Prior to the season, I foresaw a 49ers-Broncos Super Bowl (very glad to be wrong about Denver). I appeared to be in the minority in believing that the 49ers would handily beat the Packers, which I saw coming after watching the Christian Ponder-led Vikings go up and down the field against the Packer defense in the season’s final game (others focused on the Packers playoff win over the Vikes, when Ponder did not play). Now the 49ers face an Atlanta team whose last second heroics against Seattle are part of a pattern: virtually the same sequence of passes and end of game long field goal doomed my Bears a few years ago, and the Raiders this year. But if you saw Cal alum and Falcons superstar Tony Gonzalez crying with joy at the team’s win over Seattle, you know that the Falcons have already achieved their team goals for 2012-13. In contrast, the 49ers are still hungry, and will prevail. I see them facing the Baltimore Ravens, who in Ray Lewis’ last year have become the rest of America’s Team.
I wish someone could have taken a poll of 49er fans last Sunday after Marshawn Lynch put the Seahhawks ahead with less than a minute to play. Did 49er fans really want a home stadium revenge match against what would be seen as the NFC’s hottest team? Or did they prefer facing a Falcons team with less physical toughness, and feeling satisfied after finally winning a playoff game and reaching the NFC title game?
Personally, I was hoping for a WWE-style grudge match against Seattle, which would have been the epic game of the entire season. The two cities have a lot of fans who have lived in both, and the coaches were bitter rivals at Stanford and USC. It’s more fun to watch the 49ers win the title surrounded by adoring fans, rather than the sterile, hostile environment of a domed Atlanta stadium.
But in a season in which the 49ers signature victories occurred on the road in Green Bay and Foxboro, it is fitting that they reach the Super Bowl after a road win in Atlanta. And win they will.
The Falcons cannot stop the 49ers offense. In fact, they could not stop Seattle’s offense either, and would have lost absent the Seahawk’s first half self-destruction.
Two years ago this week, the Green Bay Packers went down to Atlanta and blistered the favored Falcons 48-21. The newly energized 49ers offense should do the same on Sunday.
While the Falcons have a great trio of receivers, their offense is not at the Packers level. After Aaron Rodgers had trouble scoring against the 49ers last week, we will not seem Matt Ryan do better.
So while a home field victory over the Seahawks would have been more fun, 49er fans will know well before game’s end that their team is Super Bowl-bound.
Ray Lewis: The People’s Choice
My informal polling shows that everyone whose favorite team is not in the playoffs is rooting for the Ravens. People want retiring Ray Lewis to get a second ring, and it would be a memorable scene if this were to occur.
A sports fan’s sense of justice requires backing the Ravens over the Patriots after the end of game disasters that turned victory into defeat last year. A dropped touchdown pass and missed field goal put the Patriots in the Super Bowl, when the Ravens deserved the win.
I like the Ravens chances. The unfairly maligned Joe Flacco has now outplayed Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in big playoff games, and can be counted upon to put points on the board against a less than stellar Patriots defense (Flacco shredded Denver’s supposedly stronger defense).
The Ravens beat the Patriots earlier this year, and have been energized by Lewis’ return to the lineup and retirement announcement. I realize that many fear that a 49ers-Ravens Super Bowl will be dominated by Harbaugh v. Harbaugh stories, but it’s much more compelling than a 49ers-Patriots match-up.
I see the Ravens winning a close game and the 49ers winning easily. Enjoy the game.
Beyond Chron Editor Randy Shaw is a Chicago Bear not pleased by the team’s choice of Mark Trestman as its new coach.