Evolution of Opinion: The Story of the 2012 49ers and Ravens

There’s going to be plenty of time later in the week to delve into the key Super Bowl matchups with the proper amount of depth (get psyched for our 10,000 word preview of the long snappers on Thursday!), but today we’re going to take a look back at how the 49ers and Ravens got to this point, one game away from fondling the Lombardi Trophy with their sweaty, mangled hands. Each NFL season begins with a set of preconceived notions we harbor for every team based on their previous season’s performance, the moves they made in the offseason, and the unintentional comedy potential they possess. As the season progresses, however, those preconceived notions change virtually by a week-to-week basis. When a team wins one week, they’re unstoppable and can’t be beaten! (See: the Cowboys after their opening-night win over the Giants). When they lost the next week, they’re unspeakably awful and it’s time to blow up the franchise (See: the Ravens after their blowout loss to Houston).

With that in mind, I thought it would be entertaining to revisit some of the things I wrote about both the 49ers and Ravens to see how my views of each team changed over the course of the season. To start out with, I was slightly wrong on both team’s playoff chances in the preseason – I picked both teams to finish 3rd in their respective divisions (that Steelers-Eagles Super Bowl prediction’s looking pretty good right now, am I right?) and didn’t expect either team to crack nine wins. Once the season started, however, I was a relatively early adopter to the 49ers-for-the-Super-Bowl bandwagon; on the other hand, I remained bearish on the Ravens’ championship hopes all the way through the AFC Championship Game. Hindsight is so accurate, isn’t it? Let’s use it as a fun tool for examining these past posts of mine:

San Francisco 49ers

August 22, 2012 (preseason preview) “[The 49ers’] success last season was completely built around unsustainably favorable turnover differential and unsustainably excellent special teams. Move the turnover margin around to about average and downgrade the special teams from great to merely good and you see a team with a good but not great defense and an offense that is wholly dependent on receiving great field position from the other phases of the team. ‘Regression to the mean’ was a term created with the 2012 49ers in mind.”

September 10, 2012 (Week 1: beat Green Bay 30-22)“Everyone looking to slow down Green Bay’s offense: the blueprint has officially been provided. The 49ers copied the Giants’ defensive game plan from the NFC Divisional Round last year, focusing most of their efforts on preventing the likes of Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, and James Jones from beating them deep and instead forcing Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball underneath the drop-prone Jermichael Finley and fourth receiver Randall Cobb…Massive credit has to go to Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers, however: they joined the Cowboys as owners of the most impressive victories of Week 1.”

September 17, 2012 (Week 2: beat Detroit 27-19)“The best part of San Francisco’s 2-0 start this year has been the efficiency with which they’ve moved the ball offensively thus far. Their outstanding turnover luck from last season that has continued in the first two games of 2012 will not last and eventually the 49ers will have suffer through some three-turnover stinkbombs this year. But so far through two games, the San Francisco offense is averaging 5.9 yards per play, a mark that would have tied for tenth in the league last year. If the Niners continue to move the ball at something approaching that rate the rest of the season, they will once again win the NFC West by several games.”

September 24, 2012 (Week 3: lose to Minnesota 24-13)“Naturally, the one week I cave in and pick the Niners against the spread, they finally decide to throw some turnover regression to the mean into their gameplan and turn Christian Ponder into Fran Tarkenton. I KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT FOOTBALL.”

October 3, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“San Francisco has fought off the regression alert we were forecasting for them and actually looks better this year; their offense can actually move the ball and their defense is pretty close to dominant…Expect San Francisco to eventually pull away with this thing.”

October 8, 2012 (Week 5: beat Buffalo 45-3) The 49ers are on as dominant a two-game stretch as you will ever find in the NFL. Against the Jets and Bills, they racked up 1130 Adjusted Yards and allowed 59. This is insane. Jim Harbaugh deserves to win Coach of the Year again.”

October 10, 2012 (Preview of Week 6 game vs. NY Giants)“Let’s put it this way: the only team in the last FIFTY YEARS to outgain their opponents at the same pace as this 49ers team over a full season was the 2001 Rams. Subpar play in the Super Bowl aside, that’s a pretty good team to be compared to…Houston and Atlanta are still unbeaten, yes, but there’s no doubt who the most impressive team in football has been so far. And it’s the one with Alex Smith at quarterback. Just as we all would have suspected eighteen months ago…

October 15, 2012 (Week 6: lost to NY Giants 26-3) As is its wont, the NFL season absolutely refuses all requests to be figured out. The 49ers were coming off utterly dominant victories – and ”utterly dominant” might be selling it short – against the Jets and Bills and responded in a vengeance game against the team that cost them their shot at last year’s Super Bowl with…a complete dud. Maybe Jim Harbaugh let the pep-talking fan in the Visa ad do the gameplanning for this one, too? The blame for this loss can be spread equally amongst all phases of San Francisco’s team, but the common thread between both this week and the Niners’ Week 3 loss to Minnesota is Alex Smith’s ineffectiveness throwing the ball when the defense KNEW he had to throw. Jumping out to a double-digit lead and thereby forcing Smith into predictable passing situations isn’t exactly the easiest blueprint to carry out against the Niners, but Smith will have to carry a comeback on his arm at some point this season for San Francisco to win the Super Bowl.”

October 19, 2012 (Week 7: beat Seattle 13-6)“Man, that 49ers running game is a thing of beauty. The NFL is a passing league now and I’m all for that because, honestly, it’s more exciting to watch a 38-34 crapfest than a 10-6 crapfest. But there’s something intrinsically beautiful/demoralizing (depending on your rooting interest) about seeing a team just ram the ball down another’s throat like the 49ers were doing to the Seahawks in the second half last night. And the Seahawks came in only giving up 3.3 yards per carry! Incredible. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the newest inductee into the Great Backdoor Covers Hall of Fame: Jim Harbaugh’s refusal of the 4th-down holding penalty in the end zone for a safety, instead choosing to just take the ball and kneel out the rest of the clock. And as someone who may or may not have had Seattle +7.5 points, let me just say that I think it was a smart strategical move!”

October 30, 2012 (Week 8: beat Arizona 24-3)“Maybe the bigger takeway from last night’s game is Michael Crabtree might not be a phenomenal bust? I mean, that first touchdown catch at the goalline when [Patrick] Peterson was doing everything short of sodomy in an attempt to knock the ball out of his hands…well, that was a pretty good catch. Megatron himself got the very same type of pass knocked out of his hands last week (then again, Peanut Tillman is a ball-punching god). Is Michael Crabtree a better wide receiver than Megatron? CAN’T RULE IT OUT.”

November 12, 2012 (Week 10: tied St. Louis 24-24) A tie! A tie! A tie! After David Akers missed his field goal attempt midway through the overtime period, I knew it was a possibility, but you never really think that it’s actually going to happen until Sam Bradford throws a fiften-yard out eighty yards away from the end zone on the final play of the game. So unfulfilling. So inconclusive. What a rush these ties are!”

November 20, 2012 (Week 11: beat Chicago 32-7)“I’m sure all of you are aware of this already after watching him play last night and hearing Jon Gruden hyperventilate over him, but holy crap was Colin Kaepernick impressive. He was showing touch on deep throws, great arm strength on stick throws, the great athleticism we already knew he had…I mean, the Bears pass defense in the first nine games of this season was virtually inpenetrable and he went over ten Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt against it. Just phenomenal. Other than the one game a month they seem to take off, the 49ers have looked like the clear best team in the league and if Kaepernick can approximate that level of performance for the rest of the season…oh crap.”

November 26, 2012 (Week 12: beat New Orleans 31-21)“The biggest difference between Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith thus far? In his two starts, Kaepernick has been sacked twice in 50 dropbacks for a sack rate of 4.0%. Smith has been sacked 24 times in 241 dropbacks for a sack rate of 10.0%. The 49ers offensive line is nothing short of phenomenal in run blocking, but honestly they look pretty bad against a pass rush. Kaepernick repeatedly dodged and scrambled his way out of pressure against a below-average Saints front four; Smith likely would have been sacked at least three or four times. I think that’s the biggest reason Kaepernick’s taken over the job; Smith can make and has made 95% of the throws Kaepernick’s completed over the past two games. Kaepernick just gives himself more chances for completions.”

December 3, 2012 (Week 13: lost to St. Louis 16-13 [OT])“How hilarious would it have been if Legatron had missed that field goal with 26 seconds left in OT? The thought of the same two teams playing to a tie TWICE in the same season would have been enough to make Donovan McNabb’s head explode…A measure of respect is due for the 49ers and Rams for trying to accomplish the impossible. Their attempt to make the tie fashionable again is something that we can all attempt to avoid in our own lives.”

December 6, 2012 (Preview of Week 14 game vs. Miami)“[The 49ers are] the only team I really feel good about picking even when they’re giving double-digit points.”

December 10, 2012 (Week 14: beat Miami 24-10)“Anybody else take an, ahem, active interest in how Colin Kaepernick’s last fourth-quarter run turned out? Given that I had picked the 49ers at -10.5, I was obviously standing up at the dinner table while clenching my fork with white knuckles and repeatedly shouting, ‘DON’T STOP AT THE ONE! DON’T STOP AT THE ONE!’ And he didn’t! Would it have technically been a smarter play to stop at the one, so that your team could just kneel out the rest of the clock and not worry about further injury to your players in meaningless action? Of course. But on behalf of all people who picked the Niners yesterday, I’d like to stand and salute Colin Kaepernick for his selfish decision to score the touchdown. Godspeed, buddy.”

December 14, 2012 (Preview of Week 15 game vs. New England)“Jim Harbaugh may be this decade’s great coach, following in the footsteps of [Bill] Belichick, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Vince Lombardi, and Paul Brown before him. Under his direction, 49ers players have rarely if ever looked flummoxed. They maintain outstanding discipline and almost never try to do something they’re incapable of. Like Belichick in the first half of last decade, Harbaugh has been excellent at drawing up novel concepts to play to his players’ strengths and putting them in a position where they can succeed.”

December 17, 2012 (Week 15: beat New England 41-34)“In a span of fourteen game minutes and sixteen seconds (and seemingly five minutes of actual time), New England turned a 31-3 deficit into a 31-31 tie and had ALL THE MOMENTUM IN THE WORLD and obviously Kaepernick was going to throw a pick and Brady would milk the clock down and score one last touchdown and the Patriots would have their greatest win of the- oh wait, LaMichael James just took that kickoff back sixty yards. Oh wait, Kaepernick just hit Michael Crabtree on a thirty-eight yard touchdown pass. Huh. San Francisco won anyway. WHAT ABOUT THE NARRATIVE, GUYS? WHAT ABOUT THE NARRATIVE????”

December 24, 2012 (Week 16: lost to Seattle 42-13)“Much like it seemed EVERYTHING bounced the 49ers’ way during the first 35 minutes of last week’s game at New England, virtually everything seemed to go against them last night, most notably on David Akers’ blocked field goal that bounced RIGHT TO Richard Sherman streaking in the opposite direction. In summary: let’s neither exalt the Seahawks too highly or bury the 49ers too emphatically in the next week or so, okay?”

January 2, 2013 (Postseason Preview)“On paper, this is as close to a bulletproof team as you’re going to find. You’ve known about Frank Gore for about five or six years now and you know that Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Navorro Bowman are utterly terrifying and it’s nothing short of obscenity that they all play on the same defense. Now it looks like they’ve got a real quarterback – an inexperienced one, yes, but a real quarterback nonetheless…From where we are right now, the San Francisco 49ers look like the favorite to win Super Bowl XLIII.”

January 14, 2013 (Divisional Round: beat Green Bay 45-31)“Before we go any further, we must acknowledge that, yes, HOLY CRAP COLIN KAEPERNICK. However, we must also acknowledge that HOLY CRAP COLIN KAEPERNICK doesn’t happen if Dom Capers remotely trains his players against the possibility of the quarterback running. Now Dom’s a very good defensive coordinator, he has been for decades, he’s led the Packers to an above-average defense 3 out of the 4 years he’s been there – firing him over one game probably is an overreaction. But the fact that it’s even a question? Oh, man. It’s like the Packers just re-watched the game film from their Week 1 game against the Niners, got their blitzes all dialed in for Alex Smith, and tossed out the play at the end of the first half where Kaepernick gained 17 yards on a designed quarterback keeper. ‘Who? Kaeperdinck? Don’t think they’re gonna run that surprise play again, let’s just delete that play off the hard drive.'”

January 21, 2013 (NFC Championship: beat Atlanta 28-24): “It took me a long while to get on the 49ers’ bandwagon this year – you may remember a certain 6.9 win projection coming out from these parts around August that started looking ridiculous around late September – but it became clear around the midway point of the season that this was clearly the best team in the league if you disregarded the quarterback position. And given how well Alex Smith was playing before he got Wally Pipped by Colin Kaepernick in November, maybe they would have still made the Super Bowl without making the switch around Thanksgiving. But Kaepernick definitely lifts this team up a level with not only his speed (which is well-celebrated at this point) but also his ability to make strong throws into tight coverage. He made several such throws yesterday over the middle for critical first downs, throws that Smith was not often eager to make.”

Baltimore Ravens

July 24, 2012 (preseason preview): “The projection [of 7.7 wins] for the Ravens is probably a bit too pessimistic, but I can’t shake the feeling that last year was their big opportunity and they came up just a little short. They were finally able to get past the Steelers for the division title, taking advantage of an easier-than-average schedule, had a genuine chance at winning the Super Bowl in a year where there were no truly great teams (no, not even the Packers), and basically played the Patriots to a draw in a great AFC Championship game. Unfortunately, the Ravens were the team that had to lose. And now Terrell Suggs will largely be lost from a defense that has slipped from great to very good in the past few years and will likely slide down another level this year. Couple that with one of the toughest schedules in the league and improved teams in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and 2012 shapes up to be a year where Baltimore will truly have to earn its way back to the postseason.”

September 11, 2012 (Week 1: beat Cincinnati 44-13): “The Ravens’ plan to move towards a up-tempo, no-huddle attack offensively seemed fairly laughable in the preseason; after marching through Cincinnati’s defense with little resistance last night, however, no one’s laughing now. Hat tip, in particular, to Joe Flacco for making some phenomenal throws – in particular, the one in which he threaded the needle to Anquan Boldin 34 yards down the field while Boldin was sandwiched between two defenders.”

September 17, 2012 (Week 2: lost to Philadelphia 24-23)“As for the Ravens, it turns out you can probably shelve those Peyton Manning and Jim Kelly comparisons for their offense. Facing what looks to be a considerably better defense this week than the Bengals’ unit they faced last Monday night, Joe Flacco and Co. largely reverted to the form they’ve shown in years past: streaky periods of success mixed in with prolonged dry spells. The reason Sunday was the lack of success throwing to Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin: Rice only got 53 yards on ten targets (37 of which came on one play) and Boldin only picked seven yards on four targets. The Ravens struggled on third down as a result.”

September 20, 2012 (preview of Week 3 game against New England)“The normally mild-mannered Flacco had some scathing remarks for the officials following the Ravens’ 24-23 loss to the Eagles. In particular, Joe took issue with the iffy Offensive Pass Interference call on Jacoby Jones in the fourth quarter that took a Ravens touchdown off the board. So if another bad call goes against the Ravens Sunday night, will Flacco try picking off the replacements one-by-one with his cannon? I was about to toss out the question of which quarterback in the NFL would be the best at murdering mass amounts of people simply by throwing a football at them. But, as it is with most quarterback discussions these days, the correct answer to that question is Aaron Rodgers and there’s not really any debate about it. Still, here’s hoping that Joe gets even slightly unhinged Sunday night!”

September 24, 2012 (Week 3: beat New England 31-30):  I’d like to start off by saying that Baltimore should be playing a marquee team on Sunday nights every week; when I eventually oust Roger Goodell, that will be the first change I make to the schedule. The following statement is one made with no research and may not actually be true, but I’ll say it anyway: no other franchise over the past five years has played more consistently entertaining games than the Edgar Allan Poes. They’re the perfect foil for any great team: they’re always ready to play, always prepared, always give max effort, and they’re good enough on both sides of the ball to hang around against any style of team but not dominant to the point where they can actually pull away. The result the past couple of weeks has been a couple of highly entertaining games involving the Ravens: a one-point loss to the Eagles and last night’s one-point win over the Patriots…Consider this a heartfelt thank-you, Baltimore, for always delivering in big games.”

October 3, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“Joe Flacco has had the best start of his career and the Ravens’ offense is actually looking pretty high-powered for the first time since Vinny Testaverde was slinging passes around to the other Michael Jackson in 1996.”

October 8, 2012 (Week 5: beat Kansas City 9-6)“What an inspiring football game this was! Well done, guys. I don’t think Chiefs fans really understood what they were getting into when they cheered Matt Cassel’s concussion. IT’S BRADY QUINN COMING OFF THE BENCH. That’s no victory at all. Baltimore should be ashamed of themselves for only winning by three.”

October 18, 2012 (preview of Week 7 game vs. Houston)“You may have heard Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb were both lost for the season this week due to injuries they suffered in last week’s victory over the Cowboys. You could make a strong case that Lewis is the greatest middle/inside linebacker of all-time, but his physical skills have diminished this season to the point where he was nothing more than an above-average player. Webb, on the other hand, had turned into a legitimate #1 corner this year and his presence on the field will be much harder to replace.”

October 22, 2012 (Week 7: lost to Houston 43-13)“One of the search engine terms that led some poor sap to this blog yesterday was the following question: “are the ravens teh (sic) same team houston played last year.” And what I think yesterday’s game proved rather emphatically, dear anonymous internet reader, is that no, they are not. At least, not on the road. The Ravens are now 1-2 away from home this season and the one win was an ugly-as-sin 9-6 squeaker over Kansas City that inspired the Arrowhead Stadium faithful to cheer Matt Cassel’s concussion. Joe Flacco and Co. are scoring 32.25 points per game at home so far and 15 on the road. If you want to widen the sample size and include last year’s road performance, remember that the Ravens tossed in some road stinkbombs last year as well in Jacksonville, Tennessee, Seattle, and San Diego. Given their defense’s grave injury troubles and mediocre play even before the injuries set in, I’d say there’s some cause for concern here.”

November 7, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“Baltimore mirrored their 3-1 record from the first quarter of the season, but looked considerably less impressive doing so; close wins over Kansas City, Dallas, and Cleveland were glossed over in the wake of an ugly blowout loss at Houston…As usual, however, the [AFC North] will ultimately be decided by the two Ravens-Steelers games coming up Nov. 18 and Dec. 2.”

November 16, 2012 (Preview of Week 11 game vs. Pittsburgh)“Like the Saints last year, the Ravens have been playing like Super Bowl contenders at home and a below-.500 team on the road. This is almost 100% the offense’s doing. At home, they’re averaging 36.8 points per game and an outstanding 6.77 yards per play (league average is 5.5). On the other hand, when they go on the road those averages dip to 17.5 points per game and 4.49 yards per play. That’s basically the equivalent of being the 2000 Rams at home and the 2011 Jaguars on the road.”

November 19, 2012 (Week 11: defeated Pittsburgh 13-10)“Meanwhile, Baltimore proved that scoring offensive touchdowns is highly overrated, as they rode Jacoby Jones’ punt return touchdown and two Justin Tucker field goals to victory. It was Jones’ third kick return touchdown of the season, an achievement that will make his eventual two muffed punts in the playoffs all the more painful. Is it possible that Baltimore may eventually have to find a way to score points offensively on the road in order to win in the playoffs? Perhaps. Is it more possible that they’ll poison Houston’s pre-game meal in the divisional round so that the Texans will be too, ahem, ‘occupied’ to focus on their actual opponent and the Ravens will never have to leave M&T Bank Stadium? I SAY YES.”

November 26, 2012 (Week 12: defeated San Diego 16-13 [OT])“RAY RICE!!! First of all, what on earth was Flacco thinking throwing a three-yard dumpoff on 4th-and-29? More importantly, what was going through Ray’s head at that point? ‘Oh, don’t you throw that ball to me, you know what crap I’m gonna have to pull to get that first down? Aw crap, Joe, you ARE going to stick me with this, aren’t you? Well, you’re not going to make me the scapegoat, you big Frankenstein. I’m gonna get this first down and then the pressure’ll be back on you, Flaccid Face.’ You heard it here first: Ray Rice converted that 4th-and-29 out of pure spite.”

December 5, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“Baltimore kicked off the third quarter of the season with a 35-point blowout win over the Raiders, then played three-point games the rest of the way and relied on Ray Rice converting 4th-and-29s a bit too much for this reporter’s liking…the Ravens have the second-hardest remaining schedule in the league and will have no chance at a bye if they lose to Denver on Dec. 16.”

December 6, 2012 (Preview of Week 14 game vs. Redskins)“Joe Flacco is actually pretty mobile for a man his size but for all the world, whenever he runs, it never seems that way. Sometimes he’s able to make Drew Bledsoe retroactively look like Darren Sproles.”

December 10, 2012 (Week 14: lost to Washington 31-28 [OT])“Baltimore, on the other hand, is the master of playing almost EXACTLY to their opponents’ capabilities. This isn’t a particularly useful skill when you should be blowing out Kansas City and are instead needing a dubious roughing-the-passer penalty to get out of Arrowhead with a three-point win. But it IS useful when your next three games are against the Broncos, Giants, and Bengals. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh’s losses yesterday basically assure the AFC North title will go to Baltimore, which in turn likely assures us all that the Ravens will win one playoff game and then lose a heartbreaker in the second round.”

December 24, 2012 (Week 16: beat NY Giants 33-14)“The Ravens illustrated a truth about the Giants defense that has been apparent all season but rarely seen in practice: if you don’t turn the ball over against the Giants, you’ll be able to move the ball at will.”

January 2, 2013 (Postseason Preview)“The Ravens are the masters of winning a playoff game and then bowing out gracefully. Short of a climactic final scene getting added to the eventual #Chuckstrong movie Sunday, that once again seems to be the path Baltimore will venture on. Like Houston, they’re decent in everything, great in nothing (except special teams, so if there was any time for you to start returning two kickoffs for touchdowns a game, Jacoby Jones, THIS WOULD BE IT). Their chances are slightly better than the Texans simply because they’re more likely to win their Wild-Card game. After that? No bueno.”

January 7, 2013 (Wild-Card Round: beat Indianapolis 24-9): “Even though the Ravens were moving the ball at will against them yesterday, it always seemed like the Colts were going to pull one out again. Ray Rice was fumbling, Andrew Luck was hitting receivers five yards short of the marker but the receivers would run around like chickens with their heads cut off until they got the first down – it had all the hallmarks of a classic Colts win, really. I’m still shocked Baltimore won, I really am.”

January 10, 2013 (Preview of Divisional Round game against Denver)“You can never outright dismiss the Ravens – they’re one of the most well-coached and competitive teams in the league. But this year’s team isn’t one of their strongest – they have great special teams and ‘only’ above-average everywhere else. Against a Broncos team that looks like they’ve got things pretty well figured out, merely above-average probably isn’t going to cut it.”

January 14, 2013 (Divisional Round: beat Denver 38-35 [2OT])“Outside of a period in the second quarter where he went cold, Joe Flacco was outstanding. The below-zero wind chills clearly affected his arm far less than Peyton [Manning’s], who was off on virtually every throw outside the numbers all night. For Joe, on the other hand, it could probably be seventy below zero and he’d still probably be able to chuck it seventy yards. And if he was ever asked about the cold, he would probably just shrug his shoulders and reply with no hint of emotion on his face, ‘Huh. Yeah, I suppose it is.’ He’s a live wire, that Joe Flacco! Played really well on Saturday, though.”

January 18, 2013 (Preview of AFC Championship Game vs. New England)“The Ravens absolutely can win this game and, frankly, I’ll be rooting for them to do so – all this continued excellence and greatness out of New England gets really boring after a while. However, after being on the field for 87 plays from scrimmage against both the Colts and Broncos, I have to wonder how much gas the Baltimore defense will have left in the second half Sunday night… While on the one hand you get the sense that the Ravens can’t wind up being stuck as the AFC bridesmaid EVERY year…on the other, you can’t find enough good reasons to think that they won’t.”

January 21, 2013 (AFC Championship: beat New England 28-13): “How unlikely did the Ravens’ Super Bowl chances look three weeks ago? They’re not exactly the 2007 Giants, but there wasn’t too much statistical evidence supporting a theory that a 10-6 team that had lost four out of their last five games heading into the playoffs and were hovering right around league average on both sides of the ball would turn into the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. The eye test, unreliable as it can be on occasion, didn’t do the Ravens any favors, either. Outside of their opening week victory against the Bengals, Baltimore never played a game in which they truly looked like one of the best teams in the league and their disastrous performance in Houston in October seemed to indicate that the only way they’d ever make the Super Bowl would be if they somehow got home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. At the beginning of the postseason, I gave Baltimore a 10% chance of making the Super Bowl and said they had the same shot at winning it all as a normal person does of developing hemorrhoids. I like to think that was what inspired them to upset Denver and New England and not anything Ray Lewis said or did.”

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