As strongly as I felt about both conference title games (and I was mostly right on both except that the Niners playing on the east coast didn't wake up until the second quarter and wound up with a push despite missing a short field goal and fumbling on the goal line), I have almost no lean this week. That's unfortunate because betting on the Super Bowl is a sacrament in my household, and by household, I mean me and my 11.5 month-old daughter, Sasha, whom I intend to raise in that tradition. (Heather doesn't gamble, and I pray God has mercy on her soul). So rest assured I'm going to have some action on this game, probably ATS, and a few props, some of which were ably covered by Kevin Payne earlier this week.
Super Bowl XLVII
Ravens +3.5 vs. 49ers
The 49ers are the better team, but that was true of the Denver Broncos at least, and maybe the Patriots, too, and those games were in the favorite's home venue. The Ravens defense has played better over the last several games - even though the Broncos hung up a big number on them, they required two kick return scores to do it. The Ravens have also benefitted from Joe Flacco's impeccable play during the postseason (853 yards, 9.2 YPA, 8 TD, 0 INT in 3 games), a stark contrast from his pedestrian regular-season numbers (7.2 YPA, 22 TD, 10 INT). In Year 5, one might think Flacco is done growing, but one could have said the same about Eli Manning a few years ago, too - though Manning never played as well in the postseason as Flacco's playing now. On the other side of the field, Colin Kaepernick (496 yards passing, 9.5 YPA, 3 TD, 1 INT, 202 rushing yards, 2 TD in 2 games) has been equally good, and that included playing from a 17-0 deficit in a raucous Georgia Dome against a decent pass defense. The one - and only - weakness of the Niners seems to be in their defensive backfield - that Matt Ryan was able to exploit in the first half of the NFC title game. But taking away a pointless 24-yard completion that ended the game, Ryan got 6.3 YPA, 0 TD, 1 INT and no points in the second half of that game. Moreover, on the season, the Niners were No. 2 in YPA against at 6.1, trailing only the Steelers, a far cry from Baltimore's 7.0 (mark - 17th). And Kaepernick himself would have led the NFL in YPA had he continued his pace over a long enough sample to qualify, while Flacco was 14th.
The running games were also similarly disparate during the regular season with the Niners averaging 5.1 yards per carry (3rd, and that's without Kaepernick bolstering it for most of the year) and the Ravens 4.3 YPC. The Niners were also third in stopping the run, allowing just 3.7 YPC and seven rushing scores, while the Ravens were eighth at 4.0 and a whopping 15 touchdowns allowed on the ground.
So if you're going by season-long stats, laying the 3.5 on a neutral field is a pretty easy call. But one could have said the same thing about the Broncos or Patriots, and it's clear the current version of the 2012 Ravens is better than it's been all year, something we've seen in the recent past with the 2007 and 2011 Giants as well as the 2008 Cardinals who probably would have won Super Bowl XLIII had James Harrison not made what was essentially a 14-point play to close out the first half. Those teams strike me as the applicable precedents here, and I expect the game to close. Throw in David Akers' shaky performance of late and the half-point hook, and the Ravens have to be the play. I have a nagging Niners hunch - and as I said, I don't feel strongly about it - but I'm taking Baltimore.
49ers 20 - 19
We went 1-0-1 last week, 5-4-1 overall in the playoffs and 121-129-6 on the regular season. From 1999-2011 we've gone 1,689-1,512 (52.8%), not including ties.