I'm confident that the NFL will wrap itself in fig-leaf, Founding Father-fetishizing patriotism and rah-rah militarism, even though a salute to stadium-subsidizing everyday taxpayers and a check for the cost of fighter jet flyovers—in case you haven't heard, money's a little tighter at the Pentagon these days—would be more appropriate. I have no doubt that CBS will cut to Jack and Jackie Harbaugh—in case you haven't heard, sons Jim and John Harbaugh are coaching in the big game, and get this, they're brothers!—at least a half-dozen times. I'm fairly certain that during his traditional pre-game electroshock slide dance, the Rev. Ray Lewis will kill a live deer with his bare hands, snap the deer's antlers in half over his knee, Bo Jackson-with-a-baseball-bat-style, and then suck out all of the delicious, possibly performance-enhancing marrow with a S.W.A.T.S.-provided holographic straw.
Also, I think San Francisco is going to win the game.
Maybe I'm a traditionalist. Maybe I've spent too much time around John Madden. Maybe I'm not dazzled by skill position players because I don't play fantasy football. Whatever the case, I'm a big believer that the team with the healthiest, most coherent, most experienced offensive line tends to win games. The Joe Montana/Jerry Rice-era Niners had a dominant offensive line. The Triplets Dallas Cowboys had a man-mauling offensive line. (How often was Emmitt Smith even touched before he was four yards upfield?) The John Elway/Terrell Davis Denver Broncos had a cut-blocking terror of an offensive line. The Tom Brady/Bill Belichick New England Patriots dynasty has a great pass-protecting offensive line (though they were beaten twice by an even-better New York Giants defensive line in two Super Bowls).
John Madden himself calls the 49ers the best offensive line in the league—and after the playoffs, it's hard to argue.
The current Niners' unit isn't as accomplished. Not yet. But they could be on their way. San Francisco has invested in its offensive line—tackle Anthony Davis and guard Mike Iupati were 2010 first-round picks, while tackle Joe Staley was a first-rounder in 2007—and those draft-day decisions have paid off: Staley and Iupati were selected as Pro-Bowl starters, and Davis was an alternate. Joining Davis as alternates were Alex Boone and Jonathan Goodwin, the latter an un-drafted 11-year veteran who may have been the most important unheralded acquisition of the previous offseason. The Niners' unit was one of three in the entire league that started the same five players for all 16 regular-season games. Cohesion counts. No less an authority than Madden himself calls them the best offensive line in the league—and after seeing what Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore have done during the playoffs, it's hard to argue the point.
Of course, Baltimore's offensive line is pretty good itself. And the Ravens' defensive line—anchored by nearly unblockable human Zamboni machine Haloti Ngata, underrated Paul Kruger, and still-formidable pass-rusher Terrell Suggs—is better than pretty good. As such, I expect a close game. I won't predict a final score, but like Hampton, I think it will be decided by a field goal. Possibly in the waning moments.
Jake, what's your take?