San Francisco (-3.5) vs. Baltimore, 48O/U
Well, it's been quite a season and I hope you all know what a pleasure it's been to contribute to this column. I hope it's been an entertaining read, and speaking for myself, I hope it's the start of many seasons here at Wagers and Lagers. At least I have the offseason to look forward to, so I can try to formulate a few new recipes for Sundays in 2013. All credit, though, really should go to Rich. This column would never appear without him, but it's been a blast getting to know him, collaborating with him throughout the week, and just barely sneaking my contributions in ahead of the deadline.
In other news, I've successfully managed to stay away from pretty much all Super Bowl media for the last week and a half, which is something of an achievement in its own right. Now, granted, I did have this one slip-up where I began reading Super Bowl-related articles after hearing something about a deer antler spray, but more or less I've been out of the loop. Living in New Orleans, the local concerns so far have been with logistics, with the arrival of tourists and fans, and with the local reception of a certain NFL executive than with the game itself. We're also right in the middle of the Carnival season, so residents are more likely to be talking about an upcoming parade than the outcome of the big game. Carnival in Uptown New Orleans takes a conspicuous break this weekend
before escalating again after next Thursday or so. I wonder if this might have to do with a football game? It may be time to finally focus on the 49ers and the...Ravens. (Damn it. Really?)
I suppose it's worth pointing out before we begin that San Francisco played Baltimore last year, losing at M&T Bank Stadium in a pretty boring Thanksgiving night game, 16-6. And we thought we were done with Harbaugh Bowls. There were some events in this game that, for good or ill, definitely will not take place this Sunday. Ray Lewis, apparently lacking deer antler spray, missed the game with a toe injury. Ladarius Webb picked off an awful Alex Smith throw to the end zone just before halftime, depriving San Francisco of a field goal attempt. Speaking of field goals, David Akers did not
miss any of those and even made a 52-yard kick. Finally, Lee Evans caught a pass. On the other hand, the Ravens managed to set themselves up nicely by virtue of a pass interference penalty on a deep ball in the first half, but settled for a field goal after awful playcalling inside the ten yard line. The more things change, the more they stay the same. You might be wondering, if you look at the box score, how Baltimore sacked Alex Smith nine (!) times that night. More in the realm of coincidence, you might wonder how Smith and Flacco finished with remarkably similar numbers in the passing game (15/24, 140 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT v. 15/23, 161, 1 TD, 0 INT) or how both lead backs finished with 2.8 yards per carry that night.
How much, of course, does this all mean with Colin Kaepernick starting, with Ray Lewis playing, with Ladarius Webb out, and with the game in New Orleans instead of Baltimore? Perhaps not very much. San Francisco's offense really appears to have been transformed, and not just by Kaepernick. Frank Gore is still Frank Gore, but Michael Crabtree is emerging as a legitimate #1 receiver in the league and Vernon Davis has rebounded from a midseason slump. The Ravens' defense has likewise seen a resurgence in recent weeks, holding opposing offenses to 9, 21, and 13 points in the playoffs, when those teams had averaged 22.3, 30.1, and 34.8 points per game during the regular season. I don't want to resurrect the is-Kaepernick-a-running-quarterback debate, but we must admit that his quickness brings a dimension to the offense that Luck, Manning, and Brady simply do not. (A side note, how much film of the Redskins--Ravens game has Jim Harbaugh digested? RG3 threw for 242 but only ran for 34 in a winning effort against Baltimore in early December.) Even without Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez is a formidable tight end. I'm not sure he's quite the equal of Vernon Davis when he's at the top of his game, but I'm certain no one on the Colts or Broncos can match him. Wes Welker is obviously a fine receiver, but Michael Crabtree is a fundamentally different kind of player. He's a much larger, more physical wide receiver, probably closer to the Ravens' own Anquan Boldin than anyone else in the post-season in the AFC. Now, Baltimore shut down Demaryius Thomas, but Denver had no running game to speak of, Joel Dreessen, and Jacob Tamme.
So, here's what I think. The game will start slow, much like the slugfest of last Thanksgiving, with neither team wanting to make the first big mistake. (Now, I'm almost certain to be wrong about all this, since I've put myself out there.) And then something will happen--a turnover, a big play/pass interference (the Ravens are playing, after all), or whatever--and it will force teams out of their shells. I'm borrowing from soccer-logic here, but I really think the play that's most important in most games is the second touchdown scored. Who scored it (and what that means for the score differential) and when it was scored can often tell you a lot about the progress of the rest of the game. Now, two touchdowns in the first five minutes tying the game at seven might tell you nothing, but most of the time, this is solid. I expect the second touchdown in the middle of the second quarter, causing a lead change and building to competitive second half in which both teams find just enough offense to inch us over the line. I'm impressed by Baltimore's defensive renaissance, but I don't think they've faced a team that can do all the things the 49ers can since they started playing like the Ravens' defenses of old. I'm picking with my head and, it must be said, my heart. Pick: San Francisco, The Over
First, I hope everyone has enjoyed this column as much as I have enjoyed writing it. It was more of an experiment than anything else as I had never really tried to pick games ATS despite paying attention to the lines since I went to Vegas ten years ago and had a good weekend. The idea that Biggie (I hope he is okay and shows up soon) and I had was that we wanted to make the column more than just picking lines. We each have a love of cooking BBQ, and the idea was born for Wagers & Lagers. Matt jumped in and the competition has been fun ever since. That fact that Matt and I found out that we went to what are now rival high schools in football proved that the big world of the internet can be small. Thank you to Cris and Andy for giving me the opportunity here. On to the game.
I had an immediate gut reaction to this game as soon as the games ended two Sundays ago. After oscillating back and forth as legitimate arguments came up for both sides, my pick comes down to a basic idea: Which team has to answer more questions to win.
That team is the Ravens. The Ravens have to answer how they will defend the pass while being forced to play an 8th man up on most plays. Their defense has gotten better as it has gotten healthier, but the fact remains that the Niners do things well that the Ravens do not defend that well. Baltimore has a ton of heart and I have to admit that a big part of me is rooting for them because I like stories where quarterbacks silence the critics because the position gets too much blame as well as too much credit.
The think the defenses are close in skill at this point of the season and I consider that comparison to be a wash, but I think that the Niners can be more dynamic on offense than the Ravens can. Flacco will focus on the short passing for a few plays before going deep. Ray Rice will provide something out of nothing on a few dump offs. He will not rush for a high average and Bernard Pierce is a much better change of pace than Ricky Williams was. I think the Ravens will hit a deep play or two and I expect Anquan Boldin to provide an MVP-like performance. It will take some fluke occurrences for them to be blown out of the building.
The problem I have with following through on my Ravens pick is that the Niners provide the perfect amount of simple ideas on offense that make them extremely difficult to stop. Michael Crabtree is more physical than he is given credit for. I mentioned that the Niners would find Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game and they did. I expect them to do that again and use him as their deep threat along with a token deep look to Moss while they show 11 to 15 formations despite a lot of 12, 21 and 22 personnel looks. I saw that the improved Ravens defense still gave up some yardage on what I incorrectly call slash runs between the guard and tackle. Before the Pats got away from the run, Ridley was having success in that area. Gore had two huge runs against Atlanta which were similar in design.
Then, I weighted what results were more likely in my opinion. Going from Ravens blowout to Ravens close win to Niners close win to Niners blowout, I felt this was the split: 10/30/40/20.
Finally, there is one thing pertaining to the Harbaugh brothers that I believe. I am treating this like a divisional match-up because there is no doubt that they know each other so well. For that reason, I go with the under and I go with what my gut said on January 20th. Of course, it helps that it was easy to create a narrative to believe in. Pick: San Francisco, The Under.
There is no food recipe this week. It you are hosting a party and do not have your food planned yet, then shame on you. That’s asking for trouble. We gave you 19 weeks of excellent choices. Don’t be the house with the bad party.
Hey, it’s your game, just enjoy one of your favorite beers. Maybe it’s one you have always loved or one we introduced in this column. Either way, it’s the Super Bowl, don’t change things up. Me, I’ll be enjoying some Conway’s Irish Ale from the Great Lakes Brewing Company.
SEASON TO DATE:
RG: 67-54-2 (55.2%), 1-2-1 in Conf Champ
MK: 47-39-1 (54.6%), 3-0-1 in Conf Champ
It should be noted that the competition between Matt and I comes down to the Over/Under in the Super Bowl since we agreed on San Francisco. If Matt is correct, his percentage will beat mine by about .2%. His odds seem good because Over/Unders have been the bane of my existence. I am 7-14 with O/U on the season while being 60-40-2 ATS. If I lose, we may have to see a rule change next year. Hey, I’m a sore loser, what can I say?
Enjoy the game, everyone.