In what is absolutely no surprise, no top-seeded team will hoist the Lombardy Trophy one week from Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII at the Superdome in New Orleans. Instead, we have the NFC’s second-seeded San Francisco 49ers against the AFC’s No. 4 Baltimore Ravens in what will be referred to hourly as the “Harbaugh Bowl”. Seriously, I expect some “over/under” props on Harbaugh Bowl mentions during the game as well as how many times the parents of 49ers coach Jim and Ravens coach John are shown during the CBS game. Get ready for a Harbaugh overload in the next two weeks. At least it will shove Manti Te’o and his imaginary girlfriend into the background.
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The 49ers were road favorites for Sunday’s game at the Falcons, but San Francisco fell behind 17-0 in the second quarter before rallying for a 28-24 victory. Matt Ryan tried to lead the Falcons to a late winning touchdown, but Atlanta’s hopes essentially died when Ryan was crushed on a hit during that drive by 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks. It turned out that Ryan’s left shoulder was separated on the play. Now, you might be asking how a left shoulder injury could affect someone who throws right-handed. If you need to ask that, you have never had a separated shoulder. The injury clearly affected Ryan when the team had a shot at a final Hail Mary from 60-plus yards away. The QB didn’t even bother attempting to throw it that far – why didn’t the Falcons bring in strong-armed backup Luke McCown just for that throw?
San Francisco’s 17-point comeback victory was the largest in NFC Championship Game history. The Niners are in the Super Bowl for the first time since beating San Diego, 49-26, at Super Bowl XXIX in Miami. Steve Young went nuts in that game with six touchdown passes in winning the MVP award. A victory on Feb. 3 would be the sixth Super Bowl title for the franchise, which would tie Pittsburgh for the most overall. San Francisco is 5-0 all-time in Super Bowls.
In many regards, Baltimore deserved this Super Bowl trip after having last season’s AFC Championship Game in New England ripped from its grasp – literally, Ravens receiver Lee Evans had the potential winning touchdown stripped out of his hands at the final minute before normally-accurate kicker Billy Cundiff gagged on a 32-yard tying field goal.
The Ravens outplayed the Pats last season, and they did again Sunday. New England led 13-7 at halftime before being shutout in the second half for a Baltimore 28-13 win. Remember, the Patriots led the NFL in scoring by a whopping 76 points over No. 2 Denver in the regular season. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco was better than Tom Brady for the second straight AFC title game, with Flacco throwing three touchdown passes and not turning the ball over Sunday. Brady had two picks for the second straight conference championship game against Baltimore. (Don’t feel too bad for the Patriots as they are early +600 favorites to win next year’s Super Bowl at Sportsbook.ag.)
Perhaps bettors should have seen Baltimore’s win coming even though it was a double-digit dog at many books. It marked the 11th time in 16 opportunities since 1990 that a team won the AFC Championship Game against an opponent it defeated in the regular season. The Ravens had beaten the visiting Patriots, 31-30, in Week 3. Baltimore also has the best overall winning percentage in road playoff games at 9-5 (.643; minimum 10 games). For what it’s worth, the Ravens will be the road team in New Orleans.
The Niners have opened as four-point favorites at BookMaker with the total at 47.5. Early action is leaning Baltimore and the “under”. Will playing in a dome make a difference? Including Sunday’s win at the Georgia Dome, the 49ers are 2-2 in domes this year. They lost at Minnesota in Week 3 – Alex Smith was the starting QB then -- and at St. Louis in Week 13. San Francisco did play at the Superdome in Week 12 and beat the Saints 31-21. I didn’t include the Niners’ Week 8 win at Arizona as the University of Phoenix Stadium was open.
The Ravens played one dome game, and it was perhaps Baltimore’s worst showing of the season. They were routed 43-13 in Week 7 at Houston with the Reliant Stadium retractable roof closed.
Baltimore did beat San Francisco 16-6 on Thanksgiving Night 2011 in the first Harbaugh Bowl (Ravens were -3.5 with a total of 40). The two teams combined for just 423 yards of offense. While the Niners didn’t get Flacco down once, the Ravens tied a team record with nine sacks of Smith. While Smith is mobile, he’s nothing like Kaepernick, who didn’t play a snap in that game as a rookie. The Ravens played without injured linebacker Ray Lewis. He has been dynamic in these playoffs with 38 tackles in the three games despite playing with a huge brace due to a torn triceps. Super Bowl XLVII will be the final game in the future Hall of Famer’s career.
From a seeding perspective, NFC No. 2s are 3-2 all-time in Super Bowls since 1990 when the playoff field expanded to 12 teams. AFC No. 4s are 2-2. The Ravens were a No. 4 seed when the beat the New York Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV after the 2000 season in Tampa.
For my 2013 free Super Bowl picks, I would take the Ravens and the points as well as the under as things stand now. I certainly expect much more offense than the last meeting, but for the teams to finish just a few points below that 47.5 number: San Francisco wins 24-21. But practice injuries or even off-the-field issues (an arrest? remember Eugene Robinson?) could change things in the next two weeks.
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