The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens had impressive runs to New Orleans. Both teams defeated the top seeds in their conference, winning their respective championship games on the road. They also had similar regular seasons, as they were separated by just one victory.
San Francisco, though, is expected to win. They are 3.5-point favorites, and the betting line, likely, won’t change much in the days leading up to the game.
If the teams had such similar regular-season records, and the Ravens won three straight playoff games, why is Baltimore the underdog by more than a field goal?
Below are three reasons why the 49ers will win Super Bowl XLVII.
Kaepernick Is Better Than Flacco
Joe Flacco might be the biggest reason for the Ravens run to the Super Bowl. In this year’s playoffs, the quarterback is playing the best football of his career. Through three games, he’s thrown for 853 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions. He even outplayed Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the postseason.
While Flacco may be evolving as a quarterback, it’s not likely that he’ll put up similar numbers on Sunday. In the 2012 regular season, just like most of his five-year career, Flacco’s performance was close to that of an average quarterback. His 87.7 passer rating was 12th in the NFL, and his 22 touchdown throws tied him for 15th.
Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been in the league for nearly as long as Flacco, but his level of play has been consistent in his first season as a starter. The 49ers quarterback has been dominant in 2013, rushing for 102 yards and registering a 105.9 passer rating in two playoff games. Unlike Flacco, Kaepernick has always played at a high level.
Since Kaepernick has taken over for Alex Smith, the quarterback has performed like an elite signal caller. In more than half of his games, Kaepernick has recorded a passer rating of over 100, and he’s never thrown more than one interception in a game. The 25-year-old has shown no signs that he won’t have a great performance in Super Bowl XLVII.
Against a tough San Francisco defense, Flacco should take a step back. Kaepernick should have his way with Baltimore, and is the favorite to be the game’s MVP.
Traditionally, Baltimore has been considered among the best defenses in the NFL. With future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed leading the way, the Ravens are often among the best at shutting down opponents.
That, however, is no longer the case.
San Francisco has replaced Baltimore as the perennial elite defensive unit in the NFL. In the past two years, no team has done a better job of stopping the opposition. The 49ers have allowed just 15.7 points per game in the past two regular seasons.
Flacco and the Ravens offense have overachieved of late, and will likely come back to earth on Sunday. San Francisco was fourth in 2012, giving up just 200.2 passing yards per contest. With stars like linebacker Aldon Smith and defensive tackle Justin Smith, who will benefit from two weeks off as he heals from an injury, Flacco could be under pressure for much of the night.
Ray Rice is one of the most dynamic running backs in football, but the 49ers rush defense is even better than their pass defense. They gave up 94.2 yards per game in 2012, and continued that success in the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons averaged just 92.5 yards on the ground in San Francisco’s two playoff games.
The Ravens defense was in the middle of the pack all season long. Lewis missed some time with an injury, but he is no longer a dominant force in the middle of the field. Baltimore doesn’t create a lot of turnovers, and can be exploited by a fast offense.
The team with the better defense should pick up the victory.
Dangerous Rushing Attack
Since they became a top contender last year, the 49ers strength has been their rushing attack. With the addition of Kaepernick, the team’s ground game has gotten even stronger.
Led by Frank Gore, San Francisco totaled 2,491 yards on the ground, good for fourth in the NFL. The 49ers have so many weapons out of the backfield that it’s nearly impossible to shut down that part of their offense.
Kaepernick has been especially dangerous, at times. In his first playoff game, he set a record for quarterbacks by rushing for 181 yards. He hasn’t had big rushing performances in all of his games, but Kaepernick can win with his legs if he needs to do so.
The Ravens haven’t given much indication that they will be able to stop Kaepernick and San Francisco’s ground attack. They boasted an average rushing defense during the season, and are not the top unit that they once were.
Rice is certainly an elite rusher, but the 49ers entire group of rushers gives them the edge.