And it is finally upon us. Mardi Gras 2013! For those of you who will be going next weekend to New Orleans, I hope to see you after I vigorously search the Internet over the next few days for a place to sleep. Realistically that is just not going to happen, so everyone who had the foresight to plan this out in advance, have a great time.
But Mardi Gras might not even be the biggest event in New Orleans this month. Well, it probably is, but Super Bowl XLVII is not too far away in second place. Each year, thousands of fans from across the country flock to the host city to enjoy the week-long festivities that the Super Bowl has to offer.
This year, the fans also get the opportunity to partake in one of the largest festivals in the world. But it would be difficult to focus on Mardi Gras given all the storylines which this year’s Super Bowl brings to the table. The most obvious and apparent one is the match-up of brothers Jim and John Harbaugh, head coaches of the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, respectively.
Both of these coaches are extraordinary strategists and superb motivators, and the fact that they grew up together makes this match-up as intriguing as possible. Another storyline to follow is the retirement of Ray Lewis.
Before the playoffs began, Lewis had announced that he was going to retire at season’s end. Each game he has played in the playoffs could have been his last. Now, his career culminates on the biggest of stages, and one of the game’s most storied defensive players could ride off into the sunset as a champion.
Finally, another major storyline to watch, even though I could keep going on, is the development of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick has become a revelation at the quarterback position, and his ability to complete every throw on the field, while also present the threat of scrambling, has kept defenses on their heels. He substituted in for an injured Alex Smith, who was actually having the best year of his career at that point.
Many people, including myself, questioned the move to keep Kaepernick at quarterback when Smith healed, but apparently Harbaugh knew a little more than we all did. Kaepernick has the ability to become something special in the league, and all he needed was an opportunity.
With all these storylines, how does one dissect and pick a winner? They look at the match-ups. Without further ado, let’s get on to the analysis.
Both of these teams have a story at the quarterback position. The Kaepernick story was already introduced in the opening. For the Ravens, they have Joe Flacco. Flacco is currently in a contract year, and he has been quite a head-scratcher for years. Every year since his rookie season, Flacco has won a playoff game.
He has led his team to the playoffs, and almost made it to the Super Bowl last season. His impressive arm strength can stretch a defense and open up lanes for his running backs. However, he just hasn’t always been there.
He has had too many stinker games throughout his career, and many have questioned whether he is the quarterback to lead the Ravens to the promise land. Well, he has done so this season. He has been extremely clutch and smart with his decision making all playoff long, and has earned himself a lucrative extension.
However, I do not think that he is satisfied. I think that a Super Bowl will validate his career, and I do not believe that he will stop at anything to get it.
The Ravens have a two-headed monster of the impressive veteran Ray Rice, and the rookie Bernard Pierce. Pierce has been great when he has had to spell Rice throughout the playoffs, and he will certainly be a staple in the running game in Baltimore for years to come.
On the other side you have the 49ers, who can throw a bevy of running options at you. Each one of them brings a different element to the table, and by cycling all of their options, each ones stays fresh.
And I know that this is a comparison of running backs, but Colin Kaepernick’s ability to run cannot be understated. On the ground, the 49ers have an inordinate amount of weapons, which opens up their deep game.
ADVANTAGE: SAN FRANCISCO
Both of these teams have a very similar set of wide receivers. In the AFC Championship, the Ravens had nine different wideouts targeted. Their receiving corps is led by Torrey Smith, who’s ability to run past any defensive back and catch Joe Flacco’s bombs can change the outlook of a game.
San Francisco only had six different recievers targeted, but each one provided a decent chunk of yardage and helped to spread the ball out. Between tight-end Vernon Davis, who presents matchup problems for any defense, and stud Michael Crabtree, who is finally coming into his own, the 49ers can spread the field and provide Kaepernick with many formidable options.
At the end of the day, no matter how dynamic both team’s offenses are, they will live and die by the play of their defense. For the Ravens, they have a mix of the old guard and the new and up and comers.
Ed Reed and Ray Lewis have defined the last decade of Ravens defense, but stars such as Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs have also made their mark on this team’s history. There has also been an infusion of youth on this defense; with Courtney Upshaw and Dannell Ellerbe set to take over the reins and continue the storied tradition.
However, the Ravens have had a bevy of injuries at the cornerback position, and that could haunt them against the balanced vertical attack of the 49ers. On the other side, the 49ers have developed superstars on the defensive side, and are able to keep their opponents out of the endzone with ease.
Led by Patrick Willis, Jim Harbaugh was able to develop players such as NaVorro Bowman and Dashon Goldson, and resurrect the careers of Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers. They are deep at every position, and their ability to rush the passer with Justin Smith and Aldon Smith force quarterbacks to make quick snap decisions, increasing their forced turnovers.
On paper, both these teams are both filled with talent on defense, but the youth and depth of the 49ers, coupled with the secondary injuries on the Ravens, push the Niners on top.
ADVANTAGE: SAN FRANCISCO
This is going to be one of the best Super Bowls in recent memory. Two coaches, born and raised in the same house going at each other in the biggest stage in sports. Two deserving teams with few holes, and two young quarterbacks looking to cement themselves in football history.
At the end of the day, I believe that Kaepernick’s ability to run and throw will make a huge difference. He will keep the Ravens on their heels, and when it comes time to make a big player, Kaepernick will come up in the clutch.
San Francisco 27 Baltimore 23
— By Jayson Patel