Saturday, February 2, 2013

Oh hey, there's a football game on Sunday night

I had a dream Friday morning that I was up close and watching the Giants in the Super Bowl this Sunday. It was exciting, exhilerating and I didn't want to wake up lest I spoil the fun. There were a few issues with this setup, though.

1) They don't let you sit in the middle of the field to watch the action during the Super Bowl.
2) The Super Bowl is being played in the New York area next year, not this year.
3) The Super Bowl definitely isn't being played on the turf field in Queens West across the street from me.
4) That field doesn't even have the dimensions to hold an NFL field.
5) You cannot see One World Trade Center from the field in Queens West.
6) The New York Giants are not playing in the Super Bowl this summer.

That last one is the only one that really upsets me, but as they say, all good things something something. So this Sunday, the Giants will be handing off the Lombardi Trophy for, I don't know, like a year maybe, to either the Baltimore Ravens or the San Francisco 49ers. It's a pretty big game if I'm not mistaken -- so big in fact that it is not happening at Queens West Field but rather the Superdome in New Orleans.

Potato, Potahto.

So yeah, Super Bowl XLVII is happening this weekend and while it doesn't carry the intrigue or global import of, say, any Super Bowl the Giants might be playing in, apparently it's still going to be played. I'm pretty surprised about this, but such is life. I will be watching anyway.

Even though many pundits, friends and coworkers of mine have tried to convince me that this Super Bowl is one of the more boring matchups in recent memory, while the media is apparently trying to convince me that Ray Lewis, Jim Harbaugh and John Harbaugh are the only three people involved in this game, I'm still going to be interested and glued to the TV at kickoff Sunday night at 6:30 because I'm a total sap for these things and have been ever since I watched the Super Bowl for the first time (HOLY SHIT) 19 years ago. Also, this game is way more interesting because Jim and John Harbaugh are actually brothers, which the media should really start reporting if it hasn't yet.

I'm actually kind of surprised that this is what the Super Bowl ended up being, though I'm not sure why considering both of these teams were sexy preseason picks, but I'm going to try and be less surprised by the outcome. That is to say, who on Earth do I think is going to win this thing? Well I'll tell you in a minute, but here are the things I'm going to be watching for.

Spreading it out - One of the big things I've harped on to friends and foes over the last two years on just about any form of social media available to me is that coaches in the NFL are way too conservative and the clearest example of this (aside from the fact that they don't ever go for it on fourth down when they should) is the league-wide refusal to embrace the spread offense. Granted, many people believe you need a certain type of personnel to effectively run the spread offense or the read option -- and there have only been so many viable options for this in the past few years -- but while a running quarterback helps, that's not entirely the point. Any quarterback can run the spread offense because it's not about having a moble signal caller that can keep plays alive and stretch the defense (though it helps), it's about forcing the defense to cover the entire width of the field and stretching it thin. The future of football is not ramming it down your opponents through and winning a strongman competition. It's getting your best athletes into open space so they can do what they do.

This is not exactly what the San Francisco 49ers do, but with Colin Kaepernick taking the reins from Alex Smith at midseason, they've tailored their offense to take advantage of his mobility and given us what is essentially the closest we've ever come to seeing the modern spread offense in a Super Bowl. There is nothing the NFL loves more than copying what makes other teams successful and if the Niners win -- and win big -- the spread more get more and more influence as a validated offensive strategy.

Shut up about Joe Flacco not being a top tier quarterback - There are a whole bunch of people who have talked about Flacco simply not being able to win the big one or be in the same tier of players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. Well.... he's not in that class, but he's damn good. Oh, and he's also won a playoff game in each of the last five seasons (his only five seasons in the NFL), which is something none of the four guys I mentioned previously have managed to do. If the Ravens win, maybe, just maybe, people will shut up about Joe Flacco.

Look at all those old guys - Ray Lewis is getting all the pub, but people seem to be forgetting that likely, or potential future Hall-of-Fame veterans like Randy Moss, Frank Gore, Matt Birk and Ed Reed are all in this game, too. And none of them have won a Super Bowl. We all know this is Lewis' "last ride," but Lewis has a ring already. None of these guys may get another chance at it.

How will Michael Oher handle that defensive line - Everyone thinks Michael Oher must be fantastic because he won Sandra Bullock an Oscar, which is really quite the feat when you think about it, but even if Oher is great at blocking college kids or, well, me, he's not quite an elite NFL tackle just yet. Unfortunately for him, he's going to be facing an elite front seven Sunday night. The one thing that has stuck in my mind since last season's NFC Championship Game, is that the 49ers' defensive front is really, really fast. Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis form the core of what is an absolutely terrific defense. And they're awfully tough to play against. It ends up being cliche after about four seconds to talk about how football is won or lost at the line of scrimmage, but this game just might be if the Niners can go at Oher and exploit the weak spot of the Baltimore offense. More to the point, finding ways to neutralize San Francisco's defensive speed and keep it off balance is one of, if not the key to the game.

Oh yeah, Baltimore's defense is pretty good, too - But it's also old. Lewis, Reed, Bernard Pollard, Terrell Suggs and Holati Ngata aren't all exactly spring chickens, but they generally can make up for any age-related deficiencies with veteran savvy. That could be tough against a quarterback who beats you with his feet in addition to his arm and how the Ravens' older defenders hold up against a potentially exhausting assignment will be an indicator of who is taking Lombardi home.

So who the hell is winning? - Oh, jeez. I don't know really, but I do know a lot of people have begun to jump on the Ravens bandwagon despite them being an underdog for either Team-Of-Destiny reasons or sentimentality over Ray Lewis, which is its own bizarre sideshow. I don't really know who is going to win, but for some reason I can't help but think the speed of San Francisco's front seven and the versatility of its offense could be too much for the Ravens to overcome. It would be interesting because the 49ers, while one of the NFL's great dynastic franchises, are not a team I'm really used to seeing win. Even with the championship history of Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and Steve Young, many people forget San Francisco hasn't won a Super Bowl in 18 years. That's not the longest drought in the League by a long shot, but it isn't short either -- and it's longer than the Giants have ever gone between Super Bowl victories.

Besides, if you hadn't heard the two coaches are brothers and that's something I can actually lend some experience with. My older brother is happily married and has three Emmys. I'm single with not one pulitzer for this blog. The older brother always wins. It's time for some vindication and maybe, just maybe, Jim is going to pull one out for all us fraternal second-placers.

Super Bowl XLVII
San Francisco 31, Baltimore 26.