We've seen this matchup before, and Ravens will win again

Baltimore has a chip on its shoulder and will ride emotion to victory

NEW ORLEANS -- The older brother will beat the younger brother again.

Super Bowl XLVII will be nothing more than a repeat, at least victory wise, of the 2011 Thanksgiving Day game between the two teams when John Harbaugh's Ravens beat Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers, 16-6.

If you look down the rosters and compare personnel, the 49ers have better players and are more balanced. But the Ravens are riding emotion and after two years of failing in the postseason, their playmakers are making plays. They also have enough crusty veterans who won't quit.

Earlier in the week this game seemed to be a toss-up. But allegations about star linebacker Ray Lewis and performance-enhancing drugs pushed the Ravens over the hump. They will win, 27-24.

You can criticize owner Steve Bisciotti and second-guess Harbaugh. You can pick on general manager Ozzie Newsome or trash quarterback Joe Flacco, but few outside of Baltimore can take on Lewis.

He is The Icon, the one his teammates call "The Great Mufasa." They love him.

The Ravens were already on a mission before the Lewis allegations. They started developing the "Us Against the World" attitude after losing three of four near the end of the season. And then they got a bigger chip on their shoulders by being nine-point underdogs in playoff games against Denver and New England.

And now "The Great Mufasa" has been insulted.

The 49ers have their own sources of motivation, but they might not be able to get as high, and the Ravens certainly won't be distracted.

"Do we seem distracted? Come on man. We can handle a lot," said Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. "This team has very broad shoulders. We don't let too many things bother us. Like I said, we know each other. We know our general (Lewis). We're just really good at not paying attention to nonsense. We're not distracted at all."

But the Ravens are so much more than Ray Lewis. In each of the past two seasons they've had the best team in the AFC, but they didn't make plays at crucial times in the playoffs. Receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped game-changing passes and running back Ray Rice fumbled in a 31-24 divisional playoff loss to Pittsburgh two years ago.

Last year, receiver Lee Evans dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the end zone and kicker Billy Cundiff whiffed on a short field goal in the closing seconds as New England beat the Ravens, 23-20, in the AFC championship game.

But that has changed. Boldin has been exceptional this post season and the Ravens have two homerun hitters in speedy receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. They have Rice, but also another strong young runner in rookie Bernard Pierce.

And then there is Flacco, who has been masterful in the playoffs, completing 51 of 93 passes for 853 yards and eight touchdowns. He has not thrown an interception.

"I don't know from a philosophical standpoint that it changed much," said tight end Dennis Pitta of Flacco. "I think we've just got a few more opportunities to make some plays. I think [offensive coordinator] Jim [Caldwell] does a good job of mixing up the pass and the run so we've got more of an opportunity to stay balanced with the ball than we did in the past."

San Francisco has one of the best defenses in the NFL and the 49ers are allowing just 17.1 points and 94.2 yards rushing a game, but they aren't invincible.

They rely on speed, but they can't handle the Ravens power or downhill running game. I like Ravens guards Marshal Yanda and K.O. Osemele one-on-one with inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. I can see Pierce running for big yards behind fullback Vonta Leach, who can't wait to get a piece of Willis.

The 49ers can limit the Ravens' deep passing game because they have two Pro Bowl safeties in Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, but the 12- to 15-yard out patterns and crossing routes should be there. Flacco has to be patient.

He'll have time. Earlier in the season, protecting Flacco would have been a problem. But in two of the last three games, the Ravens offensive line has played well against Denver's tandem of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller and Indianapolis' Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.

My major concern is Jim Harbaugh. He is a great playcaller, and calls a game like he is still the starting quarterback. The 49ers seem to have endless shifts and formations, and they attack from anywhere on the field.

 
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