Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 9:34 AM
Let us ask you the following question: Are we headed for a shootout-type Super Bowl XLVII come Sunday evening inside the Louisiana Superdome?
Okay, so the main reason that we ask is that the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens have averaged 30 points in their three post-season games this year - 24 points scored versus Indianapolis, 38 points at Denver (in double-OT) and 28 points scored at New England - while the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers have averaged a haughty 36.5 points per game in their playoff tilts against Green Bay (45 points scored) and at Atlanta (28 points scored).
Toss into the mix that both Ravens' QB Joe Flacco and 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick have been given oodles and oodles of time to throw lately plus - and we know that you've noticed - neither Baltimore's defense nor San Francisco's defense really has generated a great pass rush thus far this post-season and so this could be a game where big-time downfield passing plays steal the show.
In today's mid-week edition of Jim Sez we draw closer and closer to Sunday's 6:30 p.m. ET kickoff of SB 47 in New Orleans and we bring you the Five Biggest Factors in Winning Super Bowl XLVII, so here goes ...
#1 - WHAT OFFENSE GETS MORE "HOME RUN" PLAYS HERE?
Let the stats tell you the real story this post-season as the Ravens have produced a grand total of 18 plays of 20+ yards this post season (that's 15 passing plays and 3 rushing plays of 20-or-more yards gained) and while Flacco-to-WR Jacoby Jones' 70-yard end-of-regulation touchdown pass play in Denver is what folks tend to remember lately the fact is Baltimore's struck for "home run" plays on average six times per post-season game this winter.
No doubt the more explosive here-and-now Ravens need at least a handful of such "home run" or "chunk" plays here both to loosen up the San Fran defense and to give Flacco some real confidence in the pocket.
Meanwhile, the 49ers' offense has registered 13 offensive plays of 20-plus yards in the respective playoff wins against the Packers and Falcons (or 6 ½ "home run" plays per game) and the interesting part of this study is that three of the chunk plays were Kaepernick rushes while four of the 20-plus yard plays were passes to TE Vernon Davis - he was a forgotten man in this Niners attack a few weeks back but look at 'em now!
It's quite possible that when all the dust settles on this Super Bowl showdown, the team that bangs out more "home run" plays will win but count us among the folks that say if Kaepernick goes for two-or-more chunk plays here with his legs, the Ravens will be in deep trouble. Trust us!
#2 - HEY, THE QUARTERBACKS ARE TAKING CENTER STAGE BUT WHO GETS MORE "TOUCHES" ... WILL IT BE BALTIMORE RB RAY RICE OR SAN FRANCISCO RB FRANK GORE?
If you want to know one major reason why Jim Caldwell is the Ravens' offensive coordinator these days and not Cam Cameron, than look no further to the fact Caldwell has allowed RB Rice to be a bigger part of the game plan in recent weeks (see 31 carries against Denver in that AFC Divisional Playoff game, for example) and that's vitally important here because the more time Rice is lugging the ball or catching a swing pass or two out of the Baltimore backfield, the less time/opportunities for San Fran's Gore to get in on the action.
In a perfect world, the Niners would like to tuck the ball in Gore's hands 25 times here while looking for a 110-to-120-yard type game on the ground. So far in these two playoff wins, Gore has 44 total carries for 209 yards (a 4.8 yards-per-lug average) and he has scored three TDs without fumbling the ball plus Gore's added two total receptions to boot.
Rice has 64 post-season carries this year - or 21.3 carries per game - but he's averaged just 3.9 yards per pop with two TDs and two lost fumbles and he's added four receptions.
Again, we'll keep it simple here: If either Rice or Gore gets to 25 "touches" here, the odds increase that his team wins. Got it?
#3 - WHAT X-FACTOR ON OFFENSE IS REALLY GONNA MAKE A DIFFERENCE HERE?
Just days after San Francisco WR Randy Moss called himself the "greatest wide receiver ever" he gets a real opportunity to make a Super Bowl splash - something tells us Moss (5 catches and a 14.2 ypc average this post-season) will get targeted plenty here as the Ravens' secondary pays more attention to both the run/pass option of QB Kaepernick along with star WR Michael Crabtree (15 catches foe 176 yards this post-season) and the aforementioned Mr. Davis.
And wouldn't it be a tad ironic that with all the talk about "graybeards" LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed on the Baltimore side it was an aging wide out for the Niners that stole the show?
Baltimore, meanwhile, has quietly put the ball into the hands of RB Bernard Pierce some 28 times this post-season with his 27 carries worth 169 yards (a whopping 6.9 yards per pop) and so don't be surprised when Rice gets his usual breather if Pierce gets a handful of consecutive carries - if he breaks a couple for first downs it could be a real energy boost for the underdog Ravens.
The matchup between Rice versus San Fran LBs Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman (a combined 29 tackles this post-season) is getting lots of pre-game attention to be sure but if Pierce can evade both sure tacklers a time or two here, it could be big.
#4 - THE ALWAYS IMPORTANT "HIDDEN YARDAGE" FACTOR
Sorry to sound like the proverbial broken record - yes, we bring up this specific key factor each/every year at Super Bowl time - but how can you ignore the special teams units here especially when 49ers P Andy Lee has been at his Pro Bowl-best this post-season while the Baltimore kick coverage units have to play more like they did in Foxboro two weeks ago than they performed three weeks ago in Denver when the Broncos' tiny Trindon Holliday brought back a punt and a kick each for touchdowns (covering 90 and 104 yards, respectively).
Lee has pinned half of his six post-season punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line and San Fran foes have averaged a meek 1.2 yards per return off his punts.
Meanwhile, the Ravens must not allow KR specialist LaMichael James or PR star Ted Ginn Jr. any major return lanes - keep in mind Ginn's 20-yard bring-back against Atlanta was a monster play that set up SF's winning score in the NFC Championship Game.
#5 - WHICH OF THE HARBAUGH BROTHERS WILL "GET CONSERVATIVE" FIRST?
No doubt by now you're heard/read everything possible about the two head coaches here and while Baltimore's John Harbaugh appears a bit more grounded while San Francisco boss-man Jim Harbaugh is considered more of a risk-taker (see the move to insert Kaepernick into the starting lineup back in mid-November) the reality of this here-and-now Super Bowl game is one of them - and maybe both - will have to make a key call in terms of a fourth-and-short play or else decide what to do in the red zone on a key third-down play.
Gut feeling is both will sport an "all-in" mentality for the most part but we could see the younger Harbaugh pull back a bit with the less experienced Kaepernick should the Niners be pushed back near the shadow of their own goal line - remember how Kaepernick "blew up" when pinned deep in the road loss in St. Louis back in early December?
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will be there to bang out the Super Bowl XLVIII Side & Totals winners on game-day morning come Sunday, February 3rd plus get all the NBA and NCAA Basketball Winners each and every day too with America's #1 Handicapper scorching-hot on the hard courts these days. So don't get bummed out by the fact we'll soon be putting this 2012 Football Season to bed -- get all the hoop winners this wintertime as the round ball fun is just heatin' up! Check in with us on Game Days either right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winners and note the check-in times are after 1 p.m. ET for weeknight action and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
WHO'S ON MID-WEEK "UPSET ALERT" IN THE WORLD OF COLLEGE HOOPS?
Let's face it ...Being ranked in the top five has been risky business for much of this 2012-13 College Basketball Season and so let's pay special attention to a pair of top five teams on this final Wednesday night in January:
#3 INDIANA (18-2, 6-1 Big 10) at PURDUE (11-9, 4-3 Big 10) - 8:30 p.m. ET, Big 10 Network
The Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean has a big week ahead: Not only will this intra-state battle with the Boilermakers be closely watched but than comes the Saturday night showdown on ESPN against #1 Michigan ... oh, yeah, than Crean goes to New Orleans for Supe 47 'cause he's the brother-in-law of John/Jim Harbaugh.
And you thought you had a busy week ahead!
Here, expect Indiana to look for more magic from G Victor Oladipo who was a stat-sheet stuffer deluxe in last Sunday's hang-on-for-dear-life 75-70 non-cover win against 10-point pup Michigan State: Oladipo poured in 21 points to go along with 7 rebounds, 6 steals and 3 blocked shots but it was four offensive rebs that really endeared him to coach Crean.
Key stat here: Indiana must step up its three-point defense after Sparty drained 11-of-23 triples last weekend. Maybe Purdue G Teron Johnson (13.5 ppg) can rev it up from downtown for the upset-minded home folks. Boiler Up?
#5 DUKE (17-2, 4-2 ACC) at WAKE FOREST (10-9, 3-4 ACC) - 8 p.m. ET
True, on paper it doesn't appear that the fifth-ranked Duke Blue Devils really have anything to worry about here: Mike Krzyzewski's squad comes off a rock-solid performance with an 84-64 home win against 12 ½-point dog Maryland and they've already clobbered Wake Forest once before this year (see 80-62 in Durham back on January 5th) but you simply cannot ignore the fact Duke's alternated wins/losses in its last four games (remember Miami and N.C. State).
If the Dookies are to be on "upset alert" than Wake Forest must trim back on the turnovers: The Demons Deacons committed 19 turnovers in that earlier-season loss at Cameron while WF's Travis McKie was stout with 22 points and 11 boards ... now we shall see if this alternate game win/loss bit continues here or will Coach K put an end to that silliness.
NOTE: More Super Bowl Notes in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez and remember that we'll have the Super Bowl XLVII Preview in Friday's edition of Jim Sez - it's a must-read for football fans!