It’s that time of the year again. The conclusion to the NFL season. The most-watched TV program in the country (or on the planet, in non-World Cup years). The Super Bowl has arrived, ladies and gentlemen, and this year’s edition should be one of the best ones yet.

The Baltimore Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers in a heated clash that features some of the most dynamic offenses, the most physical no-nonsense defenses, and a pair of brothers as head coaches. But if you watched even 30 seconds of ESPN the last two weeks, you knew that already.

Who would’ve thought that the Niners would make it all the way to the Super Bowl? Madden players like you, of course; San Francisco is arguably the best team to use in the game because of its impressive mix of ferocious defense and a great multi-talented offense led by the unofficial Madden god Colin Kaepernick of course. Even before he took over for the injured Alex Smith, San Fran’s #7 was lighting it up for Madden players all across the nation with his great athleticism.

Let’s get down to business:

 

When the 49ers Have the Ball

Everyone’s media darling Colin Kaepernick leads the Niners’ O with his incredible array of talents. Taking several notes from Kaepernick’s collegiate offense at Nevada, Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have installed the Nevada Pistol in the Niners’ attack, a move that has paid off extremely prolifically the last two months. Mixing a shotgun spread and I-formation approach, the Pistol can do it all: running off-tackle, running up the gut, and offering a combination of aerial attacks.

Running back Frank Gore hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down at age 29 and will get the bulk of the carries for San Fran. Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and even Randy Moss are the primary pass catchers for Kaepernick and will play a vital role in moving the chains. And of course, there is the dual threat of Kaepernick himself, who is athletic enough to scramble with receivers downfield or take off on a designed run, which are even more devastating with mis-direction. The “read option” Kaepernick has mastered has made its way from a college football staple to a NFL cutting-edge trend. The virtual gridiron is no different, considering the use and effectiveness of the play in Madden.

The Ravens have prided themselves for the last 15 years on tough defense and taking the ball away from the offense. They have done that this season, grabbing 13 picks and forcing 11 fumbles in the regular season. Moreso, they completely perplexed Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game, forcing him into two terrible interceptions and barely above a 50% completion percentage. Things have appeared to click together this postseason, especially that defensive anchor Ray Lewis is back from a tricep injury.

Here’s the thing: As scary and intimidating as it appears, Baltimore’s defense has not been as suffocating as it has been in recent years. While it ranked 13th in points per game, it also ranked 17th in yards per game, including 20th in rushing yardage allowed: a whopping 1,965 rushing yards given up. Will they be able to stop Kaepernick and Frank Gore (and LaMichael James)?

 

When the Ravens Have the Ball

This may be Baltimore’s best offense ever with the exception of one magical Jamal Lewis 2000-yard season in 2003. Joe Flacco leads the charge under center with several weapons at his disposal. The ever-tough Anquan Boldin leads the receiving brigade after a great performance against the Patriots, grabbing two touchdowns. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are explosive receivers who stretch the field, as evidenced by the wild shootout against the Denver Broncos three weeks ago.

And of course, there is Ray Rice, one of the toughest ball carriers in the league despite standing 5’9’’. With over 1,500 yards from scrimmage in four consecutive seasons, he is reliable and consistent. His versatility will be especially needed on passing downs against an extremely tough 49ers defense.

The Niners defense, if you’ve played Madden, is an absolute nightmare for all opponents. From pass rushing to run stuffing, this defense has it all. Possessing the best front seven in the league, San Fran gave up the third-fewest yards per game (294.4) and had the second-best scoring defense is the league (17.1 points given up per game). Moreover, opposing quarterbacks only registered a QB rating of 78.0, a figure sixth-lowest in the NFL.

The most vaunted defense features Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Dashon Goldson, and Carlos Rogers, among others. However, the most critical figure will be Justin Smith, the tough-as-nails defensive end who has been heavily impacted by a torn tricep muscle. When he sat out the last stretch of the regular season, the Niners’ pass rush wasn’t the same, especially Aldon Smith, who didn’t register a single sack when Justin Smith was out. Justin Smith will be playing at about 50% today and then have surgery on the tricep after the game. Whether he is able to generate a pass rush will dictate the Niners’ swarming to Joe Flacco.

 

To Win the Game…

The Ravens need to do two things above all: pass the ball well and contain Kaepernick. The first half of the NFC Championship Game showed Matt Ryan of the Falcons picking apart San Francisco’s secondary before the Niner defense could properly settle in. As these playoffs has shown, Flacco throws a deep ball that must be respected by the safeties. If Torrey Smith can get open, he’ll make San Fran pay. Containing Kaepernick and his running ability is obviously much easier said than done, but that will come down to what coach John Harbaugh gameplanned for in terms of “assignment” football.

The Niners need to get their run game going early. Many people are confident in Kaepernick, but if the Niners are losing late in the fourth quarter, will he be able to move the ball down the field using a pass-heavy offense? If the Pistol works out in the beginning of the game, San Francisco will have a much easier time in terms of the range of plays they can work out over the course of the second half. The key to their defense will once again be the front seven getting pressure and breaking down Joe Flacco’s pocket. This will be an extremely physical game of football, people.

I could easily say that this game will come down to which quarterback will have the better game, which explains about 90% of NFL playoff games. (The last quarterback to lose a Super Bowl in which he outperformed the winning team’s QB was Jake Delhomme in 2004, but that’s just an opinion, I guess.) But in theory, there’s only one quarterback I need to highlight in this case…

 

This is Joe Flacco’s most important game of his career. He’s been in the league for four years already and he’s tiptoed his way onto the fence of whether or not he’s a great quarterback. Not elite, but great; a QB you think could guide your team to the Super Bowl. Surely you’ve thought to yourself, “Where does Flacco rank among top quarterbacks in the league?” right?

He’s been lighting it up throughout the postseason (8 TDs, 0 INTs, 114.7 rating) but look at the defenses he’s played: a Colts team that wasn’t as great as their record implied, a Broncos squad whose secondary completely IMPLODED, and a Patriots pass defense that hasn’t been good since Ty Law and Rodney Harrison played for them.

I’m not completely bashing Flacco here. I think he’s a very good quarterback (his career stats do reflect that), but he doesn’t have a standout strength that makes you say “Wow, he’s really good at that.” He doesn’t command the no-huddle expertly or have uncanny accuracy. He may have “above-average” arm strength but I don’t think he has “it,” as all the football media and analysts like to use the term.

Yes, I know he has six road playoff wins (which is absurdly impressive), but I just don’t think he’s ready to face the truly elite defense that San Francisco has. If he wins, I’ll look like an idiot but an idiot with an educated opinion. This game is in Flacco’s hands.

 

Storylines That Announcers Will Repeat Constantly, So Drink Whenever They’re Mentioned

  1. The Har-Bowl! The Harbaugh Bowl! The Har-Browl! The Har-bro-bowl!
  2. Ray Lewis’ last chance for a ring!
  3. Randy Moss could finally get a ring!
  4. Everybody loves Kaepernick!
  5. Michael Oher from the Blind Side is playing in the Super Bowl!
  6. Michael Crabtree is being investigated for sexual assault! (just kidding, they won’t bring this up)

 

Final Score Prediction: San Francisco 27, Baltimore 20

 

Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far! Who do you have winning tonight?

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