The local football club has put together a heck of a run and is playing in a little game this weekend called the Super Bowl. It's tends to fly under the radar, with nearly 200 million Americans not watching the game each year, but if you want to be one of that trendy, underground 110 million or so who does catch the game, I've prepared this Spitballin' primer on this clash between the Ravens of Baltimore and the 49ers of San Francisco for hardcore ballers and rookie fans alike. (First bonus Super Bowl tip for the rooks: 49ers is just a name-like all teams in the NFL, there are only 45 of them!)
Baller: The two best middle linebackers in football will be on the field Sunday, and with apologies to Ray Lewis, they will both be wearing Niners crimson and gold. All-Pros Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman will be a force against the Ravens' running attack. The Ravens match up well, sending their own All-Pro fullback, Vonta Leach, barreling into the 49ers dynamic duo to open holes for explosive Ray Rice. When these squads met last year, the Ravens won, but Rice was held to only 2.8 yards per carry, nearly two yards less than his season average.
This season, however, the Ravens have added sensational rookie Bernard Pierce to the running game. His straight-ahead style has been the perfect complement to Rice's jitterbug runs. With Leach in the mix, it's the best running-back unit in the NFL, but they won't put up gaudy numbers running into the teeth of the best linebacking corps in the league. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will stick with the run, however. Unfortunately, the long Super Bowl TV timeouts and extended halftime will keep the 49ers defense fresh, but Rice and Pierce will eat clock and keep the middle of the field open for Flacco.
Rookie: If you're planning to watch the big game on a big screen, it may be the biggest mistake you've ever made. It's illegal to show the Super Bowl on a TV bigger than 55 inches, but even this slice of Draconian pie can make a delicious side to your super-fun day. If the NFL finds out you're going to be showing the game on a mammoth screen, they will send Chicago Bears legend Dick Butkus to crash through your front door and smash the screen with a barrage of Miller Lite cans. Total bummer-unless you've prepared. Have a second screen of 55 inches or smaller ready to go, and now you've got a bona fide Hall of Famer and star of TV's Blue Thunder hanging at your Super Bowl party. Score! (Note: The last three sentences are completely inaccurate.)
Baller: The 49ers' passing game-led by athletic QB Colin Kaepernick and blazing-fast former Terps tight end Vernon Davis-haunts the dreams of NFL defensive coordinators. Davis, who at 6 feet, 3 inches and 250 pounds runs a 4.38 40-yard dash, is too fast for a linebacker to cover and too big for corners to handle. If he gets into single coverage with Lewis or Dannell Ellerbe, he will make huge plays. Normally a fierce pass rush could help limit the big plays, and late blooming linebacker Paul Kruger and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs have shown they're up to the task, but Kaepernick provides a unique set of challenges. In addition to his laser arm, which might be a match for the mighty gun of Joe Flacco, the 6-foot-4-inch giant runs like a gazelle riding a deer. In the conference round, Kaepernick ran for 181 yards, a record for quarterbacks, against the Packers.
The Ravens' pass rush needs to watch its lanes and not let the fleet QB get outside of them where he's got the speed to gouge out huge runs. As a result, responsibility for covering Davis will fall to Ravens safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, and they'll have their hands full. Look for Pollard to draw a personal foul on a big, tone-setting hit early in the game, but don't expect Davis to get intimidated and start hearing footsteps like Patriots receiver Wes Welker did in the AFC Championship game.
Rookie: If you're going to a potluck, think dip. And none is easier or more beloved than delicious cheesy salsa. Start with a sliced block of zesty Velveeta cheese-like product (look for it in the cupboard, as it doesn't need to be refrigerated) and microwave it with a jar of your second-favorite brand of salsa. For an extra-special treat, brown some sausage and mix it in. If you're "cooking" for vegetarians, use veggie sausage. It will blow their 'effin minds and you will be treated as a god.
Baller: A Ravens victory will need to come through Joe Flacco, and that's a tall order against the 49ers' sizzling pass rush, led by second-year man and All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith and his 19.5 sacks. The Ravens' offensive line has been vastly improved since Bryant McKinnie rejoined the starting lineup, but the Niners D has too many stars to double-team all of them and they will get their shots on Flacco. Fortunately, Joe has been buying himself more time with deft moves in the pocket during the playoffs and has been playing lights-out, but there won't be enough time to set up those long plays to Torrey Smith. Flacco will need to spread the ball around and take what he can get against a 49ers defense that does not let up big plays. Expect to see a lot of Ray Rice in the flat and for Flacco to work the middle of the field with tight end Dennis Pitta and receiver Anquan Boldin working from the slot. Joe "Big Game" Flacco has been the best QB in the playoffs this year and last-expect his run to continue.
Rookie: If your Super Bowl host has dogs or toddlers, watch your beer! I cannot stress this enough, both children and animals put their tongues in horrible, horrible places and they will lap at your frosty beverage. You do not want to drink it after a basset hound or even worse, a three-year-old boy has. Should you need to leave your drink unattended, I recommend placing a mousetrap on top; it's an effective and hilarious deterrent.
Prediction: These teams are evenly matched, but the difference will come down to the kicking game. Ravens rookie Justin Tucker has been phenomenal, while 49ers kicker David Akers has fallen apart this season. Tucker's coolness and an Akers' miss will be the difference. Ravens win 23-21.