When you are handicapping the Super Bowl, the single most important thing to do is to avoid making mistakes. That’s true of every football game, but it’s particularly crucial in this game. The extra week leading up to the game gives bettors too much time to over-think and get misled, and the media coverage of this game is many times more than any other game. That means that there are many false paths you can wander down if you aren’t careful. Here are five mistakes to avoid making heading into this game:
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The brother angle
The Harbaugh story is really amazing. There are only 32 NFL head coaches in the world, so to think that two of them share the same parents is really incredible. The fact that those two both pulled off the wildly difficult task of winning their conference is close to impossible to believe — if we hadn’t witnessed it. It will make this game memorable for years to come. What does it mean from a handicapping perspective, though? Absolutely nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Sure, they know each other better than two opposing coaches ever have in the Super Bowl. They don’t share intimate secrets of their teams, though. They haven’t worked together in a meaningful way, and they have very different philosophies and demeanors. There is no significant way in which this relationship is going to significantly impact the outcome of this game, and convincing yourself otherwise is just going to cost you money.
Lewis has been a great warrior, and his imminent retirement deserves plenty of attention. A lot of people are getting romantic — and ridiculous — about it, though. They want to believe that the emotion of the situation will lift Lewis and his defense to a higher level than they may otherwise play at. I just don’t buy that. The truth is that Lewis is retiring for one big reason above all else — it’s time. He still is a big factor, but he doesn’t have the lateral mobility that he once did. He’ll be fired up for this game, but he has been fired up for every game he has played. Frankly, if anything the situation will be more of a distraction than a boost. Don’t let yourself get carried away in the endless coverage.
I have read several times that Colin Kaepernick could be a concern because he has little real experience, so this whole spectacle could be too much for him. I’m just not buying that at all. For starters, youth is less and less relevant every year for quarterbacks — as Kaepernick, Luck, Griffin, Wilson, Newton — and Flacco before them — have shown. On top of that, Kaepernick is not the type of guy who is going to be overwhelmed. He is a very intense, focused guy. Peter King had the story this week that he was drafted at 3:17 p.m. and was at the Niners facility by 6:30 that same evening. That’s intense, and that’s just who he is. For some guys his mere half season as a starter would concern me, but not here.
Flacco’s aerial prowess
A lot has been made about how well Flacco has been throwing since Cam Cameron was fired. He’s playing with massive confidence, and several people have argued that the key matchup is his arm against the Niners secondary. That just doesn’t tell the whole story. The biggest change that has happened under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell isn’t actually the focus on Flacco through the air but on the ground game. The Ravens have rushed 10 more times per game under Caldwell than they did under Cameron. They have been running more than 60 percent of the time on first down under Caldwell. Because they have been so committed to the run — and effective doing it — the pressure Flacco has felt has been dramatically less. Offenses can’t focus on him as much, and he doesn’t have to feel as responsible for the offense. When the defense has to be aware of the run, then more opportunities exist downfield. The more important matchup, then, isn’t Flacco against the secondary, but rather it is the Ravens run game against the San Francisco front seven. If the Ravens can’t establish the run then they are going to be in trouble — no matter how the secondary performs.
Health of the two Smiths
People actually seem to be wondering whether both San Francisco Smiths — Aldon and Justin — will be able to play. Aldon has a shoulder injury, and Justin has a separated tricep. Both are listed as questionable, and I have read speculation that one or both could be out or limited. This is totally ridiculous. These guys are special players, and both are extremely intense. They would have to be in a coffin to miss this game. Both guys have been dealing with these injuries already. Justin has had his tricep issues throughout the playoffs, and all he has done is dominated like he always does. These guys will be there, and they’ll be a factor.
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