The San Francisco 49ers will win the Super Bowl, and here's why: They have better players.
It's a game of speed and skill, and the 49ers feature both in abundance. The Ravens are riding a wave of emotion, courtesy of the Ray Lewis goodbye tour, but that won't be enough to stop a 49ers team that found an unbeatable late-season combination of sturdy defense and explosive offense.
Throw in a simmering Jim Harbaugh, who's been dying to avenge a loss to big brother John last season, and you have the perfect recipe for San Francisco success.
Now that we have the generalities out of the way, let's get down to specifics.
When the Ravens have the ball, they will try to run the ball on the perimeter and draw in the 49ers' safeties to make tackles. If they have to come up to stuff the run, Baltimore will then go to the play-action pass and try to connect on a deep pass over the middle.
Success or failure for both teams depends on whether the 49ers can stop the run without cheating one of their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage.
Here's what defensive tackle Justin Smith, the Ray Lewis of the 49ers, had to say about it:
"They are pretty much similar to what Indy used to do. They like to run the stretch scheme, make the corners and safeties have to come up and make tackles. … I don't see them changing and I don't see us changing. We know what they are going to do and we are going to try and stop the run with a little bit lighter box. If we can do that we are going to have a good day, and if we can't do that, we're going to have a rough day."
In other words, the 49ers need to stop the run straight up. And they've been doing that all season. Other than the Vikings' Adrian Peterson and the Rams' Stephen Jackson, no one's run all over the 49ers. The front four of Smith, Aldon Smith, Isaac Sopoaga and Ahmad Brooks will make the difference.
When the 49ers have the ball, it will be interesting to see how the Ravens choose to defense the read-option play mastered by QB Colin Kaepernick.
The Atlanta Falcons, in the NFC championship game, chose to leave their defensive end at home, forcing the action up the middle. They did not want Kaepernick running wild like he did against the Packers in the divisional playoff. So, the middle was left for Frank Gore to exploit.
If that all sounds like gobble-gobble football speak, that's because it is. In simpler terms, the Ravens will have to make some tough choices on how they will defend a multi-faceted attack.
If they decide to take away Kaepernick's ability to run around end, the middle could be soft. If they shore up the middle, Kaep could run free. If they clamp down on both, the deep ball could be there for the 49ers.
"It depends on how defenses want to play it," said 49ers' offensive coordinator Greg Roman, of the team's new-look, pistol offense. "It can force a defense to play certain ways that they might not play. If that is the case, so be it. I just think it is another way to get first downs."
Since Kaepernick took over at quarterback in Week 10 of the season, the first downs have been coming a lot easier for a team that once struggled on offense.
"Anytime you have a rare athlete you are going to want to have that athlete impact the game any way that you can," said Roman.
Look for the Ravens to take away the edge and force Kaepernick to beat them with his arm.
And look for Kaepernick to do just that, like he did in Atlanta.
On special teams, the 49ers have the best punter in the league in Andy Lee. But they might have the shakiest place kicker in the David Akers.
Look for the 49ers to get Akers a chance to kick a chip-shot field goal early in the game to build his confidence. Jim Harbaugh said he hadn't missed a kick all week in practice, which may mean he's recovering from a pelvic injury that's plagued him all week.
"He's been hitting the ball really well," said Harbaugh. "He's had some really good hits on the ball that haven't gone through and we'll live with that. … We're very confident that he's going to have a big day in the Super Bowl."
On the return side of the equation, LaMichael James has made a difference on kickoffs. No will catch the rookie speedster out of Oregon if he can break into the clear. That could be a game-changer.
In closing, we reiterate the core premise. The 49ers should win this Super Bowl due to their superior talent. Stout defense coupled with versatile offense is a tough combination to beat.
The last word goes to 49ers running back Frank Gore, who has been waiting eight long years for this opportunity.
"We know what we came down here to do and what we came down here for," said Gore. "And that's to win a football game."