Pick against the witch at your peril.
Consider me warned.
The Gridiron Guru finally got playoff perfect in the conference championship games two weekends ago, in part because I played the fool and went with my gut – not my head.
In my mind, the Baltimore Ravens entered these playoffs the weakest team of the bunch, having lost four of their last five regular-season games behind an old and still-aging defense and a very Flaccoesque Joe Flacco.
But Flacco fooled me twice on the road, then made Tom Brady and the Patriots look foolish in New England, too. And, well, here we are.
On the other side of the bracket, the San Francisco 49ers entered a mighty, if inconsistent, team. Colin Kaepernick has added a whole new-and-tattooed heat to the 49ers formerly nonflammable offense. Mix in a young defense that’s got some spice of its own, and you’ve got the success we’ve seen.
After rolling over Green Bay, the Niners left all their fans in a cold sweat before firing up the second-half furnace at Atlanta. And, well, here we are.
So forget all that Harbowl nonsense. It’s time for the Super Baugh.
Sunday, Feb. 3
Baltimore vs. San Francisco, at New Orleans, 4:30 p.m. (KCNC, KREZ) – back to the brain: Statistician-magician-wizard-witch-whatever Nate Silver broke down the statistical rankings of the two teams this week. Lets face the facts: The 49ers are better than the statistically middling Ravens in almost every way.
So were the Broncos. So were the Patriots. Lesson learned.
The return of Ray the Retirer has added a definitive getaway urgency to this Ravens squad, and while Super Bowl XLVII is sure to be firey, Baltimore’s the only team hotter than the Niners.
A Baltimore victory largely will rest on the shoulders of Flacco – and that should freak out every Ravens’ fan. But as long as he’s got time in the pocket, Joe’s been better than an average Joe.
Aldon Smith and the rest of the 49ers’ front seven pose a formidable challenge to that pocket against a Ravens O-line that was spotty during the regular season. The line stiffened up something fierce in the playoffs, though, and even poured some water on the Broncos’ pressure.
With Torrey Smith burning up turf, Flacco should have plenty of deep-ball shots against a team whose only consistently major defensive weakness has been the pass. Add in a punch-in-the mouth Ray Rice running attack to keep the backfield off balance and ... see: Seattle.
Still, San Francisco won’t have much trouble keeping up. Atlanta managed to contain Kaepernick’s calves and quads, but they got Gored by Frank’s and saw plenty of Kaepernick’s biceps, instead.
The Ravens’ D has been spry so far in the postseason, but it’s a broken hip waiting to happen, and the Niners’ offense is one slippery bath tub.
With the two offenses dancing round and round, the Lombardi lift is going to come down to special teams. Which leads me to Baltimore’s X-factor: David Akers.
When these teams go tit for tat, at some point, points are going to come down to the placekickers.
Baltimore’s rookie Justin Tucker can tuck ’em away short, medium or long.
But when Akers lines up with the game on the line and about 49 seconds remaining, you’ll know you’ve just walked in on San Francisco’s worst nightmare.
Like medieval Europeans, I don’t much like witches, and not even magic can put that one through the pipes.
Pick: Ravens 33-30.
Line: 49ers by 3½.