The San Francisco 49ers finished the regular season with 11 wins, four losses, and one draw as they finished in first place in the NFC West. The Niners earned a bye as they took the second seed in the NFC before they defeated the Green Bay Packers 45-31 in the Divisional Round. San Francisco then took on the number-one-seeded Atlanta Falcons on the road during the NFC Championship game, and despite being down 17-0, came back to win 28-24.
The Baltimore Ravens won the AFC North with a 10-6 record and were the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs. They took on the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild-Card round, making things look easy with a 24-9 win. Even though they were heavy underdogs heading into Denver to play the Broncos, Baltimore wound up winning a wild game in double overtime 38-35. The Ravens then faced off against the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship and exacted revenge as they knocked off the Pats 28-13.
Keys to a Baltimore victory:
Let’s be honest—no one can run on San Francisco’s defense. During the regular season the 49ers allowed 94.2 rushing yards per game, good for fourth lowest in the NFL. They remained consistent in the playoffs, allowing only 92.5 rushing yards in their two games. Where Baltimore will need to take advantage is through the air, which means Joe Flacco needs to earn that “elite” title. San Francisco has given up 322 passing yards per game during the 2013 playoffs, so Flacco will have his opportunities.
One stat of note came during San Fran’s NFC Championship victory over the Falcons. Sure the Niners won, but Atlanta’s Julio Jones, one of the fastest players in the league, hauled in 11 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens have their own version of Jones in Torrey Smith, who had himself a decent season for Baltimore. On the year, Smith caught 49 passes for 855 yards and eight TDs.
If Baltimore’s offense plans on moving the ball, they will be counting on Smith.
Defensively, it all comes down to stopping San Francisco’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick has been shredding defenses since he took over for Alex Smith, and has elevated his game in the playoffs. This season, Baltimore played two quarterbacks comparable to Kaepernick: Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III. Unfortunately for the Ravens, they lost both of those games, a tough 24-23 loss to Vick’s Eagles, and a 31-28 loss to RG3’s Redskins.
If Baltimore can shut down Kaepernick, they will win the game. The bad news is that no team has come close to shutting down Kaepernick during the playoffs. The good news, however, is that Kaepernick hasn’t played a defense like Baltimore’s this postseason.
Whatever the result, we should all be proud of the Ravens. With some significant injuries on defense, they still found a way to make the playoffs and reach the Super Bowl for the second time. Win or lose, they had an amazing season.
by Andy Mindzak