Tuck: Harbaugh Brotherly Love
In 2012 we almost had a brother-brother coaching match-up in the Super Bowl. We are getting another shot at it this season.
If the Niners and Ravens are to make it happen though, they'll each have to win on the road. That normally isn't easy, and is all the more difficult because of their opponents.
Best career home records, including playoffs, for quarterbacks whose career started in the Super Bowl era.
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The other thing that the Falcons and Patriots have in common is that they rarely beat themselves. Atlanta and New England each only turned it over 18 times all season, two of the lowest marks in the NFL. Neither commits many penalties on top of that.
If the Harbaughs make history facing off in the Super Bowl, they'll have to really earn it.
San Francisco -4.5 @ Atlanta
The 49ers dominated the line of scrimmage last week against the Packers in route to an easier than expected victory. QB Collin Kaepernick was the star of stars ripping Green Bay for a NFL record 181 yards on the ground by a quarterback in a playoff game. The Falcons have struggled against running quarterbacks this season. Cam Newton had 202 yards on 18 carries in two games. Mike Vick rushed for 42 on 7. And last week Russell Wilson ran for 60, and bought plenty of time to throw on other occasions. Robert Griffin III was the only QB they contained, limiting to one bone-jarring, headache inducing carry for 7 yards. How Atlanta handles Kaepernick is obviously vitally important, and it's hard to imagine they'll do well.
On the other hand, it hasn't been all video game Kaepernick this year. In his first 7 starts he fumbled 9 times. It may only take one mistake that makes the difference.
Worth noting San Francisco was 0-2 in domes this season.
The 49ers don't let you drive the ball on them, but they are below average in the red zone shockingly. Atlanta is one of the best at converting in the red zone. Remember, one mistake could really help the Falcons.
Atlanta was also excellent all season converting on third down. If that trend continues, then it could keep them close.
San Francisco is the big road favorite in a conference title game ever not just because of public perception, but because when they are at their best, they are the best. I don't expect them to be at their best, but I do expect them to win. Atlanta does a lot of great things on both sides, but the two things that bother me most are that they don't rush the passer well and don't cover tight ends well. I think Vernon Davis could have a big week (he was close to having a real big one last week) and David Akers has a busy afternoon kicking.
Baltimore +9.5 @ New England
I picked the Patriots to win the Super Bowl before the start of the season. But I am not picking them this week. Their lack of a pass rush is alarming. Their secondary, although improved, can be had. Their offense has been rendered average by the Ravens in the past. And the Patriots aren't as healthy as Baltimore is this week.
I think Bill Belichick squeezes the most out of his group of defenders. They give up yards and feast on turnovers. Their offense protects them by running the ball, and scoring points. It is a winning formula. When they are playing from ahead that is, which is most of the time. But playing even or behind, like they might do on Sunday?
Problem against the Ravens is their defense frustrates Brady and the offense. Brady is 3-2 against Flacco. They've scored 30, 23, 23, 14, and 27 against Baltimore in those games. Not bad, but not typical New England. Brady has 5 TD - 7 INT in those games. Obviously, not the norm for him.
Baltimore has improved on defense simply with health at the end of the year. Yes, they miss CB Lardarius Webb, but Graham and Brown have filled in nicely. They have held Indy and Denver to 9 and 21 the last couple of weeks defensively. They also scheme the Patriots as well as anyone by playing "small" but still crowding the line and stopping the run without giving up big plays. If the Pats Brandon Lloyd can't make a big play down the field for the Patriots, there probably isn't one happening unless it's after the catch, but that is tough to accomplish against this strong tackling group of Ravens.
Joe Flacco has beenunafraid to throw the ball deep, and it has yielded either big plays or drawn interference calls which the result is the same, a big gain. His aggressiveness must continue. Ray Rice has given the Pats fits, and I'd expect that to continue.
Lastly, I just like the hunger in the Ravens locker room. Ray Lewis end of career, but also Flacco playing for a contract and respect, Reed, Suggs, McKinnie, and Birk playing for that first Super Bowl trip, and Baltimore ultimately as a group seeking payback and redemption for last year's heartbreaking loss. That all adds up to...