Point/Counterpoint: Who will win the Super Bowl?

BY DI STAFF | JANUARY 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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Baltimore Ravens

Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis’ “final ride” is not going to be in the Super Bowl but rather, a few days later in a victory parade through the streets of Baltimore.

Both the Ravens and 49ers have fantastic defenses with nearly identical numbers in the regular season. The Ravens have 13 interceptions; the 49ers have 14. The Ravens have 37 sacks; the 49ers, 38. Both teams even have the same number of interceptions returned for touchdowns: 2. So what’s the difference? Former Miami Hurricane Ray Lewis.

Even at the age of 37, he is playing at an extremely high level. He has 44 tackles in this postseason, 18 more than the next closest player, Corey Graham, a teammate (in fact, the top-five leaders in tackles this postseason — Lewis, Graham, Cary Williams, Dannell Ellerbe, and Terrell Suggs — are Ravens). Beyond statistical value, Lewis brings unparalleled mental and emotional leadership.

Lewis is a 17-year veteran of the NFL, and he has been to the big game once before, in 2000, when he was named the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV in a 34-7 win over the New York Giants. So it’s safe to say Lewis knows the game as well as anybody. He is one of the greatest leaders and motivators the NFL has ever seen. He could probably coerce me onto the beaches of Normandy with one of his pregame speeches.

Let’s not forget about offense, either. Joe Flacco has elevated his game this season, and he has been the best quarterback in the playoffs. He’s the postseason leader in passer rating to the tune of 114.7 — that’s almost 10 points better than his opponent, Colin Kaepernick.

Anquan Boldin has been a huge target this postseason with 276 yards on 16 catches. Torrey Smith is a viable No. 2 receiver with his deep-play ability. On top of that, the Ravens have the playoff’s leading rusher, Ray Rice, who has 247 yards.

Flacco loves to throw down field. Since Jim Caldwell took over as offensive coordinator for Baltimore, Flacco has completed a ridiculous 53.6 percent of his passes that fly 21 yards or farther. So not only is he the more efficient quarterback of the two left playing, he does it in big gains and without a single interception on such a throw all season.

The Ravens are the more complete team on both sides of the ball in the Super Bowl. San Francisco is a great young team, but the Ravens are just too much for them. I’ll take the birds over the gold diggers, 24 to 20.

— by Kevin Glueck

San Francisco 49ers

In two years, Jim Harbaugh has turned around the San Francisco 49ers from a team that lacked relevance — and Colin Kaepernick — to one that has dominated the league. The 49ers are five-for-five in Super Bowl appearances and are well on their way to another Lombardi Trophy.

Why are the 49ers destined for a sixth win? Two words: read option.

The Ravens have barely, if ever, seen the read option on film, and it’s almost too much to ask a defense to stop Kaepernick, much less bruising back Frank Gore or the blistering speed of LaMichael James.

Even if the Ravens can beat the run, Kaepernick will beat them with his arm. In the postseason, the former Nevada quarterback has passed for 496 yards.

For the Ravens, Torrey Smith is the only real deep threat. Cornerback Chris Culliver has shown his worth, and he made a crucial interception against the Falcons last week. Culliver will likely be matched up with Smith. Good luck hitting him deep, Flacco.

As far as the last time the two met, then-49er starting quarterback Alex Smith was sacked nine times in that game. But that won’t happen this go-around because of Kaepernick’s ability to move out of the pocket. Just ask Green Bay.

With Aldon Smith and Justin Smith (no relation), San Francisco is better up front. Aldon, who has racked up 19.5 sacks this season, will have no trouble getting through the Ravens O-line to find Flacco, who has been sacked 35 times this season.

The Niners are filled with veteran receivers. Randy Moss will burn the defense, Michael Crabtree is a good slot receiver — he’ll get the first down and then some. Though Kaepernick has rarely found his huge tight end Vernon Davis, the former Terrapin is always a threat.

Ray Lewis may get the spotlight, but 49er linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman will dominate as inside linebackers. Bowman sticks his head down and gets in every hole, and Willis makes big-time tackles.

There’s a reason the 49ers had the most Pro Bowl selections this year.

Score prediction: 30-28 San Francisco.

— by Jalyn Souchek

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