I said that I would get my Super Bowl pick up last week, but thanks to the complete lack of pressure to do so I waited a bit. Today the wait is over: here are the model picks for Ravens and 49ers.
As usual, let’s talk a little about the teams first. The 49ers have looked strong all year, beating playoff teams Green Bay, Seattle, and New England. They did lay some eggs though, losing to the Vikings and Seahawks, Giants, and the Rams (who they also tied with). They beat the Packers again in the playoffs as well as the Falcons, needing a come-from-behind performance and a Falcons’ failed comeback to get to the Super Bowl. The 49ers boast the third-best offensive yards per play mark in the league this year and have been equally impressive at running and passing. They are also impressive on defense, also posting the third-best defensive yards per play mark and being stout against both the run and the pass. About the only complaint you can have about the 49ers is that their special teams were only a bit above average.
On the other side, the Ravens were again the class of the AFC North, but that had a little less luster this year than usual (even though the Bengals also made the playoffs). Baltimore split with the Bengals and beat the Patriots for their playoff wins, but lost to the Texans, Redskins, and Broncos (as well as the Eagles and Steelers). Nonetheless they cruised past the Colts, beat the Broncos in an amazing double-overtime game, and beat the Patriots in surprisingly easy fashion to get to the Super Bowl. Despite being viewed as a primarily defensive team, the Ravens were actually a bit below average in yards given up per play; they were relatively strong against the run but only average against the pass. They were also only about average on offense, with both the run and the pass. How did the Ravens get this far then? They avoid turnovers fairly well (tied with the 49ers, Packers, and Patriots for second fewest in the league) and they seem to get big plays when they need them. None of their point per play or success rate numbers are especially impressive, but their win probability numbers are relatively high for both passing and running the ball, particularly when you add in the playoffs. In short, the Ravens must be a team of destiny.
Of course, if you read the blog at all you know that I don’t believe in teams of destiny. And the Ravens have in fact had a number of close calls all season. They beat the Patriots by 1 when
New England missed a field goal they made a semi-questionable last-second field goal; they beat the Browns by a touchdown when they had two shots at the end zone at the end of the game; they beat the Chiefs by 3 in a terrible game and the Cowboys by 2 after Dallas failed on a two-point conversion to tie as well as missing a field goal as time expired; they beat the Steelers by 3 and they beat the Chargers in overtime after the miracle Ray Rice play. Any of those games could have gone the other way and then the Ravens may not have even made the playoffs, where they needed yet another miracle to beat the Broncos. Yet it has all come to pass, so we can at least agree that the Ravens are resilient.
So just looking at the numbers, we can say the 49ers seem to be the better team. How about common games? Both teams played the Giants; the 49ers lost at home by 23 while the Ravens won at home by 19. They also both played the Patriots; the 49ers won by 7 on the road in a very entertaining game while the Ravens won by 1 at home during the regular season and then by 15 on the road in the playoffs. Those are the only common games and would seem to give the edge to the Ravens, but it’s also only five games to work from.
How about public perception? I think everyone is probably on the 49ers’ side; Kaepernick has been a big story and played very well, while the Ravens have just been doing their thing as usual. The Vegas line, which incorporates public perception along with team ability, has the 49ers as 4 point favorites and -170 on the moneyline.
So how about my models? They inherently take home field into account and the Super Bowl is at a neutral site, so what I do is run the game twice, once with each team as the home squad. The models all think that the Ravens are good enough to be favorites if the game were in Baltimore, although Luigi and Yoshi 2 have them at less than 3 points, meaning they probably aren’t as good as the 49ers (given typical home field advantage). Yoshi 1, however, is buck-wild for the Ravens and would have them as nearly 8 point favorites. On the flip side, all three models would have the 49ers as a solid favorite if they were at home. They all put the number at around 4, meaning that for whatever reason Yoshi 1 actually likes the Ravens a bit more than the 49ers. Either way, when you average the two together, you would take the Ravens to cover 4 points. Luigi and Yoshi 2 have it as a close loss, while Yoshi 1 would give them a close win (fitting with what Madden 2013 apparently decided). All three models think the Ravens would be worth a look at winning outright regardless of game location. And they all think the final score will have a total of about 45 or 46.
So, if I have to go out in an ESPN-style blaze of glory, I’m going to go with Ravens 24, 49ers 21. The chances of that exact score happening are close to nil, and I wouldn’t be surprised by anything except for a big Ravens win. I think (and hope) the game will be close and entertaining throughout, but I could also see the 49ers going crazy if the Ravens can’t deal with their option attack. Unless the 49ers’ secondary goes to sleep, I don’t see the Ravens going absolutely nuts and I think the 49ers will put up some points anyway.
Enjoy the game this Sunday. And don’t forget the Puppy Bowl! It’s better than about 80% of the halftime shows anyway, and it’s on constantly starting at 3 Eastern.