.
It's Super Bowl 47 and it features the Baltimore Ravens continuing their improbable run to the top of the National Football League (NFL) mountain against the supremely talented San Francisco 49ers, who are steeped in history and have never lost the big one.
Then again, neither have the Ravens, though they've only been there once in comparison to the Niners five appearances.
The match-up is intriguing. Not only are the opposing coaches brothers, John (Baltimore) and Jim (San Francisco) Harbaugh, but the two teams have largely the same identity: Physical play on defense, grind 'em down on offense, hit the big plays when they're called.
So far this season, both have delivered. But who will deliver when the two collide in the biggest game of the year?
The head of the Mania ship, Thomas Myers, lays out his case for a Ravens victory:
Baltimore is still carving the barrel of a momentous end-of-season wave, crushing the Colts at home before heading out on the road to upend the Broncos in overtime and dominate the Patriots for four full quarters. Ray Rice, the most powerful workhorse in the sport today, has been doing his typical bang-up job on the ground, rushing for nearly 250 yards on 64 touches and punching in two scores. His epic 29-yard scamper on 4th and 29, which ultimately helped the Ravens defeat the Chargers in extra minutes earlier in the season, is forever etched into the synapses of my memory. And it's that kind of play, combined with the late surge, that gives me a cosmic feeling that the Ravens are destined to win this Super Bowl.
No, it has nothing to do with Ray Lewis. I hate that "inspirational" man, even if his teammates don't, soaking up his shameless, "hey everybody, look at me I'm trying really hard to cry" God-fearing rhetoric. However, I think we'd all be naive to think that he doesn't motivate a majority of that team, which is just another reason to think that the Ravens are destined to triumph in New Orleans.
Joe Flacco throwing the ball like John Elway (eight touchdowns, zero interceptions in the playoffs), Bernard Pollard lurking in the defensive backfield with sinister intentions, and Jacoby Jones returning kicks like Devin Hester kind of helps, too. In short, Baltimore is firing on all cylinders on all three sides of the ball (don't sleep on the impact special teams can have in these big games).
The Ravens also have the intangibles: Momentum, swagger and, dare I say, Ray Lewis. Blend it all together, splash in a quarterback on the opposite sideline, Colin Kaepernick, who has just nine career starts under his hat, and I'm pretty damn sure you have a winning Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl 47 recipe. Cowabunga!
Final score: 24-17 Ravens
I, on the other hand, think the 49ers will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy when it's all said and done, and here's why:
Remember all those years when NFL "experts" and prognosticators would kick off each season calling the 49ers a "sleeper" team who could make a serious run if they just put it all together? And that that year was the particular year they would do so? That never happened and there are two reasons for that:
1) Jim Harbaugh wasn't head coach until last season, when that finally changed for good and,
2) Alex Smith was the quarterback.
Granted, Smith was playing outstanding football this year before he was benched in favor of Colin Kaepernick after suffering a concussion late in the season, but it's been made clear a million times over that Harbaugh made the right decision in sticking with the hot hand because time has proved Kaepernick isn't just a hot hand, he's a damn fine quarterback.
What makes him most impressive is his resolve. He throws a pick-six on his first drive in a postseason game against Green Bay and comes back to throw 17/31, 263 yards, 2 TD's while running the ball 16 times for 181 yards and another 2 TD's. It may have been the single greatest performance by any quarterback in a playoff game in league history. The very next week, on the road in Atlanta, his team was down 17-0 and managed just one yard in the first quarter. How did he respond? By leading his team to a 28-24 come-from-behind win on the strength of a 16-21, 233 yards, 1 TD passing day. He only needed 21 yards on the ground, too.
Combined with Michael Crabtree's emergence as a legitimate number one receiver, Vernon Davis finding new life last week, and Frank Gore and LaMichael James making for one of the best one-two running back tandems in the league, I can't imagine a scenario where Baltimore's old, run down defense can even keep up, let alone set the pace. San Francisco will push it and Ray Lewis, for all his inspirational crap, won't have the breath to hang with the young, hungry lions in the red and gold. Sorry, Baltimore!
Final score: 27-20 49ers
Who do you agree with, Maniacs? Is Tom right and Baltimore will win its second Super Bowl and first since the 2000 season? Or am I correct and San Francisco will tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl victories in league history with six?
Let's get your predictions in the comments section below.