Pats and Niners Looking Super
| Friday, 20 January 2012 06:00
New England has their ideal road to the Super Bowl. They were able to dominate an overmatched Denver team that just didn’t have the personnel to keep up—on either side of the ball. Now they get to face a Baltimore team that is challenged offensively.
Ray Rice has been amazing all year long, but the Patriots are more vulnerable in the secondary. Unfortunately for the Ravens, their passing attack has been disappointing all year long. Joe Flacco has regressed this year, with career-lows in completion percentage and yards per attempts.
Meanwhile, the Pats are hitting on all cylinders. Baltimore has a phenomenal defense, for sure, but they are coming out of a tough matchup with Houston last week. Those two teams are both great on defense, and they really beat each other up. Meanwhile, New England essentially took the second half off against the Broncos.
When you combine a fresher overall team and an opponent that’s not able to exploit their biggest weakness, New England is in great shape to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl for the 5th time in the Brady-Belichick era.
On the NFC side, it’s a great matchup. The Giants won 3 of their last 4 in the regular season, and now have a pair of huge playoff wins after destroying the Falcons and then stunning the heavily favored Packers. Meanwhile, the 49ers won their last 3 regular season games, and then beat the Saints in a game where very few expected them to win. Neither team has an edge in momentum.
When it comes down to the strengths and weaknesses of each team, I think San Francisco’s dominant run defense will swing the balance in this game.
One of the reasons I liked the Saints over the Packers if they were to have a rematch was because of their running game. They could beat you with Drew Brees or their 3-headed running back committee, while the Packers could only play one way—Aaron Rodgers. But the 49ers completely shut down the New Orleans running game last week. Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory, and Pierre Thomas combined for a whopping 32 yards, while the team lost 3 fumbles.
That forced Drew Brees to throw the ball 63 times, and I don’t care how good your quarterback is: dropping back that many times puts too much pressure on the passing game. Brees threw a pair of interceptions after only throwing 3 interceptions in the team’s last 7 games.
San Francisco is more than capable of shutting down the Giants running backs. In fact, they already did it back in Week 10, when the G-Men rushed for 93 yards on 29 carries. If the Giants can’t run the ball, that will put all the pressure on Eli Manning, just like it did on Drew Brees last week. Eli’s been phenomenal this year, really carrying that team, but no one can do it on his own. The 49ers will force turnovers, like the 5 by the Saints last week. They were number one in that stat for a reason.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers play a very solid offense—but they can score when they have to, as last week’s shootout with the Saints proved. They should be able to run the ball effectively against the Giants, and while Alex Smith will see a lot of pressure, he’s done a great job at avoiding mistakes this year. No team has turned the ball over less than San Francisco, with just 10 all season long.
Jim Harbaugh has done an unbelievably great job turning this team around after years of struggles—and specifically transforming his quarterback from a write-off to a real asset. It shows just how important great coaching is, and I think he’ll take his team all the way to the Super Bowl.