I know the only Super Bowl prediction we really need around here is my annual Tecmo Super Bowl prediction. However, I was having a hard time deciding which team I was going to play with this year: the Cleveland Browns (as the Baltimore Ravens, of course) or Joe Montana's San Francisco 49ers. As a New Orleans Saints fan, I tend to always root for the NFC, as long as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady aren't playing. Still, as much as I had to cheer against the Atlanta Falcons last week, I just can't imagine rooting for the 49ers, the most hated team in history as far as Saints fans are concerned.
So as shocking as it may be, I actually broke down and pulled out some statistics to help me pick my Super Bowl team. I evaluated seven categories: offensive passing, offensive running, defense against the pass, defense against the run, special teams, coaching, and recent playoff experience. Below I will analyze each category and list my winner.
Offensive Passing - Baltimore
Joe Flacco is currently in another world. In three playoff games, he has 853 yards, eight touchdowns, and zero interceptions. No offense to Colin Kaepernick, but Flacco is putting up Montana-like numbers right now. Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and Dennis Pitta are all playing well, and Flacco's confidence in these receivers helps a lot. Kaepernick has been impressive for a first-year starter, averaging 248 yards with three total touchdowns and an interception in two playoff games. But I'll have to see him keep his composure in a Super Bowl before I give him the nod over a hot Flacco.
Offensive Running - Baltimore
This is easy. Frank Gore is really good, and he is part of the reason that his team is here. But Ray Rice is a top two or three running back in the NFL right now. Furthermore, Bernard Pierce is becoming a key part of the Ravens' running game, and he looks great. Rice has over 300 total yards in his three playoff games this year. While Gore has rushed for 209 yards and three scores in two games, I'm giving this category to Rice and Pierce. Sure Kaepernick is a threat to run, but his 21 yards against Atlanta show that he will not approach 200 every game.
Defense Against the Pass - Baltimore
The 49ers held Aaron Rodgers to 248 yards but then allowed Matt Ryan to pass for 396. The Ravens, on the other hand, have defeated Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady in this year's postseason, allowing an average of under 300 passing yards. If San Francisco finds itself down in the second half, its chances will decrease greatly. In their two playoff games, the 49ers have scored 35 second-half points (17.5 points-per-game average). However, the Ravens have allowed only 17 second-half points through three playoff games this year (a 5.6 points-per-game average). If the inexperienced Kaepernick falls behind, this game could get out of control.
Defense Against the Run - San Francisco
After allowing only 185 rushing yards in their two playoff games, this is the only category I have given the 49ers outright. I must point out, of course, that I believe Rice is way better than the running backs San Francisco faced when playing Atlanta and Green Bay. Still, Baltimore has allowed an average of nearly 130 rushing yards to three passing teams in the postseason. This category could be huge if Baltimore is in a position to attempt to burn some clock.
Special Teams - Baltimore
The teams are fairly even in the return game, but the difference to me is at the kicker position. I simply trust Justin Tucker more than David Akers, and this could be crucial. The Super Bowl is better today than it used to be, allowing more games to be potentially decided by kickers. Consider this: 23 of the first 31 Super Bowls (1967-97) were decided by 10 points or more. Essentially, it didn't matter who was kicking for your team, because they weren't winning or losing the game for you. However, in nine of the last 15 seasons (1998-2012), the Super Bowl has been decided by a touchdown or less. Four times since 2002, the game has been decided by a single field goal. It would be a great story if Akers comes through for his team with a game-winning field goal. But right now Tucker has the edge.
Coaching - Tie
This year, more than ever, you really can't pick a winner here. I like both of these guys, and they each deserve respect for what they have done with their teams. I'm looking forward to a great game, especially when it comes to coaching.
Recent Playoff Experience - Baltimore
This one is not even close, despite San Francisco's 3-1 postseason record over the last two years. While the 49ers watched the playoffs on television from 2003-10, the Ravens have reached the postseason nine times in 13 years. Baltimore has not missed a postseason since 2007, maintaining a playoff record of 8-4 during that time and 13-7 since 2000. Oh, and Ray Lewis wants another Super Bowl win.
I think it is pretty clear that, after careful consideration, I expect the Baltimore Ravens to win Super Bowl XLVII. Tecmo Super Bowl prediction coming soon!