There isn’t any element of this game or any figure involved that hasn’t been picked apart many times over, so I’ll spare you any further build-up. The 49ers have been the more consistently solid of these two teams throughout the season, but if the past seven years have taught us anything, it’s that the surging team at the end of the season tends to ride that momentum all the way to the title.
Since 2005, only twice has the Super Bowl champ not come through the Wild Card round. During that span, the Cardinals were the only of the six teams that made the Super Bowl after playing three playoff games that went on to lose. A trend that favors the Ravens, certainly, but for it to continue Baltimore has to remove the vulnerability to the zone-read they showed in the regular season, especially in the loss to the Redskins. It’s possible Baltimore has made some schematic changes that will shore up their defense against that attack, but they are at a decided speed disadvantage, meaning it will take a huge tactical advantage to overcome that deficiency.
The San Francisco secondary has had issues with defending the deep pass in recent games, a problem only exacerbated by the diminishing impact of their pass rush. If Joe Flacco is to complete his quest for eliteness with a title, he’s going to have earn it with the deep passing game that has usually been kind to him. As many have noted, on his 116 pass attempts of 20 yards or more, he’s thrown 15 TDs and no interceptions. Of course, throwing deep means you have time. Whether the Niners can revive their pass rush might be the biggest key to this game.
So let’s get going with the HarBowl, Ray-Ray’s last ride, yet another referendum on Joe Flacco’s ability, perhaps the last chance for Ed Reed and Randy Moss to get a ring, along with the litany of other storylines that have been added to the fray by a desperate media over the past two weeks. More than anything, it’s the last meaningful football for seven months. Try to tell yourself that through the barrage of commercials and 38 cameras dedicated to Ray Lewis’ forced tears.