I like the 49ers to win by around 10. This is the home of the Speedy Saints, and overall team speed will be the difference in this game.
No doubt the Ravens have worked hard for a week and change to discover routes to flustering/slowing the dynamic COLIN KAEPERNICK. But my belief is they will not be able to halt the "read-option" offense for the balance of the game. I fully expect Kaepernick to amass some negative runs early, and for a veteran-laden, wound-up Ravens to be ready for the run early and often, but once Kaepernick hits on a few passes it all opens up.
MICHAEL CRABTREE and VERNON DAVIS are capable of winning almost every one-on-one battle, and I expect San Fran. to start conservatively then speed up things as the game rolls on. The Niners are markedly faster in many key spots than Baltimore, and the LBs are good enough to handle WRs in the spread and RAY RICE all over the field. That they have defeated Green Bay and Atlanta to get here means they have covered it all -- two of the game's best passing attacks and the Falcons' rough-and-tumble running game. They have been to defensive Handling School.
The Ravens will try to get over top of the safeties and probably will stick a couple of long ones on this defense. But for the balance of the game I like San Francisco's OL, DL, running game and secondary more. Plus the rookie kicker is more reliable than DAVID AKERS.
I think this is a big FRANK GORE game and am predicting he's the game's MVP. I have him on around 125 and two. SF HC JIIM HARBAUGH is as cold-blooded as any, and I expect him to isloate RAY LEWIS in the passing game and to expose a guy I don't think is covering the pass very well for the entire game.
JOE FLACCO has the best postseason stats of any QB (eight TDs, zero INTs), but has not seen a defense as tenecious as the Niners'. Conversely, Baltimore's defense has done well most of the time against Indy, Denver and New England but has not seen the speed of Colin Kaepernick, and the guessing on the option run game better be perfect or the second-year kid will run explosively.
... TWOLVES: My beloved Wolves. I receive Tweets and emails from dedicated Rubes requesting more Wolves talk and less on the Wild. And given for most of my run at KFAN (15 years in July) I have dedicated markedly more time to the Wolves I get fans realize I have plenty of emotional equity invested in this squad.
I still watch most of the games and have attended six this year, but fact is the Wild is the more compelling story at this moment. This Wild bit is fantastic right now because the storylines include highly paid players (PARISE/SUTER) settling in, goalies getting pulled early in the first period, my weekly guest MATT CULLEN beating the 'Hawks via shootout, newbies like GRANLUND and BRODIN acclimating to the highest level, and tough guys like CAL CLUTTERBUCK hitting everything in site.
Plus, having gotten to know HC MIKE YEO fairly well the last four months I find myself pulling for him. He's very intense, and his call last night to pull a struggling HARDING like six minutes into it was an elite head coaching maneuver. It's a treat watching the young coach find his voice and develop confidence.
So, the Wolves always will have a place on the 9-to-Nooner, but I have become tired of the losing, the injuries, THE SPANISH KID not being the same and the fade from postseason chances. I also soured on the bit a tad when KEVIN LOVE publicly destroyed the organizational approach then played terribly, not backing up his prattle.
I forever am a Wolves fan and basketball guy at heart, but this hockey team is very exciting, I am learning more about the game chat by chat, the penalty box shows are the highlight of my professional weeks and the personalities are unique. There's room for both in the 9-to-Noon mix, and the Wild get center stage for now because I truly believe it's a division-winning team that might go to the Stanley Cup. If that's the case 9-to-Noon has a chance to be right next to it emotionally and I am not missing the opportunity.