Super Bowl 50 – Preview and Betting Selections

THE BIG PICTURE

The Carolina Panthers arrive in Santa Clara as the favourites to round off a memorable season and lift their first ever Vince Lombardi. Ron Rivera’s squad finished the season 15-1 and with probable MVP Cam Newton in control of the offence, they are well fancied to win Super Bowl 50.

sb 50

They carried their regular season form into the playoffs too. Against Seattle, Carolina raced out to a 31-0 lead, eventually holding on to win 31-24 after a sloppy second half. However against Arizona it was a complete blowout, a 49-15 beatdown of the NFC West Champions.

Denver meanwhile have had a rollercoaster ride to arrive in the big dance. Peyton Manning was very ineffective early in the season as seemingly his age caught up to him, throwing 17 interceptions against only nine touchdowns before he excited the starting lineup due to a foot injury. The defence however has carried the Broncos right through the year, with a dominant defensive line led by superstar pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Vonn Miller. In their conference win against New England, Wade Phillips was able to deploy just a three-man rush against Tom Brady and even then they were still getting to the Michigan-alum.

The offensive problems are well documented for Manning and the Broncos in what could be the future-hall-of-famer’s final game on an NFL gridiron. The medium to deep ball power has extremely diminished for the former Colt, while his receivers had a bout of the drops last time out against the Patriots. Because of their dominant, top-ranked defence however, Manning has become a game-manager, looking after the ball and not forcing throws or turning the ball over. Field position will be a huge factor to this game and Denver have a very capable punter in Britton Colquitt.

16703_Cam_Newton_during_the_2011_NFL_season

POINT SPREAD

Onto the selections then and first up the spread. Initially the line opened at 3.5, but that is long gone and has now climbed to 5.5 as all the public money has come steaming into Carolina. The advice would be to wait till Sunday and hope for more support for Carolina. If the line reaches 6.5 or hopefully a straight 7, you’d have to take the points as it is. The best defence in the league shouldn’t be such a big ‘dog in such a huge contest.

TOTAL POINTS

When we talk of Denver’s fantastic defence, the Carolina squad is barely a step behind. Luke Kuchely’s name was certainly in the Defensive MVP talk and though Thomas Davis has a broken arm, he will still be lining up alongside Kuchely. We should get a good grasp on how the game is going to go early doors. If Denver can control the strong run game of Carolina (which I think they can) then the under 44.5 certainly comes into play. A scorline of 24-20 or 23-17 is in the realms of possibility here and that would see the under click.

TOUCHDOWN SCORER

More of a fun interest bet than anything else, this gives non-serious punters a way to cheer on one team or player so let’s select one per side. Before we do however, get a few quid on each Defence/Special Teams to score first. Given the strength of each defence and the possibility of early nerves we could get a run for our money. Add in the fact that Ted Ginn is one of the best returners in the game, then we have a number of chances. A defensive/special teams score in the game is also in play. Anyway for Denver, it was Owen Daniels who opened the scoring a fortnight ago and he is capable again. With Manning’s lack of arm strength he looked down the seam a lot and if he can get matched up with a banged up Davis he could come through. For Carolina, we’ll go with their tight end Gregg Olsen. He is Newton’s favourite target and outside of Gronkowski, has been the best player at his position all season.

PLAYER PROPS

You’re not going to get rich on the props market with most selections 10/11 but it does give you a player interest in the game. Let’s start with the Panthers and their rushing attack. Jonathan Stewart has tallied 19 rushing attempts or more in 10-of-11 games following Carolina’s Week 5 bye, including both playoff games, so take the over 18.5 attempts. SuperCam finished with double-digit rushing attempts in each of Carolina’s first two playoff games, while only three NFL teams allowed more yards per quarterback run than the Broncos this season, so the over 38.5 yards is in play. Passing-wise, Greg Olsen notched 6 catches in each playoff game so far and Hills have evens about 6 or more again on Sunday. With a tough pass rush Cam will be looking to get the ball out quick and given the tight matchups on the outside, Olsen should once again be his favoured target.

GAME WINNER

Another tough Super Bowl to pick after last year’s contest which started as a pick em. Much like the players for the Broncos, punters need to forgot the memory of the Super Bowl two years ago against Seattle if you are with Peyton Manning and co. That day the Broncos were favoured against the upstart Seahawks and were blown away. Many people are doubting Carolina and trying to crab the form so to speak but they feel eerily similar to that Seattle team two years ago. However that said, after seeing the Denver defence control Brady and learning off their past experiences of Russell Wilson, they will be able to control Newton enough to manage the game and send Peyton Manning into retirement with his second Super Bowl ring.

Denver, USA - JANUARY 19: Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots AFC Championship at Sports Authority Field. The Denver Broncos defeat the New England Patriots. Peyton Manning celebrates after the win. (Photo by Anthony J. Causi)

SELECTIONS (at time of writing):

Denver +6 pts @ 4/5 – Bet 365

Under 44.5 pts @ 20/21 – Ladbrokes

Denver D/ST 1st Touchdown @ 25/1 – Sky Bet

Carolina D/ST 1st Touchdown @ 22/1 – Sky Bet

Owen Daniels 1st Touchdown @ 16/1 – Ladbrokes/Coral/William Hill

Greg Olsen 1st Touchdown @ 10/1 – Paddy Power/Ladbrokes/William Hill

Jonathan Stewart over 18.5 Rush Attempts @ 10/11 – William Hill

Cam Newton over 38.5 Rushing yards @ 5/6 – Paddy Power

Greg Olsen Over 5.5 Receptions @ Evs – William Hill

Denver To Win @ 2/1 –Ladbrokes

NFL to plan for bad weather at Super Bowl XLVIII

Those of you who don’t incessantly search NFL updates 18 hours a day, you may or may not have heard that the Super Bowl XLVIII will be held in the Giants/Jets stadium, Metlife in the Meadowlands in New Jersey next year. On the same note, those of you who don’t live on the east coast of America and don’t have television or have heard of weather, 2-3 feet of snow fell this weekend all over New England and the Tri-State area.

This has become a concern to the NFL for obvious reasons; the Super Bowl is the most watched show worldwide, and each year around 500,000 people flock to the area to be a part of the festivities. If the Super Bowl were to fall on a weekend that they had this much snow again, it is possible that it could be cancelled or at the very least postponed unless planning goes underway early.

Luckily, the NFL have already thought of this. For the first time ever, the Super Bowl will be held outdoors in a cold weather climate. The NFL believe that the regular snowy weather of the northeast will be easily dealt with but there is always the possibility of a storm such as the one that landed this weekend could happen on the week of the Super Bowl and contingencies need to be made.  They are preparing to do whatever it takes, from re-scheduling for a few days after or even having the first ever Super Bowl Saturday.

The biggest issue concerning moving the day of the event is that people will need to re schedule flights which means that entire airports will need to cancel flights and add fleets of planes on different days. Let’s just hope that the fans will be that patient.

Super Bowl XLVII: The Best and Worst

Super Bowl Sunday has come and gone, and as the only staff member to pick the Ravens to win I’m declaring myself the new senior writer for this site. (Only joking Ross!!) As ever the game came down to the performances of a few players. Some made or at least bolstered their reputations; some were left to eat their words. With that said who showed up, and who stayed at home?

The Best

Harbaugh Brothers
So you caught me, these guys aren’t players. However despite the competition that we expect to see in the SuperBowl, the brothers showed the world how family should always persevere. While the hug in the pre-game ceremonies seemed to be a defining moment, three simple words at the end of the game will go down in SuperBowl history. What else can you say to your brother after you beat him in the SuperBowl other than “I love you?”

Joe Flacco
Flacco just secured one big pay cheque following this game. A player who was sub-standard during the regular season went lights out in the postseason. Flacco tied Dan Marino’s record for touchdowns in the post-season, threw 0 interceptions, picked up an MVP award and made sure that he’ll get a big contract in the offseason. Well played Joe.

Colin Kaepernick
Sure, at times Kaepernick looked very nervous last night, but who wouldn’t be. At the end of the day Kaepernick put up a near MVP day and brought the 49ers so close to victory. Chances are he will get another chance, and next time the nerves will be slightly less. Not gone, but less.

Jacoby Jones
Jones, on any other day, would have taken the MVP award. Not only did he pick up a 56 yard touchdown, but scored again on a 108 yard kick return. With the 49ers struggling to defend the pass, they couldn’t afford to give up big plays on Special Teams and when they did give one up it came at the worst possible time.

Justin Tucker
Ok, that fake field goal run was anything but pretty, but on a day where 3 points made the difference Tucker was perfect. Many people, myself included, said all along that this game could be decided by a field goal either way and Tucker made sure things went his way.

The Worst

Chris Culliver
Days after a homophobic slur it was ironic that Culliver’s inability to touch another man cost his team. Culliver gave up too many big plays on a day where the secondary gave up 287 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Donte Whitner
Whitner was caught out of position far too often, especially on Jones’ first touchdown. This exposed the only real weakness the 49ers have on their depth chart so expect the franchise to look to fix this in the draft.

Ray Rice
In the first half the Ravens rush offence did what it needed to. They ran the ball for short gains which set up pass plays for Flacco. However in the second half the Ravens needed a lot more help from Rice and Pierce than they received. Rice’s inability to pick up first downs on the ground only added to the pressure the Ravens defence faced when trying to hold back the 49ers offensive storm.

49ers’ Pass Rush
Joe Flacco is not a mobile quarterback and should not be evading sacks as easily as he was last night. Wherever Aldon Smith was, it wasn’t New Orleans. This guy hasn’t been the same since week 13 and on the biggest night of them all his failure to show up led to an all-round poor effort by the 49ers’ pass rush

Many players shone last night and almost as many failed to show up. Think someone deserves to be on this list who isn’t, or have I been too mean or nice to one player. Well then get commenting, let me hear your views on SuperBowl XLVII

How to bluff your way through Super Bowl XLVII

So it’s that time of year again, where NFL fans dust off their old jerseys, have a few beers and gorge themselves on pizza in order to celebrate America’s greatest tradition; the Super Bowl. This year’s game sees the San Francisco 49ers face off against the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans.

Now, we here at NFL-Ireland know that some of you out there just tune in once a year for the big game, so we’ve made this cheat sheet for you on Super Bowl XLVII (or 47, for you non-Romans) to help you trick your friends in to thinking you have a basic idea of what’s going on.

The Teams

This year we see the 49ers (11-4-1 in the regular season) take on the Ravens (10-6). Both teams fell one game short of reaching this stage last year, thanks to some special teams mishaps. The 49ers lost to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game after Kyle Williams fumbled two late punts, while (the now former) Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32 yard field goal to send the AFC Championship game to overtime against the New England Patriots.

This year, however, both teams got over the hump and won on the road in their respective Championship games. The Ravens exacted revenge on the Patriots for last year’s loss, while the 49ers came back from a 17-0 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons.

The Ravens had arguably the harder route to the Super Bowl, having to take out Andrew Luck’s Colts at home before travelling to Peyton Manning’s Broncos (an instant classic that went to double overtime) and then going on the road again to Tom Brady’s Patriots.

The 49ers, on the other hand, beat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at home before making the cross-country trip to Atlanta to take on Matt Ryan and the Falcons. The 49ers’ win over Atlanta was the first time they had managed to win three games in a row all season.

Offense

Here we will look at how each team’s offenses function, and who to tell your friends should be getting more of the ball in the second half. Both teams made big calls in the season, which have changed how their offenses run, so it is hard to use too much of the regular season to judge them.

San Francisco

The 49ers replaced quarterback Alex Smith with second-year player Colin Kaepernick after Smith was concussed. Kaepernick is a more dynamic player than Smith, as he allows them to use what is known as the zone-read option.
The zone-read option (you’ll probably hear it referred to simply as “the option”) is a style of play that is quite common at the college level, but not in the pros. It relies heavily on the quarterback’s ability to make quick and definite decisions based on the look of the defence immediately after the ball is snapped.

The quarterback will have the option to hand the ball off to his running-back, keep the ball and throw it downfield to a receiver, or simply run the ball himself. It is this third option that truly makes the option so dangerous, and it is why San Francisco has stood by Kaepernick over Smith, since he is a better runner of the ball.

The 49ers offense will be built largely on the option, although Kaepernick prefers only to run it himself if the defence shuts down his passing lanes. He often hands it off to the human-wrecking ball that is Frank Gore, who should see a lot of action on Sunday. In the passing game, look for Kaepernick to target Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.

Baltimore

The Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron towards the end of the season and installed former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. Cameron was criticised heavily for not using star running-back Ray Rice enough, but its Caldwell’s ability to get the most out of the inconsistent Joe Flacco that has really helped the Ravens reach their second Super Bowl in their short history.

Quite simply, Flacco has been on fire during the playoffs. His eight touchdown passes are complemented by the fact he has yet to throw an interception. This has allowed him to see off arguably the two best quarterbacks since the turn of the century, in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Like the 49ers, the Ravens will want to control the clock, so expect to see Ray Rice get plenty of carries, especially on second down. Flacco’s main targets in the air will be the speedster Torrey Smith, the powerful Anquan Boldin and the underrated Dennis Pitta.

The Ravens’ passing attack has the added advantage of Rice being a very dangerous option out of the backfield, with his ability to make defenders miss in the open field giving Flacco a reliable safety blanket when there is nothing available down-field.

Defence

Since both teams are largely built around the defensive side of the ball, it only makes sense to take a look here too.

San Francisco

The 49ers’ defence is one of the most feared in the NFL; however, they have allowed an average of 28.8 points a game over their last five games. In fact, when you look at their record against teams who made the playoffs this year, you see that they give up just over 26 points a game, compared to 13 points against non-playoff teams.

A few weeks ago, it would have been expected that the 49ers would go after Joe Flacco, but the injury to Justin Smith has seriously stunted Aldon Smith’s production , with the latter not making a single sack since the former was injured in week 15, despite recording an astonishing 19.5 sacks in the previous thirteen games.

Justin Smith has played the last two games with 50% of his triceps tendon torn, but has clearly not had the same impact he had when healthy. Whether or not San Francisco can get to Flacco will seriously affect whether or not they can create the turnovers that this team once relied on so heavily.

This year, the 49ers forced 25 takeaways, which left them tied for 14th in the league with the Ravens. Curiously, both teams also had the same number of giveaways, with 16, leaving both teams tied for third fewest. It is an old cliché of football that whoever wins the turnover battle will win the game, with only 3 out of 46 Super Bowls being won by a team with a negative turnover differential.

Baltimore

It makes little sense to compare the post-season version of the Baltimore Ravens defence to their regular season stats. It was not until the playoffs that the Ravens finally had all four of their “big four” back.
The Baltimore “big four” consists of defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs and safety Ed Reed. With an average age of 32.5, it is no surprise that at least one of the big four have been injured throughout the season.

With the core of their defence back, Baltimore are a ferocious unit. As a team, there are so many big-hit specialists that the 49ers have to take extra care to protect the ball when running. When you factor in the emotion of Ray Lewis’ last game, everyone is expecting a huge game on the defensive side.

But there are weaknesses. They are an old team and lack some pace in the open field. They are also a very aggressive unit, which can leaves gaps to be exploited. It remains to be seen if this Ravens defence can handle the dual-threat of Colin Kaepernick, since Robert Griffin III posted a quarterback rating of 101.8 against them in week 15, although he was held to only 4.9 yards a rush.

Kickers

This game is expected to be very close, so the kickers on each side could determine the outcome in of the Super Bowl. Both sides will be hoping that their kicker is more Adam Vinatieri than Scott Norwood. Since Sunday’s game will be played in a dome, neither will need to worry about the weather.

San Francisco – David Akers

A year is a long time in sport. No one knows this as clearly as 49ers kicker David Akers. Last year, Akers set an NFL record with 44 successful field goals from 52 attempts. He seemed to be carrying his form over from last season when he equalled the NFL record for longest field goal with a 63 yard strike against the Packers in week 1.

Unfortunately, Akers’ form dipped dramatically as the season went on, leaving him with only 29 field goals from 42 attempts, or a success rate of just 69%. In his last outing, his only attempt struck the top of the bar. He is clearly lacking in confidence right now.

Baltimore – Justin Tucker

Baltimore definitely has the upper hand in this area in terms of current form, with rookie kicker Justin Tucker, who replaced the infamous Billy Cundiff, connecting on 32 of his 35 attempts this season, including a long of 56 yards.

Cundiff has made three game-winning field goals this year, and has been incredibly reliable despite his youth. He has also made all four of his tries from over 50 yards. Given the chance, he could make himself a hero in Baltimore, especially considering what happened last season.

Potential Surprise Hero

It is almost an unwritten rule of the Super Bowl that a previously unproductive player will step up and make a big play at a crucial time in order to clinch the game for his team. When the Giants knocked off the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLI, David Tyree made arguably the most incredible catch in the history of the Super Bowl.

With this in mind, let’s look at one player on each team who is relatively unheralded, but could be that key player on Sunday.

San Francisco – LaMichael James

For anyone familiar with the college game, LaMichael James is anything but unheralded. He was one of the most dominant runners the NCAA during his time at Oregon, but has yet to break through with the 49ers. He did not have a single carry until week 14, so he is still fresh.

Against an old defence like Baltimore’s, and with the threat of Colin Kaepernick keeping the linebackers honest, James could well have a breakout game at the most crucial time. He has only been given 8 carries this post-season, but he has averaged around 7 yards per carry and scored his only NFL touchdown to date against the Falcons two weeks ago.

Baltimore – Dennis Pitta

Dennis Pitta is one of the most underrated tight ends in the NFL right now. Although he doesn’t put up the same numbers as Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, Pitta is a solid receiver who can really contribute this Sunday.
The last time these two teams met, on Thanksgiving of last season, Pitta caught the touchdown to give Baltimore a 13-6 lead in the fourth quarter, so he has shown he can do it against a defence that is better at stopping the run than the pass. Couple this with the fact that Pitta has caught at least one pass for 20+ yards in each of his last five games and four touchdowns in that span, it is clear that he and Flacco have a great understanding of one another.

Extra Interesting Info

As a reward for staying with this piece for so long (or for figuring out how to scroll down), here are some facts about Super Bowl XLVII that you can annoy your friends with:

  • The two head coaches are brothers. John Harbaugh (Ravens) is the older brother to Jim (49ers). Their coaching style was heavily influenced by their dad, who was also a coach in his time. His name is Jack and he is married to his lovely wife, Jackie. I’m not making this up.
  • Not only are the Harbaughs the first set of brothers to face off as head coaches in a Super Bowl, but they were the first set of brothers to have faced off as head coaches in the NFL at all, when the Ravens beat the 49ers 16-6 on Thanksgiving Day in the 2011 season.
  • As a result of this fraternal connection, you will hear some variation of the term “Harbaugh Bowl”, “Harbowl” or “Harbaul” around a thousand times. Do not turn it in to a drinking game; you will lose.
  • Sunday will be the last game in the career of future Hall-of-Famer (and Madden 2005 cover star) Ray Lewis. He was part of the only other Ravens team to have won the Super Bowl, back in 2001, when they beat the Giants 34-7. He was named the game’s MVP, only the eighth non-offensive player to ever be given the award.
  • Ray Lewis’ first career sack was against the Indianapolis Colts back in 1996. This may seem insignificant, except for the fact that the quarterback that Lewis sacked that day was Jim Harbaugh, the current head coach of the 49ers.
  • During the week, Lewis was accused of using deer antler spray to aid his recovery from a triceps injury in order to be available for Baltimore’s playoff run.
  • Both teams have a legend of the game nearing the end of their career searching for their first Super Bowl ring. The Ravens have safety Ed Reed, who has been with them since he was drafted in 2002, while the 49ers have probably the second best wide receiver ever in Randy Moss. It is unlikely that either will get another chance to win a Super Bowl.
  • Super Bowl XLVII will be San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s tenth NFL start, the third fewest for a starting Super Bowl QB. He is behind Jeff Hostetler (six previous starts, won Super Bowl XXV) and Vince Ferragamo (seven previous starts, lost Super Bowl XIV)
  • This is the first time in 10 years that a there will not be a quarterback named Brady, Manning or Roethlisberger playing in the Super Bowl.
  • Neither team has ever lost a Super Bowl. Baltimore won their only previous Super Bowl back in 2001, while San Francisco won the most recent of their 5 back in 1995, when they beat the San Diego Chargers 49-26.
  • If the 49ers win, they will equal the Steelers for most Super Bowl wins by a franchise with six.
  • Only once has a player on the losing team won the MVP award, back in Super Bowl V, when Chuck Howley won the award despite the fact his Cowboys lost to the Colts, who were located in Baltimore at the time.
  • Of last 15 Super Bowls, 12 have seen a team that is trailing by a single score or less have possession of the ball in the fourth quarter. In fact, the last nine Super Bowls have seen this phenomenon. This is a contrast to only 10 of the first 31 experiencing this.
  • This is the first time since the creation of the Super Bowl that both losers of the Conference Championship games have met in the Super Bowl the following year.
  • The Ravens scored one more point than the 49ers during the regular season, but conceded 71 more.
  • Joe Flacco is the only NFL quarterback to have ever won at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons. He was also the first quarterback to win two playoff games as a rookie.
  • Joe Flacco’s contract expires at the end of the season. If the Ravens win and do not re-sign him, it will be only the second time in NFL history that a Super Bowl winning quarterback did not play for that same team the next season (barring retirements). The only other time it happened was when the Ravens released Trent Dilfer after winning their first Super Bowl.
  • Also, Beyoncé.

Big thanks to Scott Kacsmar (aka @CaptainComeback) for providing some of these stats.

Super Bowl XLVII Pool

If you want to make the Super Bowl that little bit more interesting, why not run a pool amongst your friends while watching the game.

Download the file below and make a copy for everyone watching the game with you. Everyone makes their choices before the game and buys into the pot. Each right answer is worth a point and the person with the most points wins the pot! Simples.

Super Bowl XLVII Pool

Super Bowl XLVII Predictions

The NFL-Ireland staff give their predictions for match up of the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans on Sunday for Super Bowl XLVII.

Barry Aldworth

This game will not be a high-scoring affair as the defences will dominate. The Ravens have the tougher defensive job, in trying to stop the zone read offence. If the Ravens have learnt from their loss to the Redskins, the 49ers offence could really struggle to get the ball moving. A few big hits from Ngata, Kruger or Lewis and I think Kaepernick will be a lot slower to run the ball. Also I don’t trust the 49ers secondary against the deep ball, which Flacco does better than anyone. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones made Dashon Goldson look like an idiot last week and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Flacco and Boldin do the exact same. Finally, as I said this will be a low scoring affair, and could very easily be decided by one field goal. With Tucker having a breakthrough season and Akers really struggling, I have to go with the Ravens here to win by 3 points or less.

Prediction: Ravens 17- 49ers 14

Kev Beirne

Superbowl XLVII should be one of the most exciting Superbowls in history, as both teams are so evenly matched. On paper, the 49ers look like a stronger team, but Baltimore is riding a wave of emotion all the way to New Orleans. In fact, in six of the last seven Superbowls, the team with the worse regular season record has won (with the Steelers’ narrow victory over the Cardinals the lone exception). Despite this, the 49ers’ ability to run the ball should take enough time off the clock for San Francisco to win its sixth Superbowl.

Matt Carolan

It seems like the whole ‘team of destiny’ talk surrounding the ravens has taken away from the fact that they’re not as good as San Francisco.
Yes, they may well have the Ray Lewis factor inspiring them and Flacco has hit form at the right time, but ultimately, I find Kaepernick a far bigger threat because of his unpredictability. The Niners defence has the edge, too, so I’m saying a 49ers win

Simon Greene

I expect the 49ers and will be taking advantage of this aging defense by posting big numbers on the ground. Both Kaepernick and Gore could be looking at big days rushing with 150 yards and 2 touchdowns between them. Crabtree and Davis will also be able to break away from their coverage quite easily and could get wide open down field for some big gains. The big thing the Ravens have on Sunday is heart. Ray Lewis is retiring at on Sunday and this seems to have lit a fire under all of them, particularly Joe Flacco. He’s definitely turned up to these play-offs ready to play. I wouldn’t put it past him to post another big day of over 300 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Prediction: Expect this to be a close game – Baltimore ravens 20 San Francisco 49ers 24

Ross Mulcahy

In what will be a extremely close match up, this game will come down to if the Ravens can control the 49ers multifaceted offense. The 49ers have shown they can adapt their game plan to exploit the weaknesses of oppositions and using the read option they are a triple threat whether it’s Gore or Kaepernick on the ground or their passing game with Crabtree and Davies hitting form at the right time. If Suggs and the defensive line can get to Kaepernick and disrupt his rhythm they can give their offense a chance to make some plays. While the 49ers have arguably the strongest defense in the league, the physicality of Boldin and Smith will cause them trouble. If Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce can also be productive running the ball the Ravens have the potential to put up a healthy amount of points.

Prediction: 49ers by 3

Conor Philpott

The option has such great potential at the moment, not least as the guys now employing it have very good passing ability. The NFC Championship game also showed how effective a TE can be in the scheme, if used well. You have a Linebacker spying on Kaepernick, a guy taking a running back and probably your middle linebacker or a safety taking the TE. A guy as fast and athletic as Vernon Davis has the potential to skin you if utilised correctly, you saw him go on a few wheel routes the last day and he was wide open, he wasn’t accounted for. If Ray Lewis matches up against him it is good night Baltimore, Ray hasn’t got the legs to cover him no matter what he injects! Davis could find himself in space come Sunday, he could have a big impact again. In the trenches, the Niners D may have an easier ride in some respects. Yes the Ravens receivers are quite formidable, but are they the better than the Falcons trio or better than the Packers? Not in my opinion. The key to the Niners defence is getting pressure. Justin Smith is not at full capacity and that is hurting the defensive backfield. No pressure up front as we saw in the early stages of the Atlanta game and that Niners secondary is not that formidable, aside from perhaps Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner.

I back the Niners as I believe they can get at the Baltimore line. Flacco is still not an incredible passer, reliant a bit too much on the deep ball. The Ravens OL has been unbelievable in the playoffs and it will need to be again for Flacco to have a chance. Can it be is the question. I doubt many would have thought these two would be squaring off in a Super Bowl at the start of the year, but it should be a very interesting game.

Prediction: Niners by 10.

Injury update:- Ahmad Brooks – Shoulder Sprain

San Francisco 49ers Linebacker Ahmad Brooks suffered a ‘Grade 1 sprain of the shoulder joint’ in last Sunday’s clash against the Falcons. Early on in the first quarter he injured his shoulder and was able to return but re-aggravated the injury in the fourth quarter during that hit on Matt Ryan that also left Ryan with a shoulder sprain.

Luckily for Brooks, Grade 1 is the least severe type of sprain, causing Brooks to only miss two days of training and is unlikely to miss any playing time in the Super Bowl this Sunday as long as there are no setbacks.

With 46 total tackles, 6.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and an interception on the season, the 49ers will be hoping for a big show from Brooks this Sunday.