By Matt Vensel
The Baltimore Sun
8:30 AM EST, February 3, 2013
In this game-day staple, blogger Matt Vensel makes four sometimes-courageous predictions for the game. All he asks is that you don’t hold it against him whenever those predictions end up being embarrassingly wrong.
In a matter of hours, the Ravens will run onto the field together before they take on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. It’s fitting that they chose to be announced as a team, because their biggest strength this season has been their unity. They have overcome a lot to get to this point -- those story have been told over and over again the past two weeks -- and now they are 60 minutes away from achieving football immortality.
But so are the 49ers, who have shown a lot of moxie this season, too, especially while overcoming a 17-point deficit to win the NFC championship game. There is a reason why Vegas thinks they should be slight favorites.
In this space, which wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously, I made dozens of bold predictions this season. But there is nothing bold about me saying that Sunday’s Super Bowl will be compelling theater. We have been treated to exciting championship games the past five years, and Sunday has the makings of another fun one.
Don’t worry, I have made five bolder predictions -- I usually make four, but I threw in a bonus one since it is the Super Bowl and all -- but, as always, please don’t hold it against me if they ended up being wrong.
1. JOE FLACCO WILL BE THE SUPER BOWL MVP
Let’s just get this out on the table. I think the Ravens are going to win it all on Sunday, and I think it will be in large part due to the play of Joe Flacco. Flacco has thrown eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in these playoffs, and the Ravens are 7-0 in the playoffs when he doesn’t throw a pick. While I can’t guarantee that Flacco won’t turn the ball over, I’m fairly certain he will be able to move the ball against a talented and physical 49ers defense. He needs three touchdown passes to tie the record for the most in a postseason. I think he will throw two, but that should be enough for both Flacco and the Ravens to take home some hardware.
2. THE RAVENS D WILL WIN INSIDE THE RED ZONE
One thing the Ravens defense has done consistently all season is slow down opponents once they got inside the red zone. The Ravens ranked second in red-zone defense during the regular season, and they fared well there again in the AFC championship game. The New England Patriots scored just one touchdown in four trips inside the 20-yard line, and their inability to get the ball into the end zone allowed the Ravens to hang around early and eventually pull away in the second half. The 49ers ranked in the middle of the pack in red-zone offense despite having a physical running game. If the Ravens can force them to kick field goals, I like their chances.
3. VERNON DAVIS WILL HAVE 100-PLUS YARDS
The 49ers have one of the NFL’s most athletic tight ends in Vernon Davis. He is so fast and explosive as a route-runner and pass-catcher, a few Ravens players have remarked in the past two weeks that he is more like a wide receiver who happens to block sometimes. He had five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown in the NFC championship game, but in his previous seven games, he had just seven total catches. I think the 49ers will keep Davis heavily involved against the Ravens. Ray Lewis is a liability in pass coverage, and while Dannell Ellerbe has improved in coverage, he will have a hard time keeping up with the former Maryland star.
4. RAY RICE RECEIVING YARDS > RUSHING YARDS
Ravens running back Ray Rice leads the NFL with 247 yards during the postseason, and his 64 carries are most among running backs. He is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, though, and he has as many fumbles (two) as rushing touchdowns. The 49ers, who have a pair of All-Pro inside linebackers, don’t leave many cracks for backs to wiggle through. Rice admitted as much this week. But he can have a major impact as a receiver. The 49ers will likely ask NaVorro Bowman to shadow him in man coverage, a matchup Rice feels he can exploit. Rice might not run for a lot of yards, but the Ravens will settle for big production in the short passing game.
5. COLIN KAEPERNICK WILL LOSE TWO TURNOVERS
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick burst onto the scene in his second season, burning defenses with both his arm and his legs since replacing Alex Smith in the starting lineup. He ran for 181 yards and two scores in a playoff win over the Green Bay Packers then picked apart the Atlanta Falcons secondary a week later. He is not afraid to take risks, like when he threw a pick-six early in the win over the Packers. It’s what makes him so fun to watch, but it also makes him a potential liability. He has thrown just four picks, including the playoffs, but he has fumbled 10 times. Look for him to cough the ball up to the Ravens a couple of times on Sunday.
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