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I'm done with underestimating the Baltimore Ravens.
For the record, I've picked them to lose, either publicly or privately, in every playoff game they've had this postseason. The first week, against the Colts, I was sucked in by the sentimentality of Chuck Pagano's great return to health and coaching. Wrong.
The second week, I figured no way would Peyton Manning and the No.1 seed Broncos lose at home to the aging, shell-of-their-former-defense Ravens. Wrong.
In the AFC Championship, Tom Brady at home was a lock. He'd get a lead. His defense wouldn't make the boneheaded plays Denver's did. Bill Belichick would know how to coach under pressure. So long Ravens.
Wrong again, a hat trick of prophesy failure.
That's it. I'm all in on the Ravens over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. Make it Baltimore 20, San Francisco 17. Give Ray Lewis his going-away cry. As long as he goes away, it's a win-win.
I'm ignoring the 49ers' incredible defensive front line, despite the fact they seem built to throttle Ray Rice, harass Joe Flacco and force turnovers when turnovers can least be afforded. I'm ignoring Colin Kaepernick's meteoric rise as the latest face of the “new-era quarterback.” (I have to be honest, we've had quite a run of superlatives about who's the new top gun, from Andrew Luck to Robert Griffin III to Russell Wilson and now to Kaepernick. No doubt, they'll be shuffled again next year.)
I'm ignoring Jim Harbaugh's genius as 49ers coach. There's a fine line between genius and insanity and Jim Harbaugh walks that tightrope. Who changes quarterbacks mid-season without a season-ending injury or an implosion full of interceptions and bad decisions? The list is one: Harbaugh. Kaepernick ignited the Niners. Last I looked, they were still on fire. I'm ignoring that.
The 49ers are favored to win, and that makes sense. On paper, they have a younger, deeper, stronger team.
You can't weigh emotion. You can't weigh inner drive. You can't weigh that mojo that teams seem to find (see the Giants and Packers of recent vintage) that allows them to elevate their game above the X's and O's and measurements of their skill.
Not even the introduction of “deer antler spray” into the sports lexicon can slow Lewis' drive to have that career finale moment. Obviously, the story about Lewis' unorthodox and perhaps against-the-rules use of deer antler spray to speed up the healing process was timed to break when the world was watching. Lewis denied it. Who expected anything else? And, to be honest, if Lewis and the Ravens win the Super Bowl, and it turns out Lewis used a banned substance, well, that would fit pretty well into everything else in sports that seemed one way but turned fraudulent later.
You can't measure the power of feeling slighted. Despite the fact Joe Flacco has won three playoff games, thrown zero picks and knocked out Luck, Manning and Brady in consecutive weeks, he's the “other quarterback” in the hype machine this week.
Flacco's motivation might also be heightened by the business-side reality that it's time for a new contract. Yes, they all play for the love of the game. But they also know that love can be especially lucrative if the timing is right. Wearing a figurative Super Bowl ring into negotiations can't hurt.
Throw much-maligned Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell into the mix, too. His last time in the Super Bowl, as coach of the Colts three years ago, circumstances, onside kicks and Tracy Porter conspired to ruin his moment. Caldwell is a good man, deserving of some big-stage redemption.
We've also spent the last two weeks hearing about Ravens coach John Harbaugh and his younger brother Jim and the historic significance of brothers meeting in the Super Bowl.
In what universe does little brother win the first time they square off on this type of stage? There's always a time of paying that one last due, isn't there? The 49ers are built to return quickly to this stage. The Ravens seem more in the realm of last hurrah. Sports narratives favor the last hurrah.
Go look at all the X's and O's and matchups and tales of the tape. San Francisco has the edge on paper over Baltimore. So did the Broncos and the Patriots. I'm through underestimating the Ravens.
So the game is finally upon us and I have only two guaranteed predictions:
*Lewis will cry, win or lose.
*Afterward, the outcome will seem so obvious we'll wonder why we didn't see it coming.