Game: Super Bowl XLVIII
Location: East Rutherford, New Jersey
Date: February 2, 2014
Teams: Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks
It is hard to tell which is better for the Baltimore Ravens: their Super Bowl XLVII victory or the fact that nobody expects them to repeat this season.
Between the ever-present debate around the stature of Joe Flaaco’s game and the loss of players like Anquan Boldin, there are a lot of teams ahead of Baltimore on people’s lists. That’s not to say though that there aren’t any expectations.
For starters, no quarterback is going to complain when he’s got Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones to throw to.
Second it’s highly doubtful Baltimore will see any trouble from Cleveland or even Pittsburgh this year. But, the Cincinnati Bengals could give Baltimore a run for their money in the AFC North. The Ravens are still seemingly a near lock to make the playoffs, but Andy Dalton and Co. has looked good enough to relegate Baltimore to a Wild Card spot as they push for their first division title since 2009.
A Baltimore team making it back to the Super Bowl won’t just be happy to be there. A team without sparks like Boldin or the retired Ray Lewis will be looking to prove they’re more than just a team who got a big play against Denver and a surprise win over the Patriots.
They’re not concerned with proving that their quarterback is an elite so much as they’re looking to prove their caliber as a team, which is also still in some question even as they enter 2013 as defending champs.
In a rather different light, the Seattle Seahawks have a load of expectations behind them as well. Not even considering the expected continuing blossoming of QB Russell Wilson, their defense should be near the top in almost every defensive category in 2013.
Their division should provide even bigger headaches than the Ravens will face however, as their reward for surviving the intriguing cases of both the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams will be the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. As the two best teams in possibly the best division of 2013, the matchups between Seattle and San Francisco will be must sees, seeing two young quarterbacks against two high-ranked defenses.
If Seattle can get past their main divisional rival though, setting their sights on their first Super Bowl trip since 2005 will not be out of their reach.
Highlighted by cornerback Richard Sherman looking to further assert his claim that he is the best at his position in the league, Seattle will have no shortage of explosive players leading them.
Players like Sherman will be especially key for a team looking for an extra spark to get over the next step that they were unable to conquer when they lost in last year’s divisional round. Add on the Percy Harvin situation, who return date is still unclear after requiring a recent injury led to hip surgery, and there will be a much heavier reliance on the players already there who can make the big plays.
But Seattle’s offensive game is not too heavily reliant on the pass game, as Wilson’s passing numbers were nothing too impressive, especially compared to the league’s elites.
The team relied a lot more on the run game and the running threat the Wilson provided, finishing in the Top 3 in rush yards per game last season.
The Ravens conversely had a mediocre-at-best rush defense, which showed through Kaepernick’s big Super Bowl plays against their defense.
How Baltimore gets there
A return trip to the Super Bowl will look similar to last year’s for the Ravens, most likely facing the Broncos as their biggest test. Even considering all of the injuries and drama surrounding the Patriots this offseason, it’s not unlikely to think that they may once again be standing in the way.
But what will be the most crucial for another deep playoff run is how well their secondary can perform. Especially against a Denver offense with so many weapon at Peyton Manning’s disposal, the pass defense will be the make or break for this team.
How Seattle gets there
It’s a coin flip as to who wins the NFC West, but it won’t really matter once Seattle gets to the playoffs.
No matter if the Seahawks enter the playoffs as a Wild Card or with a bye, they will have to get past the 49ers and Green Bay Packers in some way or another. And the defining factors for both matchups be: Can the Seahawks get to the quarterback? Though this team is much better than it was a year ago, the answer to those questions is again a coin flip.
Comparing Baltimore’s defense to Seattle’s, which finished in The top 10 in rush and pass categories last season, and it’s a safe pick.
The Ravens will provide big plays and experience to keep the game close through halftime. But Seattle running it down Baltimore’s throat will take a toll on the Ravens defense, and two third quarter rushing touchdowns will put the game out of reach for the Seahawks.