Baltimore Ravens have tools to be Super Bowl champs


NEW ORLEANS -- I was the only writer to roll with the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, giving me one final chance at a hero pick. After grinding through a week of interviews here and a lot of Game Rewind last week, here's why I believe the Ravens will beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday:

Passes up the seam

My biggest takeaway from reviewing film of last year's Ravens-49ers game: Baltimore's offense had a better day than the 16-6 final score indicated. The Ravens moved the ball fairly well and protected quarterback Joe Flacco. The key was Baltimore's ability to throw passes up the seam to Anquan Boldin, Ed Dickson, even Ray Rice lined up outside.

The Ravens have the weapons to attack the 49ers over the middle, where safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner sometimes can be caught out of position. Boldin figures to see a lot of Carlos Rogers in this game; Rogers is not playing particularly well.

Running back depth

Is Bernard Pierce more dangerous at this point than Ray Rice? There's a case to be made when you watch Pierce closely. His lateral agility is crazy. His power and ability to get to the outside might be superior to Rice's. The Ravens struggled in short yardage last year against the 49ers, but Pierce should help in that area this time. (Don't get me wrong: Rice remains very important to Baltimore and more valuable on passing downs.)

Maulers up front

It's hard to underestimate the big impact of Baltimore's late-season offensive line shift. Michael Oher is much more comfortable at right tackle. That moved Kelechi Osemele to left guard, where he has been pushing people around in the running game. The Ravens are getting explosive plays on the ground. Bryant "Mount" McKinnie has been very good at left tackle, although I'm a little worried about how he'll handle Aldon Smith's speed on the outside.

Flacco goes for it

Flacco tested the New England Patriots vertically again and again two weeks ago in the AFC Championship Game. It actually didn't work all that often early in the game, but Flacco kept going after deep passes even when his receivers weren't open that much. That's what it's going to take against this 49ers defense. Flacco always has been willing to make the tough throws. He can be streaky, but lately those throws have been working.

It's also a bonus that Ravens coaches have become as aggressive as Flacco. Up 15 points in the fourth quarter against the Patriots, the Ravens called three consecutive pass plays. It didn't work, which gave New England more time for a possible comeback. But the thought was right: This Baltimore team can't sit on leads.

Flacco's ability to throw under duress

Flacco's athleticism and movement skills don't get enough credit. He also has done an excellent job throwing the ball with bodies around him in the playoffs. It's hard to imagine him having a clean pocket all night against San Francisco.

Ngata's revival

It hasn't been a dominant season for Haloti Ngata because of nagging injuries, but he improved down the stretch. The bye week should do him well. He has become a force in stopping the running game once again.

Defense greater than sum of its parts

This version of the Ravens' defense doesn't wow you with individual plays, but they are playing great as a unit. They held the Broncos' offense to 21 points and the Patriots to 13 points. The key: The Ravens are doing a great job preventing big plays.

Baltimore held San Francisco to 170 yards last time. That experience should go a long way.

Ed Reed

Baltimore's pass rush has not been great this season. It certainly didn't stand out against the Patriots, and this week's matchup will be very difficult. Reed can be the equalizer. The veteran safety has done a fantastic job taking away vertical shots by roaming centerfield. Every once in a while, defenses have fooled Colin Kaepernick. Reed is the ultimate calculated risk taker. Kaepernick doesn't go to his secondary read often.

Reed is my underdog pick for Super Bowl MVP.

Hurry-up works against 49ers

The Atlanta Falcons used the no-huddle offense to great effect against the 49ers two weeks ago. It limits the complex sets that San Francisco likes to use. Don't be surprised if Baltimore breaks out a lot of no huddle Sunday to speed up the game.

Because it makes no sense

It's almost as if the regular season doesn't matter at all anymore. The New York Giants have proven it twice. The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl as a No. 6 seed. The Arizona Cardinals should have won it after a lackluster regular season.

It's not about the first 16 weeks. It's about the last few weeks. And no team is playing better since the playoffs started than the Ravens.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.