My final segment of “Sim’s Picks” for the 2012/13 season is upon us, and I won’t lie, I’m not sad to see the season end. The 2012 season, although it was one of the best in a long time, was tiring and frustrating at times (replacement officials), outrageous at other times (Bountygate was a fiasco) and exhilarating all at the same time. Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson showing how much modern medicine has changed sports; Tom Brady having another ridiculous season; three rookie quarterbacks on their way to stardom while a second year player tries to pull off the Tom Brady trick from 2001. The NFL hasn’t seen an influx at the quarterback position like this since 1983, and that is a great thing for the league, from a competition standpoint and especially from a financial standpoint.
The quarterback position, as everyone knows, is crucial in the NFL. Most will say it is THE key, and even though I may not agree, I think this game on Sunday will come down to the quarterbacks. People want to point to the NFL version of the Civil War as the key to the game, but their knowledge and similarities are going to be a wash, and this will be one of those games that are truly decided on the field by the players. We won’t have to worry about any Tim Brown-type comments after this game is played. Ok, let’s do this:
San Francisco 49ers (-3.5) vs. Baltimore Ravens
This is one of those games that you really have to dig into to have an idea of how things could go. Like I mentioned, the coaching battle is going to be a wash. These guys grew up in the same house; there won’t be any surprises (watch, onside kick on the kickoff for the game) and the only way to decipher this is to look at history. These teams didn’t play this season, but they did matchup in Baltimore in 2011, with the Ravens winning in a street fight, 16-6. They scored ten points in the fourth (sound familiar, Pats and Bronco fans?) and were able to shut down the 49ers offense, specifically Alex Smith. Smith was 15-24 for 140 yards with 12 yards rushing and one interception, which are pedestrian numbers, not a surprise when facing Baltimore at home with a healthy Ladarius Webb.
Joe Flacco wasn’t much better. Flacco was 15-23 for 161 yards, throwing for one touchdown in the fourth quarter but not throwing any interceptions. Neither team was able to get their running game going, which was the key to both offenses last year and continues to be this year. When this happens, it comes down to the quarterback making plays and the defense getting stops, something that Baltimore is extremely good at doing. Joe Flacco made the plays in the fourth, and Alex Smith didn’t. It is as simple as that. That brings me to Sunday in New Orleans.
Jim Harbaugh took a MAJOR gamble when he stuck with Colin Kaepernick, and I think last year’s Ravens game was one of the catalysts for the move. Smith is not as talented as Kaepernick, running, throwing, and leading a team. Kaepernick seems to have “it”, which isn’t teachable or coachable. The Ravens were able to shut down a 49er team that was limited, but what will the Ravens do with a team riding high on offense, running and throwing, that truly believes in itself?
Last week the Patriots ran 28 times for 105 yards on the Ravens, but they didn’t commit to it in the second half and it eventually cost them the game. The 49ers, down 17-0 and on the ropes in Atlanta last week, stuck to their plan of running and it was the reason they won. The 49ers are going to be able to run on the Ravens, and when teams can run on the Ravens, they can win. I bet your saying “Chris, didn’t you just say this comes down to the quarterbacks?” Why yes I did, and I’ll explain. Colin Kaepernick is simply a freak running the ball. Alex Smith could make plays, but Kaepernick? Teams have to design their defense to stop him from running, because his game breaking speed can kill a team in an instant. The Ravens are still good on defense, but it is clear that they have dropped off, especially in the speed department, and I just don’t see them being able to stop the athletically gifted 49er offense.
Looking at what the Ravens offense did last year against the 49ers, what inspires the confidence that they can score over 20 points? The Raven offense that scored 16 last year is no different than the offense that is playing in New Orleans Sunday, so why would they all of a sudden explode and be able to keep up with the hugely improved 49er offense? I know I have had the Ravens in the grave twice already, but this time I’ll be right and the Deer Antler-aided Cinderella story will come to an abrupt end.
49ers 34, Ravens 10
2013 Playoff Picks Record: 3-3
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