|The Atlantic online|
What, you were expecting an NHL week three preview? In this week's Atlantic Sports Roundtable, we tackle the football commercial taking place on the biggest advertising day of the year:
Hampton Stevens: ... The Ravens, winning in Denver and then Foxboro, have sold me—and it wasn't Ray Lewis and his graybeards that did the selling. It was seeing the Baltimore offense come of age.
We've all been in love with Ray Rice since he left Rutgers—especially if you have had him in a fantasy keeper league. Now Rice has a quarterback, as Joe Flacco's pocket presence has become as strong as his arm always has been. Anyone who followed Baltimore in the days of Dilfer and Grbac could be forgiven for thinking that Flacco would be just another "game manager." But he's become much more. He leads.
Containing Kaepernick will be tough. Leaving a spy on the Niners' QB will mean Frank Gore finds gaps. Kaepernick's scary legs also mean that either Vernon Davis or Michael Crabtree will be in single-coverage on every play. That's frightening for Baltimore. But, weird as it sounds, figure the Ravens' dynamic offense to carry the day. Or at least to come close enough for Las Vegas. San Francisco is favored by more than field goal. That's mystifying. I'm no prophet, I've not had the benefit of sniffing vapors like the oracles at Delphi, but my sense is that the Ravens will take it 27-24 ...
Patrick Hruby: ... I'm confident that the NFL will wrap itself in fig-leaf, Founding Father-fetishizing patriotism and rah-rah militarism, even though a salute to stadium-subsidizing everyday taxpayers and a check for the cost of fighter jet flyovers—in case you haven't heard, money's a little tighter at the Pentagon these days—would be more appropriate. I have no doubt that CBS will cut to Jack and Jackie Harbaugh—in case you haven't heard, sons Jim and John Harbaugh are coaching in the big game, and get this, they're brothers!—at least a half-dozen times. I'm fairly certain that during his traditional pre-game electroshock slide dance, the Rev. Ray Lewis will kill a live deer with his bare hands, snap the deer's antlers in half over his knee, Bo Jackson-with-a-baseball-bat-style, and then suck out all of the delicious, possibly performance-enhancing marrow with a S.W.A.T.S.-provided holographic straw.
Also, I think San Francisco is going to win the game ...
Jake Simpson: ... If I went with my gut, I'd say the 49ers will win by 10-14 points. They have the better offense and the better defense, usually a foolproof recipe for winning football games. But I've been wrong about the Ravens in each of the last two rounds, and you have to respect their back-to-back wins over Peyton Manning and Tom Brady—on the road, no less.
Here are five keys to the game:
Colin Kaepernick's mindset: The second-year pro out of Nevada has said all the right things this week: "It's just another game... I won't let the pressure get to me... etc." But only one quarterback in NFL history has started fewer career games than Kaepernick and won a Super Bowl. That would be Jeff Hostetler for Giants in Super Bowl XXV, and he got huge assists from Big Blue's elite defense and the unsteady foot of Scott Norwood. In the divisional playoff against Green Bay and NFC Championship game against Atlanta, Kaepernick started slowly, throwing a pick-six early against the Packers and failing to score for the first 20+ minutes against the Falcons. If he starts slow on Sunday, it may be harder to shake off the jitters this time ...
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