Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Confederacy of Dunces: Multiple Storylines Blur Super Bowl XLVII Picture

Now that Randy Moss has opened his mouth and upped this week’s Obnoxious Factor, Super Bowl XLVII has indeed become a confederacy of dunces, a situation made perfect by its setting in New Orleans, where suicidal author John Kennedy Toole set his cult-favorite novel. (A Confederacy of Dunces, for those football fans who don’t know it.)

Toole would doubtless appreciate all the madness going on in the Crescent City. At first, it seemed like the Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh thing would drive us insane. They were interviewing the two coaches’ parents together on a dais the other day. Jack and Jackie. Parents of John and Jim. Football royalty now, I guess. All with a “J.”

Then there were rumblings about the King of Obnoxious, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, being suspected of ingesting a banned substance. I didn’t really grasp all that. (Deer antler spray? Sounds, uh...gamey.) If it stresses out Ray at all, then good, but I doubt the scuttlebutt on this will matter.

Better still were finally some detailed retrospectives on Lewis’ 2000 murder case. His lawyer from back then got some TV face time, and rather chuckled through his explanation that somehow the clothes Lewis was wearing the night he may have been accessory to murder in Atlanta magically disappeared for all time.

Let’s be clear: Lewis was not acquitted. He copped a plea to a lesser charge. So if you still want to lay the “thug” mantle on the guy, go ahead. Besides, this is no time for a kinder and gentler Ray to be playing linebacker. (The 49ers are coming, after all.)

Alas, Randy Moss had to muck with San Fran’s more positive PR with some ill-advised verbiage, mainly, his belief that he’s the greatest receiver of all time. Good, Randy—especially when everyone in Niners Nation (and every other nation) believes that former 49er Jerry Rice is now, and forever will be, the GREATEST receiver in all universal history. “Look at ME,” Randy seems to be saying, the fourth-leading receiver on his team.   

Finally, duncedom reached semi-critical mass this week when 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver became embroiled in an interview circumstance leading him to opine on the 21st century's favorite daily obsession: homosexuality. “I don’t do the gay guys, man,” Culliver said. “I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah … can’t be … in the locker room man. Nah.”

Allrighty then! 
Now that that’s all out of the way, let’s focus on the game, for Pete’s sake, ‘cause it should be a good one.

QBs: Colin Kaepernick vs. Joe Flacco
Both these guys keep avoiding the big flop. They look poised and strong, and have sent the leagues’ big-name vet signal callers to the bench this post-season. They are a study in contrast, with the Big K making an art form out of mobility, and Flak going the dropback route. Kaepernick threw only 4 interceptions all season, 1 in the playoff game vs. the Packers. Flacco has thrown no INTs in three post-season games. We’re looking here for signs about who might be prone to make the mistake on which big games can turn. If I had to pick one, I’d say Flacco, if only because he’s known to make mighty heaves down the field. Yet Kaepernick is still a very young player—and who knows what mistakes he's capable of. In case something goes very wrong, the Niners have the better backup, Alex Smith, who helmed his team only nine games ago.
Advantage: Even

Wide Receivers
Both corps are productive and capable of big plays, but the Ravens’ trio of Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith are tall, fast, can really stretch the field—and seem to be improving right before our eyes. The Niners offer Michael Crabtree and Moss, basically—and the loss of Mario Manningham to injury has been a real drag. Moss has caught five passes in the Niners’ two playoff games. It would be a huge boost if the old Randy showed up, but unfortunately the really old Randy might just show up instead. 
Advantage: Ravens

Tight Ends
After slumbering through the latter portion of the regular season, the talented Vernon Davis has come up big in the postseason for the Niners; Delanie Walker has also made some plays. Meanwhile, the previously little-known Dennis Pitta—looking like the second coming of Frank Wycheck—has emerged for the Ravens with 61 regular season catches and 10 in the playoffs. (Pitta has a sore thigh, for what that's worth.) Ed Dickson is also very capable for Baltimore.
Advantage: Slight edge, 49ers 

Running Backs
The Niners’ Frank Gore is a wonderful running back. Tough and determined, one more year like 2012 and Gore will reach the 10,000-yard career rushing mark. He’s averaged 4.7 yards per carry this season and has averaged over 100 yards in each of this season’s playoff games. Gore is 29, however, and this is probably his last hurrah. He hasn’t been a force catching passes out of the backfield as in previous years, but that could be a key role for him in this game, given the Niners’ lack of depth at receiver. The Ravens’ Ray Rice is in his prime at 25, and besides putting up rushing numbers similar to Gore’s, he caught 61 passes this season. Ravens rookie Bernard Pierce has emerged as a surprise backup, gaining 532 yards in the regular season, and 169 yards in the playoffs. Gore gets spelled by LaMichael James, talented and young but inexperienced.
Advantage: Ravens

If you crunch the numbers, these teams grade out pretty evenly on offense. But on defense, the 49ers have a huge edge, ranking 2d in the league in points allowed and 3d in yardage allowed. The Ravens are 12th and 17th, respectively, yet have looked more aggressive in the post-season. Holding the Patriots to 13 points in Foxboro was hugely impressive, and when you throw around veteran names like Lewis, Suggs, Reed, Ngata, Pollard, Kemoeatu, etc., you start to wonder if the Ravens aren't due for one last inevitable thuggish triumph. Their cornerbacks are suspect, though. The Niners’ D is younger and filled with All-Pro talent. Led by the awesome Patrick Willis at linebacker, they are strong at every tier, though they do need a serious game from 33-year-old DT Justin Smith, who's been slowed by a triceps injury. Linebacker Aldon Smith had 19.5 sacks in the regular season.
Advantage: On paper, 49ers; but it’s a spiritual tossup

How the coaches scheme this one will have greater implications than maybe other Super Bowls. Latecomer Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell has had things go his way in the post-season, but this should be his stiffest test. The Niners secondary—Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers, etc.—needs to clamp down on Boldin  & Co., and that should be a huge battle. Flacco needs time. Will he get it? Meanwhile, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman needs to maximize his limited weapons. That means Crabtree and Davis, probably Gore out of the backfield for short passes, and, of course, Kaepernick continuing to pull off the surprising antics that can keep a defense off-balance. Only two teams have beaten Kaepernick this year: the Rams and the Seahawks, both NFC West foes that play tough defense and held the Niners to 13 points. Kaepernick is the key to a game that has the makings of a classic. If he performs lights out, he could have the Ravens' geezers gasping for air. The bookies are giving 4 points if you take the Ravens, but you might not even need 'em.

Prediction: Ravens 26, 49ers 21  

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