Super Bowl !

I called a Harbowl last year.
Going into the playoffs, the one thought provoking possibility that resonated with me was that there could very well be a rematch of the Thanksgiving game in Baltimore that saw the Ravens outlast the Niners in what was a tough, defensive chess match that remained a one-score ordeal until Cundiff put it away with a late insurance field goal. 16-6. I was almost certain that would repeat itself in the Super Bowl and I was giddy in anticipation.
Unfortunately for me, I lost that call/bet as, in both cases, the defensive team (Niners, Ravens) failed to defeat the more offensive club (Giants, Patriots).
I wouldn’t have called the Harbowl this year, though. Through midseason, it appeared that the Niners were slipping from their early season picks as top dog in the league and the Ravens were an aging, middling bunch that could beat up on the bottom feeders but fail miserably against the elite of the league. Then both teams drastically upgraded their offenses late in the season. The Niners went with first time starter Colin Kaepernick at QB and the Ravens ousted longstanding OC Cam Cameron to give QB coach Jim Caldwell a shot at calling the offense. That unlocked Joe Flacco’s arm, so to speak, and likewise the Ravens offense.
Both were big gambles that paid off even bigger. Suddenly both offenses came alive.
So where does that leave us? Well, it certainly has us talking about the defense once again! At this point, the question becomes which defense is going to be able to step up and counter these offensive upgrades?
In that respect, I give the Ravens the edge. Both defenses have played and eliminated elite QBs back to back to get to the Super Bowl. What separates the two in my mind is simply Ray Lewis. This potentially being his last game cannot be understated as he has been consistently one of the best, most vocal defensive leaders of this era and any era.
Furthermore, the Niner defense is front heavy in that its secondary is not nearly as dominant as their front seven where the likes of Willis, Bowman, Smith and Smith will contain the run. Behind them, Flacco’s newly unlocked deep ball and the excellent speed and hands of Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones can exploit weaknesses in the defense.
Conversely, the Ravens defense, while more balanced, may not be quick enough in the front seven to keep Kaepernick from getting to the second level as consistently as he did against the Packers. They can stop the traditional run effectively enough but there is nothing traditional about the Niner run game with all its different packages and looks. That obviously poses a major trap as that sets up the pass and could potentially break the game open as it did for the Niners thus far in the playoffs.

And that isn’t even to mention the dynamic of the Harbaugh brothers. I feel that big brother wins out but we can’t be sure that their competitive history may actually favor Jim who even as a player was a tenacious, fiery, never-say-die sort of warrior. Incidentally, John who appears far more reserved and controlled, burns just as hot inside and is considered to be one of the most passive aggressive coaches in the league. A Harbaugh through and through. I give the edge to the more cerebral, veteran brother. He has coached at this level longer and while Jim has done amazing things with the Niners in just two years, John has had the Ravens in Super Bowl contention for years. This is a point where he and Ray Lewis can close a chapter in a very dramatic way and he is completely aware of that. Their window of opportunity is closing whereas the Niners’ is only beginning to open with the revelation that Kaepernick is a franchise talent and Jim Harbaugh a coach for the long haul.

We finally have our Harbowl and there is little doubt that this will be a great football game. I predict one of the best Super Bowls we’ve seen in a long while. It’ll be close but when the dust settles, the Ravens will have a 24-21 win and a dramatic finish to Ray Lewis’ career. I typically root for the underdog and I often pick more upsets than necessary but I’m not about to buck that trend. The 3.5 line on the game is right, it will be ridiculously close, but I’m calling the upset.

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