We are about there now, that time of the week leading up to the Super Bowl where everybody is getting antsy and we all just want the game to get here. I've been on Radio Row in New Orleans the better part of the last three days (humblebrag alert!), and all the signs of "anticipation fatigue" are setting in -- radio people complaining about having to interview athletes and celebrities for a living (mind-boggling, by the way), bleary-eyed players staggering around doing their one-hundredth interview pimping batteries or tires or whatever, the lines for free food actually dwindling because the media is tired of gumbo and shrimp. (Just kidding, the media never gets tired of free food.)
As storylines go, let's take a quick inventory of the stories shaping Hype Week and the game on Sunday:
1. Jim and John Harbaugh. They both emerged from the same womb about fifty or so years ago. Not sure if you were aware of this. You might hear about it on Sunday, too.
2. Apparently, there's a way to throw the media off of the scent of a double murder that you may or may not have been involved in at the Super Bowl thirteen years ago. Three simple words -- deer antler spray. I guess there are accusations that Ray Lewis used this substance to return from his triceps injury sooner than expected. If I cared, I'm sure I'd be pissed about this.
3. Randy Moss had the only media day doozy (and given Chris Culliver's comments on Artie Lange's show about gays in NFL locker rooms, I do need to caveat -- media day doozy) when he said that he considered himself the greatest wide receiver of all time:
As you can see there, he specifically compares himself to Jerry Rice, which as a member of the 49ers, takes some serious balls. Probably the only way for a Niner to offend the city of San Francisco more than saying he is greater than Jerry Rice would be for a Niner to gay bash, soooooo....
4. ...what up, Chris Culliver?
This is so obscenely idiotic, it might deserve its own post.
Anyway, these are the stories that have carried the day in New Orleans this week. As Super Bowl drama goes, on the "compelling" scale, these yield a solid 5.6 on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the weather in Dallas two years ago and 10 being the aforementioned double murders in Atlanta in 2000).
As we head into the weekend, I am still waffling on who I think will win (and/or cover the spread) in this game. I'm hoping after processing a few prop bets that by the end of this post, I'll have figured it out. So let's hand out a few easy wins for you on the prop-bet buffet for Sunday:
49ers kicker DAVID AKERS UNDER 1 1/2 field goals +110 The thinking behind this one is two pronged and pretty simple: 1. David Akers has been abysmal the second half of this season and during the postseason. He's missed fourteen field goals this season, many of the makeable variety. If the 49ers can avoid Akers being an integral part of this game (i.e. going for it on fourth down when it's somewhat sensible), they will, and 2. With Kaepernick at quarterback, in the playoffs, the team has been a machine in the red zone, going 7 for 9 in red zone chances with the only two failures being a Michael Crabtree fumble at the one yard line against Atlanta and an Akers field goal on the final play of the half against Green Bay.
49ers tight end DELANIE WALKER OVER 1 1/2 receptions -125 I wanted to go over 20 1/2 yards on Walker, too, but the -160 juice on it is a little too rich. That said, I love this prop bet. Walker and Vernon Davis are a HUGE mismatch issue for the Ravens linebackers and Bernard Pollard. Here's why I like Walker -- the prop bet numbers on Davis are 3 1/2 receptions and 50 1/2 yards, yet since taking over as quarterback, Colin Kaepernick has targeted the two of them virtually the same number of times (Davis 33 times, Walker 32). Great value with Walker. And while we're at it with tight ends, how about..... Ravens tight end DENNIS PITTA OVER 44 1/2 receiving yards -115 The Ravens will be doing plenty of throwing. PItta is Flacco's security blanket, and should get enough targets to get over this number.
Ravens quarterback JOE FLACCO OVER 235 1/2 yards -140 This game is most likely to go one of two ways -- the Ravens win it behind Flacco's arm with the Ravens quarterback taking shots down the field against a secondary that has been shaky this postseason, especially against Atlanta in the NFC title game, OR the Ravens looks like the shaky unit we saw for the middle portion of the season and Baltimore gets snowed under by a barrage o' Kaepernick, which means Flacco will likely be throwing the ball to keep up and come from behind. Either way, 236 yards feels very do-able.
Ravens linebacker RAY LEWIS OVER 11 1/2 tackles -115 The combination of the 49ers going run-heavy with their offense and the statisticians getting swept up in the hoopla of Ray Lewis' final game (meaning he'll get credited with a tackle every time he jumps on the pile at the end of the play) makes this over VERY enticing. And therefore, I shall take it.
GAME PREDICTION I've flip flopped back and forth on this one for the last ten days. After watching them go into New England and methodically dismantle the Patriots in the second half of that game last Sunday, I want to believe that the Ravens are more than just your usual "team of destiny." And I can come up with good reasons why they will win this game: Joe Flacco's finally making the leap to "regular elite conversation" status, Ray Lewis' last ride, the Ravens' clear superiority in special teams. The problem for Baltimore is I can come up with way more reasons to like San Francisco: a defense with more elite-level talent, a quarterback who can beat you with his arms and legs, the ridiculous mismatches that can be exploited in the middle of the field, and a coach who might self-combust if the 49ers lose.
The spread is 3 1/2 right now. I'll buy it down to three just in case, but it won't be necessary.
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49ers 35, Ravens 24
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.