Jason O. Watson
Putting a 9-1 record against the spread in these playoffs to the test, we're picking the Ravens to win their third straight game as the underdog and capture their second Super Bowl championship in franchise history.
The "It" Factor
I hate cheesy, hypothetical concepts being applied to physical entities, but what I can't get past is the amount of similarities this Ravens team has to the 2005 Steelers - one of the best NFL examples of the "It" factor ever. Not the more talented team, but the team that plays with more talent.
Think about it; retiring superstar that's getting way too much attention from the media, huge road upset of the heavy Super Bowl favorite led by Peyton Manning marked by a play that will live in NFL history forever, late-season slump that dropped them from a contender to a borderline also-ran, a defense that peaked at the right time, a quarterback playing above his regular season performance, a team that finally got over the hump in the AFC championship, even playing a team from the NFC West. I just can't ignore these things.
I have as much faith in Colin Kaepernick's ability to off-schedule his way to a Super Bowl win, biceps flexing and all, as I do in my ability to win a Nobel Prize in mathematics. It's not that he isn't talented, it's that his game right now exists almost entirely on playing in reaction. He doesn't set the tone of a game, he follows it. And when you have a horrendously poor defensive game plan like Green Bay, or a middling athletic defense like Atlanta, that kind of thing can work. Against a battle-tested Ravens team that's seen far better quarterbacks than him to this point, and have shut them down, it won't take much for them to do the same.
The Ravens will simply aim their rush at a three-yard depth, forcing Kaepernick to escape pressure deep instead of shallow and to the side (a la Aaron Rodgers). That will force him to go more horizontally out of the pocket, thus negating his athleticism in getting around the edge. This works for Rodgers, because he has great vision and a great arm. I don't see Kaepernick making the kinds of throws Rodgers is capable of making.
49ers sagging defense
When was the last time this defense really dominated an opponent. It looks like they're still reeling from getting waxed by Russell Wilson and Seattle in the regular season. It's a unit I've written glowingly about many times, but they aren't playing anywhere near their best. Should we just assume they're going to fix that now? Not saying that's a ridiculous notion, but they haven't given enough reason to believe that right now. And for the reasons mentioned earlier, if their quarterback isn't making the kinds of plays that got them to the Super Bowl, their defense will have to not just get stops but make plays.
It's simple; outside of a meltdown in Denver, the Ravens' special teams have been outstanding all year long. San Francisco's have been middle-of-the-road. In a game where each team's strength plays into the other's weakness, it needs to come down to the biggest marginal advantage one team has over another, and that's Baltimore's special teams.
Because I'm 9-1 against the spread in these playoffs
Some may not think this is a valid reason. Those are likely the same haters who doubted my powers of prognostication. Ok, I admit, the spreads were bizarrely simple this year, as if Vegas wasn't watching the teams play. But my run of dominance leaves me with only one regret; that I didn't bet a dime on this year's playoffs.