It basically is two fairly evenly matched teams facing off. I’m not sure why the spread is 4, it really should be like 2.
Baltimore Ravens (13-6) vs. San Francisco 49ers (13-4-1)
Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 6:30 pm ET on CBS
*Line: 49ers (-4)
The Falcons showed two weeks ago that the 49ers can be thrown on. Their secondary is their Achilles heel as they could not handle the likes of Julio Jones. Torrey Smith is probably not even a notch below Julio in terms of his ability to make plays downfield and Flacco is among the best vertical passers in the game. So one would think that they are ripe to be picked apart again. But I think the difference is that Baltimroe doesn’t have a Roddy White or Tony Gonzalez to also draw the 49ers attention. Well I guess Anquan Boldin is basically like Gonzo, as at this point in his career he really is just a tight end. But the combo of Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss is a far cry from Roddy White. So I don’t see the Ravens having quite the success of the Falcons against the 49er secondary. Not unless tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson really step up. Wait, let me rephrase that, not unless Pitta steps up. since Dickson is never really a factor. So I don’t see Flacco just chucking the ball downfield as he’s done throughout the playoffs with the same degree of success. There will be opportunities, but I don’t expect to see him throwing for nearly 400 yards as Ryan did in the NFC Championship Game.
So Baltimore is going to have to rely on their ground game to keep the offense on schedule. The 49ers run defense is the strength of their unit, and Justin Smith will be matched up quite a bit with the rookie Kelechi Osemele. Osemele has the size to be able to match up with the physical Smith, but it’s going to be a tall order for him to make a difference in this game. He could really make a name for himself in this game if he’s up to it. But I’m not sure he is.
Bryant McKinnie has been a good player at left tackle down the stretch and he’ll be matched up with Aldon Smith. Aldon just hasn’t been the same fearsome pass rsuher that he was earlier in the year. He basically only had 1 pressure and a hurry against Sam Baker, so McKinnie should be able to acquit himself fairly well. But Mount McKinnie is notorious for going up against top-level pass rushers and falling flat on his face, as he memorably did against Julius Peppers in 2009. He did a fairly good job against Elvis Dumervil in the playoffs, but Dumervil’s production at this point is exceeding his ability. He’s just not that scary a pass rusher as his numbers (11 sacks) would indicate. Again Smith hasn’t looked all that great over the past month either (0 sacks in the past 5 games), but I have this feeling this might be a game where Aldon Smith returns to form.
As for San Francisco, they aren’t dealing with the Ravens defense of old. But this group has gotten a surge from the return of Ray Lewis in the playoffs. This is going to be a game where the Ravens front is really going to have to show out. Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, among others are going to need strong performances. Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger are going to have to find ways to pressure Kaepernick off the edge, something teams besides the Seahawks and Rams have struggled to do. The Ravens run defense has been solid for most of this year, but they aren’t the stalwart group of yesteryear. And that is where this game is going to be won for the 49ers. If Frank Gore and LaMichael James have lanes to run through, then I see good things for the 49ers offense.
Unlike the Falcons, the Ravens have been relatively solid against tight ends this year. So I don’t think Vernon Davis is going to be the difference maker like he was vs. Atlanta. Thus it will be up to the likes of Cary Williams and Corey Graham to lock down Crabtree, which may be a tall order for them.
I’m rooting for Baltimore, partly because I want to see Ray Lewis walk off into the sunset with a ring. I also feel like the Falcons need to be avenged in some sort of way. I don’t care about Flacco winning a ring before Ryan. That whole rivalry really means nothing to me. If the Ravens win and the rest of the world then thinks Flacco is better than Ryan (and they will, right or wrong), then so be it. I have complete confidence in Matt Ryan, and I don’t need the Mark Schlereths and Willie McGinests of the worlds to say it to justify that feeling.
But in the end I think the 49ers will find some way to pull out the win just because if I was going to get what I wanted, then I’d be watching my Falcons in this game from a bar down the street from the Superdome.
But I’m picking the Ravens to cover, because they haven’t failed me yet in the playoffs. That does however mean it’s going to be a tight game that could be decided by a field goal or less, which certainly should give the Ravens the edge because you know, David Akers sucks. ‘Tis a shame really, because Akers has had an illustrious career. While Adam Vinatieri gets all of the accolades as best kicker of the past decade or so, really Akers has been neck and neck with him through all that time. If not for the fact that as I said earlier I’m rooting for the Ravens, I don’t think it would be so bad to see him make a big kick to win this game, thus redeeming himself in the eyes of the Football Gods. He is after all a former Falcon.
Enjoy the off-season, I’ll be back picking games in September.
Spread Pick: Ravens
Straight Pick: 49ers
* Lines come from ESPN.com