Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Super-Specific Predictions For Super Bowl XLVII, And Forgive Me, I Like Saying "Harbowl"


Hey, brilliant of me for picking the Vikings over the Broncos, huh?

First of all, no people on planet Earth can be prouder parents right now than Jack and Jackie Harbaugh.  And they may never have had a better day than Sunday, January 20, when they saw kid brother Jim take his San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl and then saw older brother John do the same with the Baltimore Ravens.  Congratulations to them!  I wish I would be able to please my parents the way the Harbaugh brothers did Championship Sunday, just once.

It’ll be the first time ever that brothers compete as coaches in The Biggest Sports Day of the Year.  I hope the Harbaughs see February 3 as a great day for the family, even if one of them has to lose Super Bowl XLVII.  By the way, does anybody else get a kick that this cute couple’s names are almost identical?  I think they have a white picket fence at home.

Second of all, let me point out one thing from Championship Sunday.  Both teams playing for the Lombardi Trophy were road teams and were behind at halftime, and both managed to shut out their  opponent (Atlanta and New England, in case you have short-term memory) to win.  From this point I want to make two subsequent points, a similarity and a difference.

The similarity is that these two teams were able to make adjustments at the half to come from behind.  Both teams also know that all is not lost if they’re trailing as they make way for Beyoncé and her voice track.  (OK, low blow, but if you’re saying you’re singing live at halftime, you better.  You proved that at Thursday’s press conference, and you’re going to be in a dome.)  In fact, I’m tempted to say that if you have to absolutely do something when the game starts at 6:30 EDT, don’t sweat it.  The second half should be drastically different from the first, and I expect a tight game that won’t be decided until late in the fourth quarter.

But look closer at the comebacks.  To me, Baltimore came back to defeat the Patriots because the defense played a whale of a half.  Specifically, Bernard Pollard stopped a drive by concussing New England’s Stevan Ridley into letting go of the ball.  Later in the game, Pernell McGee tipped a Tom Brady pass high into the air, where Dannell Ellerbe cradled the interception in his hands.  Meanwhile, I credit the 49ers’ victory from a 17-0 deficit to yet another case of puzzling offensive strategy and execution by Atlanta head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan, respectively.  There’s no hard evidence that the same conditions and momentum from two weeks ago will ensure similar contrasts for the Super Bowl (and I can’t guarantee that both teams will be able to adjust after halftime like they did for their championship games either).  I’ll just say it will.

Third and final thing, and this would be one of these Super-Specific Predictions I would normally put into the list below.  The official for Super Bowl XLVII is Jerome Boger.  Ben Austro of NFL referee website Football Zebras reports that Boger is a controversial choice because he successfully appealed all the bad calls and non-calls he initially was given over the games he officiated this season (which was truncated because replacement refs were used to start the year) and doesn’t have what’s presumed to be the prerequisite of calling a championship game on his résumé.

Why?  Interviewees in stories by Yahoo! Sports’ Eric Adelson and Sam Borden of the New York Times postulate the obvious incendiary theory, affirmative action.  But in the NYT piece an officiating analyst for NBC suggests the NFL selected Boger because he didn’t gloat on the field and in media stories after the real refs returned to work after Week 3 of the regular season, unlike more qualified candidates.

I’ve seen Boger in several games, and I remember two things about him: he seems to conference with his crew for a long time, and he doesn’t communicate penalties clearly enough when announcing them.  This doesn’t mean I think he’s terrible at throwing flags when they need to be thrown, and I don’t think the statistics say that either, although unnamed people in both stories believe he’s an inexperienced, if not terrible, choice.

But the story is already out there, ready to be picked up to fan the flame if a disputed play is the difference between winning and losing.  He is not an official that projects confidence, and in the Super Bowl, players, coaches and announcers will pounce on that.  So I am going to go out on a limb and say that Jerome Boger will have an important final say on a call or non-call late in the game, and come Monday, he will steal column inches alongside the winning team.  (If so, be prepared for headlines riffing on his full-time job as an underwriter for Allstate: “With Boger, Game Was Not In Good Hands,” for example.)  He will be a big part of how the game will be remembered, whether he deserves it or not.

As for other super-specific predictions for the big game:

1.       One thing Jim Harbaugh should do but won’t: Make the read option the primary mode of attack.  Baltimore’s defense has played out of their minds in the postseason, playing with heightened speed and tackling.  But what if they don’t know if they should tackle Frank Gore or Colin Kaepernick?  I am surprised that San Francisco, or any other team for that matter, hasn’t given in to the read option.  Defensive coordinators will find a way to control that – next year, when new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly probably will be slapped with the realization that this ain’t college.  But why not go all-in when they haven’t had time to devise a solution?  San Fran fans will see the Niners have some success in the first quarter running the zone read, then get frustrated when they largely abandon it in the second half.

2.       Kaepernick is the next evolution of the QB?  I thought that was Robert Griffin III.  I’ll say pocket passers are still preferred until I see otherwise.  Kaepernick will have a good game; he’ll run for 75 yards, 30 on one play, but it’ll be a scramble, not a run off the zone option.  The Tattooed, Adopted One will have a good game throwing: 250 yards and a touchdown.  But his lack of in-game experience will catch up to him: He’ll throw two interceptions.

3.       The leading receiver for the 49ers will be Vernon Davis, exploiting the stout but nevertheless veteran Ravens linebackers in the middle of the field.  Pencil him in for 100 yards and a TD.

4.       Frank Gore will have a good game.  He too will get 100 yards total and a touch.

5.       The other touchdown will go to LaMichael James, on a screen pass in the red zone, in the fourth quarter.  The Niners will then go for two.  A trend that will continue are coaches going for two as soon as the final quarter starts when the math dictates it.  And the Niners will fail.

6.       James will also be the difference in special teams.  His returns will allow San Francisco to begin two drives in Baltimore territory.

7.       The only thing Randy Moss will contribute in the Super Bowl is an offensive holding penalty.

8.       Oh yeah, and David Akers, The Worst Kicker in the NFL this year, will do himself no favors when he misses a field goal from, say 45 yards.  It’ll be the only miss of the game for either team.

9.       In the final game of his career, Ray Lewis will lead the Ravens in tackles.  And sales for deer antler spray will jump, meaning deer hunters in Minnesota will stalk the state’s forests in a misguided attempt to cash in on a craze over a quack product.

10.   Let’s go to when Baltimore has the ball.  Satellite radio host Ross Tucker believes the main matchup in the lines pits Ravens rookie left guard Kelechi Osemele (TIME’s Sean Gregory erroneously calls him a left tackle … pssh, non-sports writers. …) against defensive tackle Justin Smith.  If the Niners are going to win the Super Bowl, Justin Smith and his non-related teammate, outside linebacker Aldon Smith, are going to crash through the Ravens’ left side of the offensive line, making long days for both the green Osemele and the vastly overrated left tackle, Bryant McKinnie.  (He was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings and the only things he’s known for here are sucking and taking part in the Love Boat Scandal.  I still can’t bleeping believe Bryant effing McKinnie has a chance to win a Super Bowl.  That sickening prospect only adds to the why-are-you-punishing-me-God ethos that is an essential part of being a Vikings fan.)  I predict they will have a good day; they will sack quarterback Joe Flacco once apiece.  Osemele and/or McKinnie will also be responsible for a false start and a holding call apiece.

11.   By the way, Baltimore will match San Francisco by sacking Kaepernick twice as well.

12.   Now, see how the field will look from Flacco’s point-of-view.  Flacco, who throws right-handed, has been below average for the season throwing across his body, to his left.  He has been a tad better in the postseason, but considering that the blind side of his line will continually be crashed into Sunday, I say that the left side of the field will be left alone.  What will he do to compensate?  Expect Flacco to scramble a bit, take baby steps to the right, maybe even bootleg three or four times.  He’s not a guy known for making big plays while on the run, but I think he’ll at least be able to keep big losses to a minimum.

13.   This pocket adjustment also means that he’ll throw slants a lot, especially to his receivers lining up on the left side since he won’t have the time or the accuracy to throw across his body deep.  The result: Deep threats Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones will be kept quiet.  They’ll catch a total of five balls between them for a total of, oh, 75 yards.  I’ll say Smith gets a touchdown on a fade pattern from close.

14.   Who will have big days for the Ravens O?  Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, two possession receivers Flacco will rely on to find the holes in the middle as Smith and Jones continue to stretch the field and keep the 49ers honest.  Both of them will finish with around 100 yards as they catch about 20 balls between them.  And I’ll give Pitta the touchdown.

15.   What will also keep San Francisco honest, of course, is the running game.  I still don’t know how the Ravens won the AFC after dumping offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for Jim Caldwell so late in the season, but here they are.  And the re-emphasis on Ray Rice is a major reason why.  His toughness and versatility in catching passes will be key to relieving the pressure the 49ers will bring.  He’ll run for 100 yards, catch for another 50 or so, and finish with a pair of touchdowns, one on the ground and one through the air.

16.   Add up all those passing numbers and that means Flacco will have a great day: He completes 65% of his passes, throws for 350 yards and three touchdowns, and has no picks.

17.   Patrick Willis will lead the Niners D in tackles but will otherwise be seen as having a quiet, if not unsatisfactory, performance.

18.   I don’t mean to hope that someone will get injured, but if someone does get injured and won’t return for the rest of the Super Bowl … oh, I’ll just say it’s Willis’s fellow starting inside linebacker, NaVorro Bowman.

19.   The coin toss will come up heads.

20.   And Joe Flacco will be your MVP.  I won’t go so far as to say he’ll become an elite quarterback with the win, but doubts that he’s no more than a system QB should fade away.

Prediction for Super Bowl XLVII: Baltimore 34, San Francisco 26

Ray Lewis, whom some call a fake, a murderer and, now, a drug cheat, will somehow will his team into giving him the perfect retirement gift.  There are people who absolutely hate Ray Lewis.  Whom they should hate isn’t even alive anymore: Art Modell, the guy they’ve been playing for all year before Ray Lewis announced that he was hanging up his Squirrel Dance.  A bittersweet day for the Harbaugh family, a downright crappy one for Cleveland, again.

Posted by WilliamSou at 2:41 AM

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