by NFL Gimpy
I’ll be honest, the Super Bowl may be my 2nd least favorite week of year, obviously after the Pro Bowl. Why? First off, it means football is over. I’ve always felt the journey is more exciting than the finish line. Second, there’s only one game to enjoy. Lastly, it has become more about the spectacle and hype than the game. I love all of the offseason discussions like free agency, the draft, training camp battles, etc. But you love those things because of what they lead to on the field and one week from today…there’s nothing left on the field for 6 months.
That doesn’t mean I’m not excited. This is going to be one heck of a match-up. As a wannabe journalist, I have to admit when I’m wrong if I ever want to be important enough to lie about it. You don’t need credibility once you’re big time, right Prisco? So I admit, I was wrong about the Ravens. I’m a firm believer in looking at how a team is playing in December to judge how they’ll play in January. The Ravens sucked in December. I even thought they’d lose to the Colts, not because the Colts were any good, but the Ravens couldn’t play back to back good games to save their life in December.
Using my December logic, I pegged the two best NFC teams as the 49ers and Seahawks. I’m a Pete Carroll timeout away from being right on both, so I’m not declaring defeat there. I liked the Patriots and Broncos in the AFC for obvious reasons. The Ravens beat them both. Ouch. While I hate tossing terms around like this, I’m going to say what my gut is telling me.
The Ravens feel like a team of destiny. I’ve never believed for a second that any type of deity cares about the results of sporting events. Health and safety of players maybe, but the result? Nope. That doesn’t mean the Ravens haven’t had an absurd amount of things go their way this season.
The Ravens lost 4 of their last 5 games of the season. The usual thorn in their side, the Steelers, lost 4 of their last 6, including a matchup to the Ravens. The Steelers lost to the Browns, Chargers, and Bengals as well. The Steelers had only missed the playoffs twice from 2004-2011, both of which were the year after they won the Super Bowl. Essentially, as the Ravens crashed, their top competitor for the division was crashing too. The Bengals were never a threat to the division because they had to win 7 of their last 8 to tie the Ravens at 10-6 and the last game was a matchup between the 2 teams where the Ravens had already clinched the division.
Then there’s health. Ray Lewis appeared to be out for the season when he tore his triceps. There were plenty of reports like this one, saying Ray was done. It was even suggested that putting him on injured reserve with a “can return” designation was a motivational ploy to keep him around. Lewis is the motivational leader of the Ravens and if he’s officially out for the season, the team could have fallen apart without him around. If you watched Ray play before that, he looked to be more of a liability than an asset on the field. While Lewis hasn’t exactly looked great in the playoffs, his presence on the field has certainly had a huge effect on the stupendous play of the Ravens D.
Ray Lewis was supposed to be done for the season. But he obviously wasn’t. Then there’s Terrell Suggs. Suggs tore his Achilles tendon in the offseason and had surgery in May. An Achilles injury is extremely difficult to come back from and it was a huge question mark whether or not Suggs would play in 2012. To put it into perspective, Jason Peters of the Eagles ruptured his Achilles around the same time and ended up rupturing it again, then missed the entire 2012 season. That’s bad luck. The Ravens got incredibly lucky Suggs was able to play this season and stay healthy throughout the playoffs. His 10 solo tackles and 2 sacks against Denver were huge. Two key defensive players who should be hurt, but aren’t.
Yes, LarDarius Webb is out for the season and that’s a tough blow. I don’t mean to make it sound like the Ravens are 100% healthy. The point is that two key players who should be out…aren’t. That’s great luck, but nowhere near as lucky as they were when Rahim Moore mis-played an underthrown ball to Jacoby Jones that led to the game-tying touchdown, or when Peyton Manning threw the ball across his body on 2nd and 6, a mistake a veteran like Peyton should never make. What about the Broncos taking a knee with plenty of time left in regulation to send it to OT against an exhausted Ravens D?
In order to make it to the Super Bowl, you need a lot of luck. But teams who fire their offensive coordinator, lose 4 of their last 5 games, should be missing 2 legendary defensive players, and needed a poorly mis-played deep ball to make it to the AFC Championship game? That’s way beyond normal luck. The 49ers made a QB switch. Other than that, there’s nothing crazy about their run. They’ve had a top notch defense and running game. Kaepernick just took them from solid and boring on offense to explosive, plus the switch wasn’t made until an injury to Alex Smith gave Jim Harbaugh the excuse to pull the reins off and see what happened. If Kaep struggled against the Bears and Saints, Alex Smith probably stays the starter.
Obviously, this all tells you I’m picking the Ravens. I’ve picked against them the previous 3 rounds of the playoffs, so if you’re a Ravens fan I will accept bribes to switch my prediction. Here’s what I think will happen.
The Ravens defense has been forcing turnovers like crazy in the playoffs. They have forced 8 turnovers in 3 games. While the 49ers haven’t been turnover machines in the playoffs, they have had 1 in each game so far and both were bad. One was a Kaepernick interception returned for a touchdown and the other was a Michael Crabtree fumble 1 yard away from the end zone. The 49ers are capable of long, methodical drives, but they’ve done most of their damage with explosive plays. They only converted 2 third downs against the Falcons yet they scored 28 points. You aren’t methodically marching up a field if you never convert on 3rd down.
With explosive plays, you need the defense to let it happen. I doubt Ed Reed is going to allow the Ravens to go 20+ yards in the passing game. I doubt a very disciplined Ravens defense will let Kaep get into the open field on running plays. The only way I think the 49ers will get big plays is if Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree get yards after the catch.
The 49ers defense on the other hand has been beaten by big plays. Julio Jones made a mockery of their secondary. While obviously no one on the Ravens is as good as Jones, they’ve had their fair share of big plays, notably Torrey Smith against Champ Bailey. The 49ers have required great offensive performances to get here, while the Ravens D made it very easy for the offense in the AFC Championship game.
I predict the Ravens get an early lead off of big plays from Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith. They stifle the 49ers offense and even with halftime adjustments, Kaep and company cannot overcome the early deficit due to an inspired Ravens D. Ravens win 24-20.
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While I’m sad games are over soon, the offseason is still quite exciting. The huge coaching and GM turnover is going to lead to a very interesting free agency period. We might see some surprise cuts if a player doesn’t fit a new scheme. A team that’s normally docile in free agency might be a big spender with new leadership. Perhaps a few players will be traded before the draft. One thing is certain: with 8 new head coaches and 5 new GMs, a lot of teams are going to look very different in September.
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The possibility of a Darrelle Revis trade may be the most intriguing offseason story. I was shocked to see how many people undervalued Revis. Granted, I am a Pitt homer, but assuming his knee checks out, Revis is one of the best 5 defensive players in the game. If he is truly that good, why would the Jets even consider trading him?
If I read correctly, he can be a free agent after the 2013 season due to an option he has to terminate the contract. He wants to be paid like a QB, or at least more than Mario Williams, who is currently the highest paid defensive player. So if the Jets want to keep him, they have to pay him big $$ in 2013. They also cannot put the franchise tag on him, meaning he’s gone after the season if they don’t give him an extension.
The problem is cap space is at a premium for the Jets and they have some massive holes and wasted money on their roster. If a team can give Revis the extension he wants, the Jets could get at least a 1st round pick in a trade. I highly doubt the Jets are Super Bowl contenders in 2013 and if they aren’t planning on paying Revis big $$, it makes a lot of sense to trade him.
Think about what an extra 1st and 3rd in 2013 could do for the Jets. They could draft a QB and a WR in the 1st round to hopefully open up the offense. With plenty of depth at the RB position, an extra 3rd could enable them to draft 2 like the Patriots did in the 2011 draft and let them fight for playing time. With a good draft, this could be the move that enables them to turn it around in 2014. The Jets defense was still a good D in 2012 without Revis. They were 2nd in passing yards allowed and 8th overall. I’m not denying Revis gives them the best CB duo (Cromartie was great in 2012) in the NFL, but with some of the worst talent in the NFL at QB, RB, and WR, Revis’ value to another team could fix a big chunk of the Jets problems elsewhere in the lineup.
(Ed. note … fans would love to find out Shawntae Spencer’s trade value if possible)
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