In yesterday’s article I offered up some prop bets for the big game this weekend, but now it’s time to get down to business. Super Bowl XLVII pits the Harbaugh brothers against each other. A win for the 49ers would give them six Lombardi Trophies, equaling the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most all-time, while the Ravens will look to send Ray Lewis off into the sunset as a champion.
No one is questioning Jim Harbaugh’s move to bench Alex Smith in favor of Colin Kaepernick anymore, as the young quarterback has shown himself to be one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in all of football. After Kaepernick shattered the single-game rushing record for quarterbacks against the Packers in the Divisional Round, the Falcons did all they could to keep him from picking up yardage with his feet. All that did was allow the team’s other playmakers to step up. The Niners’ top ranked rushing attack accounted for 149 yards and three scores, while Vernon Davis came back from the dead with 106 receiving yards and a score. The Ravens have the discipline to keep Kaepernick from beating them with his feet off of read option plays, but they’ll need to do a better job of plugging up holes in the interior of their defense than the Falcons did.
When the 49ers do take to the air, it will be interesting to see if Davis remains in the game plan, or if he goes back to being a very highly paid decoy. The Ravens have allowed a league-low two touchdowns to tight ends through 19 games this season, but they’ve been exploited over the middle of the field in recent weeks, giving up a ton of yardage to opposing tight ends.
The bigger concern for the Ravens should be Michael Crabtree. With Lardarius Webb gone, Baltimore’s defensive backfield doesn’t have a cornerback that matches up well with Crabtree. Their cornerbacks like to get physical with opposing receivers, but Crabtree is a physical player himself. If the 49ers can get the ball in his hands, he can do a lot of damage after the catch.
The 49er defense struggled in the first half against the Falcons, but was stellar in the second half, keeping Atlanta off the scoreboard while also forcing two game-changing turnovers. The unit has just two sacks in their three playoff games, but it should get a boost from Justin Smith, who’s used the two weeks off between games to heal up from his triceps injury. He’ll need offseason surgery and won’t be all the way back, but if he can step his game up that will make things easier for Aldon Smith coming off the edge.
Joe Flacco has been uncharacteristically consistent for the Ravens in the playoffs. With a touchdown in the Super Bowl he’ll join Joe Montana and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks with nine or more touchdowns without an interception in a single postseason. Flacco may disagree with this, but he doesn’t belong in that category. While he may have some success over the top the way Matt Ryan did, the 49ers are better than any defense he’s faced so far, so a misstep or two from Flacco can be expected.
There should be some yardage to be gained, though, as the trio of Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez combined for 282 yards on 26 receptions in the NFC title game. The long-ball is a crucial element of the Raven offensive attack, so 49er safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner will play a big role in this game. The safety tandem is great at helping out against the run, but at times they’ve been guilty of being a little too aggressive on that front and getting burned by play-action.
Jim Caldwell’s play-calling hasn’t led to the increase in touches for Ray Rice that everyone expected, and it’s unlikely his touches will go up against the league’s third-ranked rush defense. The two weeks off will help Vonta Leach get healthy, and when he’s playing at the top of his game he might just be the best run-blocking fullback in the game. But he’ll have to contend with 49er middle linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
The Raven defense had been a big issue heading into the postseason, but they’ve held together well enough to get them this far. The unit has allowed only four touchdowns in three playoff games. However, their road to the Super Bowl has seen them face three teams that predominantly lean on their passing games, meaning Baltimore’s 20th-ranked rush defense hasn’t been exploited. The 49ers certainly have the horses to put the Ravens’ weaknesses on display.
It’s amazing to think that this will only be Colin Kaepernick’s 10th NFL start, but he already has a win in the Superdome in his short career, so the bright lights shouldn’t affect him. While San Francisco is better than Baltimore in every facet of the game, the setup of the Super Bowl lends itself to close games. The final score of the Super Bowl has finished within four points during six of the last 11 games. 49ers 28, Ravens 24
While it may feel like there couldn’t possibly be any value in a pick on the money line at these odds, the implied probability associated with this number indicates that the likelihood of San Francisco winning this game is just over 60 percent. After having spent over a week analyzing this game, I think a San Francisco victory is more likely than that, so there is some value there. My recommendation on the point spread would be to take San Francisco at -4 or lower, or to take Baltimore at +4.5 or higher.
Recommendation: 3* San Francisco ML (-164) – SIA
Taking a look at the total for this game, you’ll probably find it set at around 47.5, which feels like more or less where this game will end up. The sharps appear to be all over the under, as the total has dropped a couple of points since the opener.
In a postseason that’s seen more scoring than normal, I’ll lean towards the over, but I can’t see these teams playing too far beyond the number.
Recommendation: Pass; slight lean on the over