Folks, after listening to all the accolades showered upon that wonderful human being, Ray Lewis, and all the trash talk coming from the beaks of the Buzzards, and the "good people" of Buzzardsville, Sunday can't get here fast enough for me. Hopefully, the Patriots' to a man feel the same way, and will respond appropriately Sunday evening. This ridiculous article listing 52 reasons (after Ray-Ray's #52, of course) why the Ravens should win the SB was the final straw for me: http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/bthesite/bs-b-ravens-super-bowl-reasons-pg,0,3852112.photogallery
Here are my picks:
1.) (12-4-1) San Francisco 49ers @ (14-3) Atlanta Falcons (+3.5): San Francisco should be favored by the 9.5 points that the Pats are favored by, over the Ravens. The 49ers appear to be the best team in the NFC, after an impressive late season win over the Patriots in Foxborough, and after squashing the somewhat Patriot-like Green Bay Packers, 45-31 last week, in the divisional round of the play-offs. In this playoff round, San Francisco also caught a huge break, when Atlanta scored a last second FG to dispose of the very physical Seattle Seahawks at the wire, 30-28. The Falcons have had trouble with mobile, running QBs all season. Carolina's Cam Newton gave the Falcons' "D' fits twice...and we all saw how much trouble they had with Seattle's Russell Wilson last week. 49ers' QB Colin Kaepernick is the same type of player. I can't see the low-pressure Atlanta front seven providing much opposition. That said, the Falcons can score. But, the 49er "D" is one of the top units in the game, and should be able to shut down any semblance of an Atlanta running game. Look for the Falcons' offense to become one dimensional, and for turnovers and sacks to follow: PICK: 49ers;
2.) (12-6) Baltimore Buzzards (+9.5) @ (13-4) New England Patriots: Really...a 9.5 point spread?? Why so huge a spread, when everybody knows that the Patriots were extremely lucky to beat the Ravens last year in 2012 AFC Title game, 23-20. Just ask any Buzzards' player, or any fan from Buzzardsville, and they'll tell you. Heck, didn't the lovable Ravens also beat the Pats early in the season, 31-30...in a game that really wasn't as close as the score indicates. Don't take my word for it, ask any Buzzards' player, or any fan from Buzzardsville, and they'll tell you. Heck, there's 52 reasons why the Ravens will win the SB!! Just go ask any Buzzards; player, or any fan from Buzzardsville, and they'll tell you! Why then the big spead? It's there due to the respect that Vegas and the media begrudgingly have for what Tom Brady, BB, and the New England franchise has accomplished, over the past decade. But. past glories do not win future football, games. So...lets take an objective look at both teams, and some of the match-ups:
QB: Joe Flacco v. Tom Brady: Flacco seemingly always plays well against the Patriots. Though he may not be as cerebral in the art of reading defenses as his far more celebrated and decorated counterpart, he's capable. Flacco throws a great deep ball, and, of late, has done a better job of distributing the ball to all of his receivers, including his TEs, and star RB, Ray Rice. As for Tom Terrific, we already know what he's about. Even without Gronk, if he's given ample time to work, there's no one better;
OLs: This is where Sunday's game will be decided. As stated above, if the Patriots' OL can provide Tom Brady with a clean pocket, and get enough push on running plays to make play-action passing effective, the Pats will win. The same holds true for the Ravens' OL. If both OLs do their jobs well, the game will deterioate into a shoot-out;
DL: Haloti Ngata v. Vince Wilfolk: Ngata supposedly is playing with a bad knee and a sore shoulder. Yet, you'd never know it. He's one of, if not the best run defender in the game. Last year, Vince Wilfolk played the finest game of his career against the Ravens, in the 2012 AFC Title game. He was the man most responsible for the Pats' 23-20 win. Job One against the Ravens is to contain RB Ray Rice. In the 2009 play-offs, the Pats were unable to do that, and were crushed, 33-14.
LBs: Ray Lewis v. Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo, and Dont'a Hightower: Here's where the Pats hold a distinct advantage. Despite his reputation, Lewis is 37 years old, and playing with a sore elbow. He and the relatively slow Baltimore LB corp will have lots of trouble dealing with bubble screens, and Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, and Stevan Ridley, coming out of the backfield. The Pats' young LB corp should have Wilfolk's back on running plays...although dealing with Rice coming out of the backfield is always a chore;
TEs and WRs: Here, with Gronk out, I see the Ravens holding a distinct advantage. The Pats have nobody to compare with Ravens' deep threat, Torrey Smith. His big play ability must be respected, and defended. Thus, it will be largely up to the Pats' front seven to deal with the dangerous Ray Rice. Anquan Boldin has had a resurgence of late. His play will somewhat match the effectiveness of the wily Wes Welker. Jacoby Jones is a pro-bowl kick returner, and another deep threat WR...as the Broncos learned, much to their chagrin, last week. At TE, it's largely Aaron Hernandez, v. Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. Though Henandez is a far more dynamic receiver, the Ravens' TE duo are dependable, and help move the chains.
KICK RETURN Game: A huge edge for Baltimore, with the dangerous Jacoby Jones returning kick-offs. The Pats' have been vunerable in this area of play, of late. You may recall that, after the Pats' made that stirring comeback from a 31-3 deficit to tie the 49ers at 31, that a 61 yard kick-off return by rookie LaMichael James did them in. Last week against the Texans, what should have been a blow-out win was a bit suspenseful, due to the Pats inability to contain kickoff returner Danieal Manning...who returned 3 kicks for 94, 69, and 35 yards (plus a 15 yard penalty for a TD saving horse-collar tackle). This is extremely disconcerting...and bears watching. If this problem isn't fixed come Sunday, it could be a long evening indeed for the Boys in Blue. In addition, the Texans were nearly successful in blocking a punt last week. Might the Ravens attempt the same thing?
SECONDARY: The addition of CB Aqib Talib has solidified the Patriots' secondary. With Devin McCourty now free to roam in centerfield, there's been far fewer big plays against the Pats' "D". Though old, Ed Reid can still play. We all hate Bernard Pollard, but the guy is good in run support, and a physical presence in the middle of the field. Still, the addition of Talib, and the subtraction of star CB Lardarius Webb from the Ravens due to injury pretty much even things out.
RBs: Ray Rice v. Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley: The sum of Vereen and Ridley might be at least equal to Ray Rice...although Rice is a true breakaway threat.
Coaching: John Harbaugh and Assts. v. BB and Assts: Though I don't like either of the Harbaughs, I respect them. They're both great coaches. Still, there's only one BB. Edge, Patriots.
In summary, the Pats must avoid special teams' breakdowns, and a slow start. The key turnover loses. It should be a fairly tight, taunt game, won by the Patriots. But, likely not by 10 points or more. See y'all in New Orleans!!!