I’ve watched the 49ers up close since training camp 2011. I know how dominant they can be. When they’re at their best, they can blow out any team in the NFL.
But I don’t think they’re at their best right now, and I think they’re going to lose to the Ravens 20-17.
Yes, the 49ers’ offense is hot. Colin Kaepernick is averaging 9.4 yards per passing attempt over the last three games. But the Ravens’ offense is hot, too. Joe Flacco is averaging 8.9 yards per attempt the last three games.
The difference will be the two defenses. The common perception is the 49ers have the most dominant defense in the NFL – six Pro Bowlers – and the Ravens have aging stars who are not what they once were.
Certain stats support that hypothesis, too. The 49ers’ defense ranked fourth in total passing and rushing yards this season. The Ravens’ defense finished 17th against the pass and 20th against the run.
But over the last four games, the Ravens’ defense has been the best in the league and the 49ers’ defense has been subpar.
Just look at these numbers. The Ravens have allowed only 3.6 yards per carry the last four games, and the 49ers have allowed 4.4 yards per carry. Putting that in perspective, if you extended those averages over a full season the Ravens’ would be tied for second against the run and the 49ers would be tied for 22nd.
Over that same four-game span, the Ravens have allowed just 5.7 yards per pass attempt and the 49ers have allowed 7.5 yards per attempt. Again, if you extended those averages over a full season the Ravens would rank first against the pass and the 49ers would rank 28th.
I do not think the 49ers’ defense will make the Ravens’ offense one-dimensional. I think running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce will have good games. They will force Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner to play the run, which will set up the play action deep passes.
When the 49ers are on offense, I think the Ravens can make them one-dimensional. Last season when these teams played each other, Frank Gore rushed 14 times for 39 yards. The Ravens completely took him out of the game.
I think the Ravens can force the 49ers into a lot of second and third-and-longs, and I think the Ravens can get quarterback pressure on those passing downs. They’ve gotten nine sacks and 17 QB hits the last four games, and Terrell Suggs is too quick for the 49ers’ offensive tackles, Joe Staley and Anthony Davis.
If Justin Smith were 100 percent healthy, I would pick the 49ers to win. He could negate the Ravens’ run game and he could generate a pass rush. But since he’s gotten hurt, the 49ers defense has not been able to do either of those two things well.
I think the Ravens come out taking deep shots early like the Falcons did in the NFC Championship game. I think the Ravens take the lead early like the Falcons did. But I think the Ravens actually hold on to it, unlike the Falcons.
How do you see Super Bowl XLVII unfolding?