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Momentum can be everything in the playoffs and come this Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, you have one team that was a favorite to be here in this game and one team that got hot at the right time. On paper, the 49ers were favorites in preseason to come out of the NFC and heading to New Orleans, but not a lot of people were talking about the Ravens making it this far. But momentum has carried the Ravens here and they just feel a bit like a team of destiny, don’t they?
You have a linebacker in Ray Lewis who has given an emotional lift to this team and a quarterback in Joe Flacco who is out to prove that he is elite like a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and the rest. Just because they didn’t receive a first round bye doesn’t mean that they aren’t a dangerous team.
The Green Bay Packers didn’t tear up the regular season as they had a lot of injuries and the New York Giants have won two of the past five Super Bowls as a team that started in the opening round of the playoffs. You look at the way the Ravens finished this regular season and you see a team peaking at the right time – they went from winning one of their last three games in the regular season to three impressive playoff wins. And here’s the thing, they’ve won two of those on the road, going into a hostile environment and getting it done. It builds continuity, it builds belief.
And I will say it again – it builds momentum.
But the Super Bowl is a whole different animal, with all the hype and buildup. There’s a week of anticipation before the teams even get here to New Orleans, which can take a team out of rhythm, especially one on a roll. But with the Ravens a bit older and a bit more beat up than the 49ers, this week off was needed.
Remember that Baltimore’s bye came in Week 8, meaning it has been a grueling three months of games for them. They needed a breather more than the 49ers, who had a first round bye.
The week off can give the 49ers a chance to rest, but they also will have the temptation to read their press clippings about how wonderful they are. They need to be careful and humble.
There’s a lot of ways approaching this mentally but you have to take the positive approach and all the time to think about the magnitude of this game. The coaches need to not shy away from the big moment here and keep everyone mentally and physically challenged.
Remember those Packers and Giants teams, flying into this game under the radar. They were sharp and playing at a high level like the Ravens are right now.
Oh, and then there is the emotion of it all.
Nerves are a huge part of the game. I remember hearing Troy Aikman talk about being in the huddle of his first Super Bowl and starting to hyperventilate. Wow, I mean this is Aikman we’re talking about, who won three Super Bowls in a splendid career and he was as ready as they come for that game but there’s something about the physiology you can’t control when your body understands that big moment.
You just have to embrace it, embrace the moment and the nerves. The team that does this is the team that can start strong.
The Ravens have such a good defense, I mean they really are an attacking type of unit. The only way to neutralize them is to keep them guessing, keep them wondering. Out of the Pistol offense, their ability to get young Colin Kaepernick to make plays with his feet is a real plus for them.
You want to get him out there, out in the open and not all bottled up. I fully expect that the 49ers are going to show some things that we haven’t seen yet to keep the Ravens from making Kaepernick one-dimensional and only be a pocket passer.
You want to get him outside and stretching things and with that innovative offense, the 49ers are going to be real hard to defend.
For me, the game turns in many ways on Kaepernick. He will have some nerves in the beginning, like he did during the Green Bay game a couple weeks back where he made a bad pass on the first series but then he rebounded. His start won’t necessarily dictate how he plays in this game.
Always, I’m asked for my Super Bowl prediction, mainly because of that prediction and guarantee I made some many years ago before Super Bowl III – happens every year! Well, I don’t make predictions but I’ll tell you what I feel.
I like the Ravens, especially with two Alabama players on the roster and a general manager in Ozzie Newsome who is “Roll Tide” through and through. They’re a nice team and Flacco has proven that he’s one of the best out there and that defense is strong and that Ray Rice kid is certainly elite, isn’t he? But the 49ers are strong and deep and I like that. I don’t know if the Ravens can defend against that offense and the way Kapernick can extend plays is tremendous. Plus, I think the 49ers defense is the best the Ravens will have faced in the playoffs.
I’m going with the 49ers on this one, but it’s going to be a fun game.
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