This Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday and that can only mean this is Kai and Steven's third annual Sidepodcast Super Bowl preview. For those who don't know the game but may want to watch I highly recommend the post that introduced badgers and mascara to Sidepodcast.
While there will be people commenting on the game who will be happy to explain anything you don't understand, our performance in the NFL's post season fantasy game suggests that it would be totally pointless to ask for tips on who is likely to win. The game starts at 18:30 Eastern which is 23:30 in the UK. It will be contested by the San Francisco 49ers who won 11 matches and tied one in the regular season and the Baltimore Ravens who won 10 of their 16 regular season games. The 49ers beat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 in the National Conference final while in the American Conference the Ravens beat the New England Patriots 28-13.
San Francisco 49ers
This Super Bowl is all about the head coaches because for the first time ever we have brothers in charge of the two teams. The 49ers have Jim Harbaugh who played quarterback for 6 different NFL teams including the Baltimore Ravens.
Harbaugh coached college football before joining the 49ers and ended his college career by leading Stanford University to a win in the prestigious Orange Bowl after an 11-1 regular season. Following that win in early January 2011 he took over as head coach of the 49ers. He got off to the worst possible start because the team owners and players union could not reach an agreement on salaries. This was not resolved until July which meant that a lot of the time Harbaugh expected to have to build a team and get them playing together was lost. Unsurprisingly the 49ers were expected to have a difficult season but somehow they won 13 games and lost 3 and even made it to the NFC conference final. It is a bit of an understatement to say they exceeded expectations. The only way this season could be an improvement on last was if they could reach the Super Bowl.
Of course as well as the two brothers there are a bunch of players involved. The one thing you can guarantee about a Super Bowl team is that they have a starting quarterback who has been on top of his game all season and that the team rely on him to the point that having to replace him would be disastrous. The 49ers however have done things a little differently. They started the season with Alex Smith who won 7 of the first 9 matches suffered a concussion and was replaced by Colin Kaepernick. The concussion kept Smith out of the next game and Harbaugh was so impressed with Kaepernick that he has started every match since.
Kaepernick (or Smith) has an interesting group of receivers available to him. First there is Randy Moss who is a great talent by any standard but for whom controversial is a bit of an understatement. He has the full collection of undesirable behaviours that a sportsman could have. He has everything from drug use to dating violence to nudging a female police officer with his car because she stood in front of it and signalled him to stop.
To balance that out he has the ever reliable Mario Manningham who we are more used to seeing catching the ball from Eli Manning in New York Giants blue. Manningham at the last Super Bowl caught a pass with three minutes to go that led to the New England Patriots lead being overturned and the Giants taking the trophy. Unfortunately he will not feature in the Super Bowl because he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in December. The third member of the receiving corps is Michael Crabtree who is yet another player whose off field activities detract from his sporting prowess.
The 49ers have a running game as well as a passing game. Frank Gore is their leading rusher and has been very consistent throughout his career having run for over a thousand yards in 6 out of his 8 seasons. In one season he only managed 850 yards but to be fair he fractured his hip in week 12.
The 49ers are not short of talent on the other side of the ball (Christine will explain) either. Only one team in the regular season conceded fewer points. Unsurprisingly the defence is very good as a unit rather than relying on one or two players. They have 7 players who have made over 50 tackles in the regular season although linebacker Patrick Willis is well in front of the others with 120 so it is safe to say the Baltimore Ravens will be trying to keep away from him.
Once you get into the back field you are faced with Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers at corner back with 113 tackles and 3 interceptions between them. At safety they have Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson with 152 tackles and 4 interceptions.
Most defensive lines block the offensive line and occasionally get a hand in the way of a pass or make a tackle. It always struck me as odd that there was a position called offensive tackle who tackled a lot less than most of the rest of the defence. The 49ers have 3 defensive tackles who managed 131 tackles and 6.5 sacks during the season.
John Harbaugh is the older brother in this family showdown, but not by much. They were born only 15 months apart. Like his brother, John also played college football, but he went straight to coaching after graduation and did not play professionally. He had to work for everything he got and he finally earned his way into the NFL and coached the Philadelphia Eagles special teams. Then he moved over to be their defensive back coach. It’s unusual for someone who has not been an offensive or defensive coordinator to go directly to a head coach position, but John managed it when he was hired by the Baltimore Ravens as their head coach in 2008. It’s interesting to note that their first choice, Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys, turned the job down. My guess is that the owners don’t have any regrets about their decision because John has taken the Ravens to the playoffs every year, and here he is in the Super Bowl after just five years.
The Ravens had an offensive shake up late in the season when John Harbaugh replaced his offensive coordinator after three straight losses. When Jim Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron at that position he said “the big thing was to try to get some consistency.” He focused on limiting penalties and increasing the running game. Well, it worked, Cam.
The first offensive key player to look out for is #5 Joe Flacco. Some say he has the strongest arm in the NFL. Flacco and John Harbaugh have been a good pair since starting with the Ravens in the same year. Flacco is the only quarterback to have taken his team to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. Watch for his great play action, used to throw off the defense, while his receivers like #82 Torrey Smith, #12 Jacoby Jones and #81 Anquan Boldin run deep so Flacco can expertly throw a high arcing long ball, dropped “like candy” into their hands. If the ball gets to the receiver flat, without much arc, the defender could intercept it. Flacco has to drop it in the perfect spot so only his receiver can get it, and he does this beautifully. That’s why they call him “Smokin’ Joe”. In fact, this nickname is only in reference to his throwing ability, as he is a rather quiet family guy who stays out of the limelight as much as possible. But he is 6’6”, so, let’s be honest, he’s going to stand out in a crowd.
And speaking of standing out in a crowd, boisterous Ravens offensive linebacker #55 Terrell Suggs was the loudest player in the New Orleans Superdome on Media Day this past Tuesday. He had achilles surgery in the offseason from which he recovered very quickly, but right now he’s playing with a torn bicep. Even so, he said he’s ready to go. This is his first Super Bowl. Unfortunately he also has a history of domestic abuse against his girlfriend. I wish these guys could keep their violent tendencies channeled into their games.
As for the running game, #27 Ray Rice is the go-to guy with 33 rushing touchdowns this year and 5,520 rushing yards with an average of 4.5 yards per carry. He's had a lot of adversity in his life but he's overcome it and is now the second all-time leading rusher. Plus, he’s on my fantasy team, so I’m hoping he won’t let me down.
The Ravens defense has played for 1,342 plays this season including the playoffs. That’s more than any other team. This means they do not control the clock very well. They also allow a lot of yards. They are the only team in NFL history to win three games in a single postseason while allowing 375 or more yards per game. They need to clean this up during this game and force as many turnovers as possible while containing 49er QB Kaepernick.
#52 Ray Lewis, at 6’1”, 249 lbs, is not a big defensive middle linebacker, but he’s fast, agile and intense. He came back from torn triceps that required surgery in October, and he is the most visible, histrionic guy on the Ravens. No doubt his signature dance will be featured as the team comes onto the field. After a long, successful career the 37 year old is retiring after this game. With all of the news recently about performance enhancing drugs, maybe it’s not a complete shock that news broke this week that Ray Lewis may have used deer antler extract to help heal that injury. This natural remedy contains a substance banned in the NFL called IGF1. Lewis and the Ravens have refused to answer any questions about this. Still, his teammates are highly motivated to get Lewis a Super Bowl XLVII ring as a parting gift for his incredibly successful NFL career.