This year’s NFL championship contest is, on paper at least, not all that exciting. Neither team has been to the Super Bowl in a while. While both teams have seen some success in recent years, both clubs lack the national followings of franchises like the New England Patriots or the Dallas Cowboys.
Beyond a cursory glance, Super Bowl XXXXLIQ Eleventy Gajillion has it’s share of story lines. The head coaches for each squad are brothers. Both teams came painfully close to getting to the Super Bowl last year only to see their seasons’ abruptly end just short of reaching the big game. All-Universe Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is playing in his final NFL contest. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is starting in his eleventh NFL match. Seen that way, it turns out there’s a lot to latch onto for casual fans and die-hard football watchers alike.
Besides the human interest aspects, the two teams play decidedly different styles. Specifically, their offensive philosophies have little in common with each other. Joe Flacco, the underrated Baltimore quarterback, is a concrete birdbath when he drops back into the pocket. He’s not particularly mobile, but he’s got a Howitzer where his right arm should be. Flacco can accurately deliver bombs at any time to anywhere on the field. More importantly, he comes into this game playing the best football of his life.
Flacco is the field general for an offense that relies on talented wide receivers like Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin as well as stand-out running back Ray Rice to make big plays both in the air and on the ground. While the Ravens attack has guys like Dennis Pitta, a tight end that causes match-up problems for defenders, it is still a more or less traditional NFL system. Watchers of the game will recognize most of the Ravens’ offensive formations and plays.
On the other side of the field, Colin Kaepernick is for all intents and purposes a rookie playing in the biggest sporting event on the planet. Although he’s inexperienced, he’s got serious weapons like running back Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis and wideout Michael Crabtree. Kaepernick leads a dynamic offense that employs the read-option and the pistol formation. The pistol makes it very hard for defenses to understand what the offense is about to do. Because it can be used for running plays or passing attempts, the defense cannot simply assume a run or pass is coming at them.
The pistol is even more devastating when paired with read-option plays. The read-option means that on running plays the quarterback can read the defense to determine his next move. He can elect to hand the ball off to his running back or keep it himself and take it upfield. Here again, the key is confusing the defense to keep them from pinning back their ears and attacking whoever has the ball.
As great as these systems are for the offense, all the misdirection borne from them comes at a price. By using the read-option and the pistol, teams put their quarterback in a position to take punishing hits. As the quarterback is by far the most important player on the field, this is the ultimate high risk/high reward strategy.
There is no guarantee that Colin Kaepernick will be able to play the same way next year. Hell, there’s no guarantee that Kaepernick will be capable of performing at a top level next week. Mobile quarterbacks are not known for their durability. Just ask Michael Vick or Robert Griffin III how easy it is to stay healthy when regularly being flattened by psychotic 300 pound physical freaks.
Besides the risk of massive career-ending injuries to the team’s key offensive player, the read-option and pistol are not unknowable puzzles. Defensive coordinators across the league are already studying it. Eventually, they’ll solve the riddle as they always do with every new offensive scheme that comes out. It’s one thing to only have seven or eight days to prepare for the pistol/read-option’s trickery. It’s quite another to have seven or eight months to study formations and plays.
Realistically, San Francisco better win the Super Bowl today. This season, the 49ers benefited from having an insanely-gifted athlete playing at the top of his game leading a previously-unknown offensive scheme that few teams have been able to stop. Next year, it’s very possible that none of those advantages will be applicable to the team.
To me, this year’s Super Bowl hinges on this question: Can the Baltimore Ravens defense, lead by aging veterans like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, contain Kaepernick and all the gadgets that San Francisco employs? I have my doubts. The Ravens pass rush has been spotty during the playoffs. I’m not sure they can go after Kaepernick with just their down lineman and get to him. If they can’t at least put him on ground a few times, it’s going to be a very long day for Baltimore.
Ultimately, this means that Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense will have to match Frisco’s offensive output. That might be very difficult. While the Niner’s defense has been shaky in recent games, it’s less flawed than Baltimore’s. I think San Francisco can get to Flacco. Perhaps not on a regular basis, but enough to knock him off his rhythm.
That leads me to think that San Francisco will win this game. I see it ending in something like 30-24 or 28-20 in the 49ers’ favor. Since I’m so good at predictions, this means you should bet on the Ravens.
From an emotional level, I don’t care for either team. It’s amazing how Ray Lewis is a beloved figure in the NFL even though he mentions his love of Jesus every five seconds, but Tim Tebow’s much less demonstrative proclamations of Christian faith have made him a divisive figure in sports media and in the larger culture. Also, I don’t know how the pious spiritual leader act fits with Lewis’ deep involvement in an unsolved double murder.
On the other hand, San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh is an unrepentant asshole even by NFL head coaching standards. When he won against Detroit, he started a fight with Lions coach Jim Schwartz because he’ had to be a trash talking shit-heel. When he lost to the Giants last year in the NFC championship game, he refused to do a post-game interview and take his licks like a man. When things are going his way, Jim Harbaugh is a classless sore winner. When his team is defeated, he’s a classless sore loser. Basically, Harbaugh is a younger less likable Bill Belichick with fewer accusations of cheating and no championship rings.
If I had to pick a team, I guess I’d root for the Ravens if only because it would be fun to watch Harbaugh, football’s latest overgrown playground doucherocket, take yet another brutal loss. Is that petty? Yes. But it’s the National Football League we’re talking about here. If we didn’t have silly small-minded peeves to nurse, we wouldn’t have a league in the first place.
You know what else is great about football? Cheerleaders. Lots and lots of cheerleaders. Let’s take a look at a few, shall we?
The Ladies Of The Baltimore Ravens
The San Francisco 49ers’ cheering squad