FRIDAY FACE-OFF: Why the Baltimore Ravens will win the Super Bowl
Heather Brown, The Oklahoma Daily
Friday Faceoff: Who will win Super Bowl XLVII
It seems as though when the second Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis announced his retirement, the football gods — and commissioner Roger Goodell — looked down upon the Ravens and said, “Sure, why not? It’s all yours.”
Of course, the Ravens would oblige.
Just look at how their postseason run has gone: A fairly easy 24-9 victory against the Indianapolis Colts followed by possibly the most entertaining games in recent playoff history with a 38-35 double-overtime victory against the Denver Broncos in the near-zero-degree weather before having to take down Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
It’s been a fun ride, and it’s not going to end in defeat Sunday in New Orleans.
There are two main reasons why the Ravens will take home the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the second time since the franchise moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996.
First, the Ravens’ defense is healthy — with or without antler spray — experienced and hitting its stride after having a few missteps at the end of the regular season.
While the San Francisco 49ers have a potent offense that can strike on the ground — with their team of running backs or quarterback Colin Kaepernick — or in the air with a talented receiving corps and one of the best receiving tight ends in the game, Baltimore has had one of the better defenses in the last decade.
The Ravens can defend you through the air — their biggest problem in the secondary is conforming to Goodell’s flag-football rules — they have linebackers who fill up running lanes and they have a defensive line who can keep the pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The main question this defense has to answer is can it contain Kaepernick?
Kaepernick has shredded defenses through the air and on the ground, especially when he’s improvising. Baltimore’s linebacker corps is a quality group, but is it good enough to keep Kaepernick in the pocket while not allowing him to pick apart the defense?
If the defense can keep the pressure on Kaepernick while not letting him escape the pocket and pick up big chunks of yards or unscripted running touchdowns, then the Ravens will have the advantage.
The second reason why the Ravens will win is the same reason why this team has come this far: quarterback Joe Flacco.
During the regular season, he led Baltimore to a record season by throwing for 3,817 yards and 22 touchdowns while completing 59.7 percent of his passes.
Not too shabby.
But what’s been impressive about the underrated quarterback is his showing in this year’s postseason.
In three games, Flacco has tossed eight touchdowns for 853 yards without throwing an interception.
Flacco obviously has not been this impressive on his own. He’s armed with an arsenal of talent with wide receivers like Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, a safety-net tight end in Dennis Pitta and a versatile running back Ray Rice.
Flacco has been bred to be the player who does what he can to keep his team in the game and let the defense win it, but that task changed this year. The Ravens were missing key pieces of the defense throughout the year, and Flacco has stepped up and transformed this team into an offensive threat that has scored 25.68 points per game (including in the playoffs).
This quarterback has received little respect during his five-year career — Flacco has made a postseason appearance in all five seasons — because he’s always played on Lewis and Ed Reed’s team.
That should change, and Flacco will become the face of the franchise — partly because of Lewis’ retirement — and it’s only fitting for him to do so with a ring on his finger.
The 49ers better be ready on defense. But this is not the same Ravens who have become renowned for their high-octane defense; they’ll be bringing a potent offense to New Orleans as well.
Do you disagree with Jono? Click here to see sports editor Dillon Phillips' counterargument.
Jono Greco is a journalism graduate student and the assistant sports editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @jonogreco13