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Breaking down the Big Game

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A look ahead at Super Bowl XLVII

The Super Bowl has arrived.

For the 47th time, hundreds of millions of people from around the globe will be focused on the game of football. This year's game will be played in the New Orleans Superdome, where the AFC's Baltimore Ravens and the NFC's San Francisco 49ers will vie to see which team gets to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as the champions of the NFL.

The overriding storyline behind this year's game revolves around the Harbaugh brothers. John and Jim Harbaugh, coaches of the Ravens and 49ers respectively, are the first brothers to coach against each other in the Super Bowl. This has led many in the media to refer to the game as the 'Harbaugh Bowl' or 'Har Bowl' or other variations on that theme.

Nothing more need be said on the matter the story-hungry sports media will spend plenty of time telling us all about it.

Another ongoing story is the impending retirement of Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis. The veteran Lewis has said that this season his 17th will be his last, leading to a large number of retrospectives about his lengthy career and implications that the Ravens will be trying to win this last one for Ray.

Again nothing more to say. You'll hear this story a dozen times between now and kickoff.

So instead of spending our time going in-depth on human interest stories about competitive siblings or puff pieces about the redemption of Ray 'Stabby' Lewis, let's go ahead and talk about the game that will be played on the field.

Quarterback

colin-kaepernickJoe Flacco has spent most of his NFL career listening to everyone tell him that he isn't an 'elite' quarterback. So he just went ahead and used this postseason to make his argument to the contrary. Flacco has been nothing short of excellent in the playoffs, throwing eight touchdown passes without an interception and averaging close to 300 yards passing in each of his team's three wins.

Colin Kaepernick might not have a great deal of experience, but he will be without a doubt the most dynamic player on the field in this game. He has shown both explosiveness and precision rushing for 181 yards in one playoff win, completing over 76 percent of his passes in the other. If he can hold up under the enormous pressure, his skill set will prove troublesome to the Ravens.

Advantage: 49ers

Running backs

Baltimore has one of the most versatile weapons in the NFL coming out of their backfield. Ray Rice is an elite talent at the position; not only is he a great runner, but he's a huge weapon in the passing game as well. While Rice's usage has faded a bit in the wake of Flacco's onslaught, he's still an incredibly dangerous offensive player a threat to score any time he touches the ball.

Frank Gore has been a very good NFL running back for eight years now. He's not the open-field runner that Rice is, nor is he a comparable pass catcher, but he's a very powerful back who doesn't need to give way in goal-line situations. However, backup LaMichael James has eaten into Gore's playing time as a change-of-pace back in certain situations.

Advantage: Ravens

Receivers

RavensRecieversThe stars of the Ravens aerial attack are wideouts Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Boldin has proven to be Baltimore's most reliable pass catcher this postseason, catching 16 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns. Smith has shown a little inconsistency, but has also proved capable of some incredible catches. Tight end Dennis Pitta also has 10 catches and a pair of touchdowns.

San Francisco's receiving success has come largely from receiver Michael Crabtree. He has caught 15 passes thus far in the postseason two for touchdowns. And after being practically invisible in the Green Bay game, tight end Vernon Davis blew up for five catches, 106 yards and a TD against Atlanta. Veteran Randy Moss has proven to be a valuable weapon as well.

Advantage: Ravens

Offensive line

The Baltimore line looked to be in disarray going into the playoffs. However, one-time malcontent Bryant McKinnie has stepped in at the left tackle spot and really solidified the line as a unit. Michael Oher has moved to his more comfortable position of right tackle and the group has done solid work protecting the relatively immobile Flacco, though they haven't been great with run blocking.

San Francisco's line is generally recognized as one of the better units in the NFL. Anchored by left tackle Joe Staley, the group has been a major key to the success of the 49ers running game. And while there were initial issues in pass protection, the group has settled into a groove that has led to a mere five sacks of quarterback Kaepernick in the last five games.

Advantage: 49ers

Defensive line

The Ravens have looked more solid than spectacular on the defensive line in the playoffs. The group has been fairly solid at stuffing the run and while they haven't put up big sack numbers, they have made it possible for the second-level defenders to get through the line and make plays. If massive nose tackle Haloti Ngata is at full strength, San Francisco will have its hands full.

Running the ball against the 49ers this year has been almost as difficult as preventing them from running it. Led by veteran defensive end Justin Smith, San Francisco has been brutal against the rush all season long. And while no lineman has put up big pass rushing numbers, the group has made life fairly difficult for most opposing quarterbacks.

Advantage: 49ers

Linebackers

ray-lewisAh, Ray Lewis. The farewell tour ends here, for better or worse. Despite the fact that Lewis missed much of the season with an injury, he is undoubtedly the leader of this defense. How much that leadership is worth is hard to say. Talents like Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger can get after the quarterback, but will they be able to step up their pass coverage? Time will tell.

San Francisco's Patrick Willis is one of the best linebackers in the league, and he has showed it this postseason. He has been a tackling machine while also doing good work in coverage. NaVorro Bowman is another strong tackler, while Aldon Smith is one of the best pure pass rushers currently playing. This is perhaps the strongest unit in one of the NFL's strongest defenses.

Advantage: 49ers

Secondary

Baltimore has had some issue at cornerback, but while starters Corey Graham and Cary Williams had their ups and downs, they've been solid in the playoffs with two interceptions apiece. Strong safety Bernard Pollard is a big hitter and free safety Ed Reed a likely Hall of Famer is one of the most prolific big-play defenders in the history of the league, though he's beginning to show his age.

Carlos Rogers is the big gun in the San Francisco secondary, though he's fallen off from last year's All-Pro form. Counterpart Tarell Brown is talented, but prone to mistakes potentially deadly in his likely matchup with Torrey Smith. Free safety Dashon Goldson is an excellent all-around player, while strong safety Donte Whitner pairs good tackling with decent coverage skills.

Advantage: PUSH

Kicking

Justin Tucker had a wonderful rookie season as the Ravens kicker, making 30 out of 33 field goals over the course of the season. While he hasn't seen a lot of postseason action, his accuracy has carried over as he's two-for-two. Punter Sam Koch has been putting up a fair number of returnable kicks opponents have averaged over 20 yards per return in these playoffs.

In an illustration of just how fickle life as an NFL kicker can be, look no further than 49ers kicker David Akers. Last season, he set a record for most field goals made. This year, he failed to make even 70 percent of his kicks he's also missed one from inside 40 yards this postseason. Andy Lee's punts while infrequent have been a key to the 49ers field position game: five returns for six total yards.

Advantage: Ravens

Coaching

CoachesJohn Harbaugh has done some great work with this Baltimore team since he took them over in 2008. While the once-vaunted Ravens defense has fallen back to earth a bit on his watch, he has also helped crank things up to unprecedented levels on the offensive side of the ball. He has taken a team that looked done in November and taken them to the brink of a championship.

Jim Harbaugh might not have quite as much experience as his brother, but all he has done since arriving in the league two years ago is win games. He also deserves credit for the gutsy call to stick with Kaepernick's hot hand after former starter Alex Smith recovered from injury. Harbaugh has reinvigorated this once-dominant franchise and brought it back to the promised land.

Advantage: PUSH

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When you put it all together, it looks like a win for San Francisco. While Baltimore has a talent edge in terms of skill players, the 49ers have an explosive quarterback and a dominating defense. The Ravens defense will keep them in the game they'll likely put up a big play or two but they'll struggle to produce against the San Francisco defense. In this battle of brothers, the younger sibling will triumph.

Final prediction: San Francisco 28 Baltimore 20

The wonderful world of prop bets

It's no secret that the Super Bowl is the most wagered-upon sporting event in the world. It's the culmination of the season for the most popular American professional sport; hundreds of millions of people all around the world will watch. So it makes sense that gambling on the game's outcome would be hugely popular.

But there's no reason to limit yourself to predicting the final outcome. When it comes to the Super Bowl, you can bet on almost anything.

Las Vegas sports books offer odds on any number of events tangential to or existing outside the actual game on the field; these proposition (or 'prop') bets involve such things as how long it takes to sing the national anthem and what color Gatorade will bathe the winning coach in celebration.

In the spirit of the big game, here's a look at some prop bets along with a few thoughts about where the smart money might lie.

(All predictions are for entertainment purposes only. Seriously. You'd have to be a crazy person to bet actual money based on any of the information provided here. Come on. You're better than that.)

How long will it take Alicia Keys to sing the national anthem?

Over/under 2:15

We might as well start with one of the classics. While Alicia Keys doesn't really seem like a huge diva type, the truth is that something happens to singers when it's time for the anthem at the Super Bowl. The temptation to really run with it is pretty high. It'll be close, but the over looks like the bet.

How many times will the game be referred to as the 'Harbaugh Bowl' or 'Har Bowl' or 'Super Baugh' during the game?

Over/under - 2.5

This bet is based on the brother vs. brother storyline between the two head coaches and is probably the easiest wager on the board. Take the over the oddsmakers are greatly underestimating the tendency of sportscasters to grasp constantly at low-hanging fruit. That line is at least two points too low.

How many times will 'Harbaugh' be said during the game?

Over/under 20.5

For the same reasons as above, take the over. It won't even be close.

Will any Baltimore or San Francisco player on the active roster be arrested before the game?

Yes 5/1

It is both hilarious and terrible that this is an actual thing that you can bet on. I'm going to steadfastly ignore the easy Ray Lewis joke to be made here and just tell you that there are better places to put your money. These teams seem relatively under control.

Who will be named MVP of Super Bowl XLVII?

It only seemed right to include at least one bet that actually involved the action on the field in some respect. The favorites are Colin Kaepernick at 7/4 and Joe Flacco at 11/4; those are probably the best bets five of the last six Super Bowl MVPs have been quarterbacks. If you're angling for a longshot sleeper, take a look at 49ers running back LaMichael James at 66/1 he's explosive enough to put up a surprise big game.

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