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There is no shortage of storylines for this year’s Super Bowl. John and Jim Harbaugh will become the first brothers to coach against each other in a championship game. The only time it has happened in any kind of game was when these two teams met in 2011 on Thanksgiving, with the Ravens winning 16-6. However, a lot has changed since then. Namely, the Ravens’ decision to replace former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with then-QB coach Jim Caldwell on Dec. 10. Under Caldwell, the Ravens’ average points per game and yards per game have both increased. One of the biggest differences is the commitment to get Anquan Boldin the ball. In the four games that Boldin has played in since Caldwell took over, Boldin has 23 catches for 369 yards and three touchdowns compared to 58 catches for 828 yards and four touchdowns in the previous 14 games.
The 49ers, on the other hand, made the decision to start second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick over veteran Alex Smith. All Smith did to lose his job was suffer a concussion and watch his replacement dismantle the Bears on Monday Night Football from the sidelines. Opposing Kaepernick is Joe Flacco. Flacco, along with guys like Matt Ryan or Matt Schaub, is the perfect example of the guy who is struggling and fighting to climb out of the limbo right outside the elite group of QBs. Despite winning eight playoff games in his first five seasons, many fans question Flacco’s statistics and take his quiet, aloof personality as general apathy. What many do not remember is that he made the touchdown throw to beat the Patriots in the final seconds of last year’s AFC Championship Game before Sterling Moore dislodged the ball from Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans in the end zone. Beyond the family ties and QB comparison, this Super Bowl will be the last game of one of the greatest linebackers of all time. It’s hard to imagine that the retirement of Ray Lewis is not the only feature story, but that is how dynamic and enthralling this game is going to be. This was an introduction to some of the major storylines; here are some bold predictions about the outcome of those stories and the game.
1. Bold Prediction: Ray Rice will beat Patrick Willis with a 40-plus yard catch out of the backfield in the second half. The most crucial matchup of the game will be Patrick Willis on Ray Rice. Willis is one of the most athletic linebackers in the game and oftentimes gets the responsibility of covering the opposing team’s running back on pass plays as a result. Although Willis is one of my favorite players, Rice will break another big catch and run just like he did against the Chargers and Colts previously this season.
2. Bold Prediction: David Akers will miss two field goals early, but will make a huge kick in the fourth quarter. In big games, even the smallest weakness can be accentuated and end up costing a team the game. The 49ers have a weakness and it has been the consistency of veteran kicker David Akers this season. However, Akers has been the model of consistency in his 14-year career. Last season, he hit 44 of 52 field goals. This year, however, Akers has only made 29 of 42 field goals. Despite the inconsistency, Akers will clutch up and make a huge field goal late in the game.
3. Bold Prediction: Three or more players will suffer significant game-ending injuries. This game will be what players call a “double-chinstrap game” because of the amount of hard hitting. The Ravens linebackers were punishing the Patriots’ wide receivers on underneath routes and the 49ers’ big safeties can really lay the lumber. As morbid as it sounds, football is a violent sport and the bone-breaking, ligament-snapping tackles are just as much a part of the game’s appeal as the deep touchdown pass.
4. Bold Prediction: The San Francisco defensive front seven will control the Ravens’ running game and will prove to be too much pressure for Flacco. On the offensive side, Colin Kaepernick will struggle to run against the Ravens’ stout defense. However, he will make enough plays through the air in the second half to secure the 49ers’ sixth Lombardi Trophy. Beyond the predictions and arguments, revel in the fact that we will witness Ray Lewis dance out of the tunnel, lead his team onto the field and make double-digit tackles for the last time.
A version of this article appeared on page 7 of January 30th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.