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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Adam Reeves: Super Bowl features plenty
of storylines for football fans, non-fans alike

On Sunday, Feb. 3, the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens will kick off the 47th edition of America’s biggest holiday—the Super Bowl. In the week leading up to the big game in New Orleans, every fact, statistic, angle and storyline will be hashed, rehashed and then hashed some more. For those readers lacking the stamina needed to sort through all this hype and hyperbole, don’t fret, this column is for you. Whether you’re a concussion-hardened football fanatic or just watching for the commercials, this article will tell you everything you need to know to enjoy the game, impress your friends and avoid saying embarrassing things like “wait, are those coaches related?”


The teams


The No. 2 seed San Francisco 49ers arrive at the Super Bowl from the NFC after beating the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons. From the AFC, the No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens survived Wild Card Weekend to reach the season’s final game by beating the the Indianapolis Colts and pulling off upsets versus the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots. While San Francisco spent most of the 2012 season among the league’s top teams, the Ravens backed into the playoffs, losing four of their last five games.


Facts for the fans: The NFC was this year’s dominant conference, going 15-6 against the AFC. Even more lopsided is the record of the final four teams in inter-conference games: the Falcons and 49ers went 6-0 in games against teams from the AFC, while the Ravens and Patriots went a combined 3-5 against their NFC counterparts.


Facts for the non-fans: The 49ers are named for the miners who ventured to California during the gold rush of 1849. The Ravens are named for the subject of Baltimore native Edgar Allen Poe’s most well-known poem.


The Storylines


Easily the most talked-about (and overblown) storyline in the coming week will be the matchup between brothers John and Jim Harbaugh, head coaches for the Ravens and 49ers respectively. Nicknaming the matchup the “Harbowl,” the media seized on the relationship between the two coaches as soon as Baltimore finished off its victory against the Patriots last week. Other than its statistical improbability, it’s unclear why this story matters. The brothers won’t speak before Sunday’s game and their parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, may not even attend, preferring instead to watch from their basement in Mequon, Wisconsin.


(Logo from NFL)

Facts for the fans: While everyone will be talking about the Harbowl or about the impending retirement of Ray Lewis, they should be talking about 49ers kicker and Lexington native David Akers. This is Akers’s fifteenth season in the NFL and second Super Bowl appearance (his first was with the Eagles in Super Bowl 39). Long considered a reliable field goal kicker, Akers has fallen apart this season. In the regular season, Akers converted only 29 field goals in 49 attempts, a career low. In his only attempt last week against the Falcons, the Tates Creek High School alum sent the ball clanging off the left upright. To their credit, the 49ers remain committed to Akers, but they have to be worried about his accuracy from long range. Akers is just 9 of 19 this season on field goal attempts of 40 yards or more. With an inexperienced quarterback, the 49ers are going to need Akers to quickly return to form.


Facts for the non-fans: When the teams are introduced before the game, look for Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Before every game, Lewis does a dance. Like an enraged James Brown, Lewis throws grass from the field into the air, slides to the left, slides to the right and throws his arms back while unleashing primal scream. Lewis calls this the ”Squirrel Dance.” You can learn how to do it here.


The Matchups


In 2012, the Ravens and 49ers both demonstrated they were teams of mistaken identities. Historically, Baltimore has relied on its defense to win games. But, with stalwarts Ed Reed and Ray Lewis either getting older, injured or both, the Ravens defense looked more pedestrian in 2012, finishing the year ranked No. 16 in overall defense. Quarterback Joe Flacco and the rest of the Ravens offense has picked up the slack this season. Since firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, the Ravens offense has excelled, averaging 406.2 yards a game in the final three games of the regular season and 424.7 yards during the post-season. On the other side of the field, most causal fans still think of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and the West Coast Offense when they think of the 49ers. Under coach Jim Harbaugh, however, the 49ers have installed one of the league’s best defenses, finishing 2012 ranked third overall. With quarterback Colin Kaepernick leading the offense to average 36.5 points per game this postseason, the Ravens will have to continue their offensive transformation to keep up with the favored-49ers.


Facts for the fans: While the stellar defensive line and linebacker Patrick Willis tend to get most of the credit for the 49ers defensive prowess, it is an improved 49ers secondary that has cemented the team’s defense as one of the best in the league. Cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson helped hold opposing quarterbacks in 2012 to an average quarterback rating of 77.8 during the regular season. Predicting the Super Bowl based on one matchup is silly, but the game could come down to whether the Ravens can succeed in passing situations on third down. The 49ers front seven promises to give running back Ray Rice trouble, especially early in the game, setting up the possibility of frequent third-and-long situations for the Ravens. During the regular season, the Ravens offense only converted third downs through the air 33 percent of the time, good enough for just 24th in the league, while the 49ers defense was third-best at getting opposing offenses off the field in passing situations. This postseason, Joe Flacco has looked good through the air, especially when throwing deep, and he will have to keep this up if the Ravens plan to stay in the game.


Facts for the non-fans: Colin Kaepernick will start the Super Bowl as quarterback for the 49ers, but he didn’t start the season that way. The second-year player from the University of Nevada did not start a game for the 49ers until Alex Smith suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams on November 11. Since then? Kaepernick has led the 49ers offense with his arm and his legs, throwing for 10 touchdowns and rushing for 5. Against Green Bay, Kaepernick set a league record by running for 181 yards in the game, the most ever for a quarterback in any game. Like the discount-doublecheck of Aaron Rogers, Kaepernick has his own touchdown move. After scoring, Kaepernick “kisses” his flexed bicept, resembling a sort of upright version of “Tebowing.” Kaepernick has even attempted to trademark the phrase “Kaepernicking,” in reference to the move.


The Prediction
San Francisco 30 Baltimore 24


Adam Reeves is a Lexington native and practices law at the firm of Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP. Adam attended the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where he majored in history and government and eventually attended law school. Adam returned to Kentucky and clerked for the Hon. Eugene E. Siler Jr. on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Adam also writes about sports for PorchDrinking.com, a website devoted to reviewing beers and furthering the discussions that happen when you open one with friends.



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