The end of the 2012 NFL season is now upon us, football fans — Super Bowl XLVII is this Sunday.
No more NFL Red Zone Channel to keep you stuck to the couch for seven-plus hours of non-stop football. No more Sunday Night Football to bring you back down to earth and provide a dinner-time treat of awesomeness. No more fantasy football teams to worry about. No more football.
This troubling time of the year always leaves you a little empty. You want to be happy and you want your friends to be happy for the Super Bowl, but you can’t. You know they’re going to be sad at the end when the Lombardi Trophy has been given out and CBS is beginning its end-of-game montage of highlights.
It is just the way of life as a football fan and it should give all of us pause to enjoy the game and embark on a little prognostication along the way.
Tasked to coming up with the official Daily World prediction for Super Bowl XLVII, by virtue of winning the paper’s Grid Guessers contest, it isn’t as easy as you would think. The Grid Guessers winners’ Super Bowl prediction column is almost a local version of the Sports Illustrated jinx — read the story, then pick the opposing team.
Before we begin, let us recap the last two weeks of news from New Orleans, site of Sunday’s game: Do you hear that the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are coached by brothers? Hey, I heard Ravens’ veteran linebacker Ray Lewis is retiring at the end of the game? What in the blue hell is deer antler spray? Did Niners WR Randy Moss actually call himself the greatest wide receiver of all time?
OK, now. San Francisco. Baltimore. Each team features one great running back in Frank Gore and Ray Rice. Each team features one solid, hard-hitting defensive unit. Each team features one retirement storyline in Lewis and Moss. Each team were picked before the season to make the playoffs, but neither of them were Super Bowl bound.
And, each team features a quarterback who has been fascinating to watch this postseason in Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco.
This is where the rubber meets the road this Sunday. It is the classic “devil you know vs. devil you don’t know” scenario.
The devil you know — Flacco. You know about his eight touchdowns, no interceptions postseason streak to get the Ravens to New Orleans. You know the big pass plays that came just at the right time for Baltimore, especially the inconceivable 70-yard bomb to Jacoby Jones against Denver on the road. You know he’s been a solid signal caller and game manager (think Trent Dilfer with a stronger arm) for Baltimore.
However, the conventional assumption with Flacco is that he’s been bad just as much this season as he’s been good. Six of his 10 regular-season interceptions have come in losses and he never threw for more than 254 yards in those games. And, from watching a few of those losses, Flacco looked lost and off-rhythm against Pittsburgh, Washington and Houston — three strong defensive teams.
San Francisco’s defensive unit must be salivating at the opportunity to try and rattle Flacco, but must also contend with Rice, who can take over the game all by himself.
On the flip side, however, Flacco also threw eight touchdowns in those losses, a plus-two on the turnover ratio for him. The Ravens also gave up game-winning drives in most of those losses as well and Rice had bad running days in those losses, forcing Flacco to try and do everything in the passing game, a weakness in the Ravens’ offense.
The devil you don’t know — Kaepernick. You know about his 181 yards rushing in the NFC divisional playoff game against Green Bay. You know he took over for Alex Smith during the 24-24 tie with St. Louis and amassed a 6-2 regular season record to precede his postseason run. You know the 49ers have been a better, more dynamic team with Kaepernick running the read option/Pistol offense (think Steve Young, version 2.0).
There isn’t enough book on Kaepernick to know what you’ll get on Sunday, just historical comparisons (Young) and educated guesswork. He’s a running quarterback who is more of an accurate thrower than Robert Griffin III, faster than Cam Newton and taller (read: sturdier) than Russell Wilson. But is he really? We don’t know.
We do know that San Francisco, taking away the now meaningless loss at Seattle in Week 16, has looked more complete and more dangerous on offense with Kaepernick calling the shots. Baltimore’s defense will have to find a way to contain him, on top of stopping Gore and the 49ers’ rushing game.
Super Bowl XLVII will come down to the quarterbacks, the devil you know (Flacco) and the devil you don’t know (Kaepernick). The teams are way too even in every other way to separate them to find an edge on Sunday.
On a leap of faith, I’ll take the devil I still don’t know in Kaepernick. I just don’t trust Flacco enough, but I’m more than willing to be surprised and proven wrong.
Prediction: San Francisco 31, Baltimore 23.
Rob Burns is a Daily World sports writer. He can be reached at (360) 537-3926 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.