A Final Look At The Super Bowl

A FINAL LOOK AT SOME KEY STAT CATEGORIES HEADING INTO RAVENS/49ERS SUPER BOWL

In these final hours leading up to the Super Bowl, we wanted to steer your focus away from the hype and hoopla and bring it back to the big game. Sports bettors may have thought they'd heard or read everything they needed to know about the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. Too much information can be a BAD thing! Let's spend a few final moments with some pro football fundamentals.

If you've been with us over the years here in the NOTEBOOK, you know we place a lot of weight on the following categories in the NFL.

Rushing Yardage (still critical in this passing era)
Third Down Conversions (you have to move the chains!)
Turnovers (protect the ball when you have it, steal it when you don't)
Low Risk Passing (yardage without interceptions)

How have Baltimore and San Francisco performed in these three vital areas through the playoffs. Have you heard anybody talk about that? You've heard about deer antler extract, how Mama Harbaugh is going to root for both sons, and Colin Cowherd's backpedaling about safety in the Big Easy. Let's talk about some stuff that MATTERS in Sunday's game.

Here are the numbers from all five playoff games involving the Niners and Ravens in rushing, third downs, and turnovers...

RUSHING YARDS
Baltimore 172, Indianapolis 152
Baltimore 155, Denver 125
Baltimore 121, New England 108
San Francisco 323, Green Bay 104
San Francisco 149, Atlanta 81

That's a clean sweep...5-0 in those categories for teams that went 5-0 on the scoreboard. Baltimore survived two certain Hall-of-Famers and a rookie who's probably destined for greatness because they were able to win the point of attack. They weren't necessarily stifling defensively. But, they did enough on that side of the ball to let Ray Rice and cohorts win the category.

San Francisco had the single most impressive performance of the postseason when quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran wild on Green Bay. Atlanta did a better job of slowing him down, but still couldn't compete physically at the point of attack with the Niners.

Clearly, the Niners win this category based on those numbers. They were +219 and +68 in the tougher conference, while Baltimore peaked at +30. If Baltimore expects to spring an upset, Joe Flacco will need to have a big game in the air.

THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Indianapolis 45%, Baltimore 40%
Denver 44%, Baltimore 41%
New England 47%, Baltimore 42%
San Francisco 62%, Green Bay 42%
Atlanta 56%, San Francisco 33%

This is a stunning set of developments considering the history of this stat in championship football. Baltimore lost the stat ALL THREE times, while San Francisco was squashed in it last week. Does this mean that third downs aren't important any more? Well, the way the Harbaugh's play football, they're less relevant with these teams than others.

The Harbaugh's:

  • Love going for big strikes. This would have been more clear earlier with San Francisco if the Niners hadn't been stuck with Alex Smith when their Harbaugh first took over. Baltimore tends to air it out deep, while San Francisco focuses more on schematics busting something lose.

  • Prefer punting on fourth down to turning the ball over with a high risk play on third down.

  • Will accept a "bend but don't break" philosophy on defense for extended periods in a big game.

That sets up a very interesting dynamic with these teams playing each other. The defenses will allow short stuff at the expense of big plays. The offenses will be trying for big plays. The coach that best adjusts to what the defense is giving them may be able to move the chains and grind out a victory.

Maybe you have to be a stathead to marvel at what's happened on third down conversions so far in the playoffs. Big plays have trumped classic station to station football this year. 

TURNOVERS
Baltimore 2, Indianapolis 2
Baltimore 1, Denver 3
Baltimore 0, New England 3
San Francisco 1, Green Bay 2
San Francisco 1, Atlanta 2

No surprise here. Neither of the Super Bowl teams lost the stat in any individual game. Baltimore was +5 in the postseason with only three giveaways and eight takeaways. San Francisco was +2 with two and four respectively. Clean football with the winners averaging just one giveaway per outing. The defenses forced 2.4 turnovers per outing.

LOW RISK PASSING
Baltimore 269 yards with 0 interceptions vs. Baltimore
Baltimore 324 yards with 0 interceptions at Denver
Baltimore 235 yards with 0 interceptions at New Engalnd
San Francisco 256 yards with 1 interception vs. Green Bay
San Francisco 224 yards with 0 interceptions at Atlanta

Stunning. You can see why these teams reached the Super Bowl. Baltimore managed 828 yards without a single interception in three outings...which should be IMPOSSIBLE given how aggressively they throw downfield. Flacco throws it so deep the defense can't get there! San Francisco's done a fine job themselves with less volume. You really have to be impressed with Kaepernick's composure to this point when passing under playoff pressure.

There is a degree of flirting with disaster for both teams. Baltimore needed a bit of a miracle to get past Denver. San Francisco had no margin for error when they survived Atlanta after falling way behind last week. Razor's edge.

All this creates a fairly straightforward summary for you to carry into the game.

  • Both offenses are looking more for big plays rather than moving the chains. Baltimore's more likely to do that in the air, while San Francisco knows Kaepernick can go long on a scramble if he gets an opening.

  • Both defenses will give you the short stuff and dare you not to screw up.

  • To this point, both teams have largely avoided turnover problems (though Kaepernick started his playoff experience by throwing a TD pass to the Green Bay Packers!). That may be the pressure point that determines who wins and covers...the first team that starts making mistakes loses! If the mistakes start to pile up, they lose big.

Key questions for handicappers: Will Joe Flacco lose his composure after finally making it to the big game? Will inexperienced Colin Kaepernick find himself in over his head? Which of the two will be patient enough to take what's being given without getting antsy and falling into a trap?

JIM HURLEY has some very strong ideas about how this game is going to go. You can purchase his side and total right here at the website with his credit card. You can also build your bankrolls through the day with early basketball. Among the games of interest are:

LA Clippers at Boston (on the NBA Network)
LA Lakers at Detroit
Miami at Toronto
Marquette at Louisville (on ESPN)
Wisconsin at Illinois (on the Big 10 Network)

We know that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are involved in a lot of cross-sport Super Bowl props. Why do you think David Stern scheduled his two biggest-name stars for Super Bowl Sunday?! Use your basketball profits to re-invest by kickoff of the football so you can make this your biggest Super Bowl yet. More details are available in our office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you tomorrow to talk about Big Monday on ESPN. That will be highlighted by Notre Dame at Syracuse...when ND's three-point shooting takes on the vaunted zone defense of the Orangemen.

For now...we just hours away from a new NFL championship being awarded the Lombardi Trophy. WHEN CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE ON THE LINE, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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