The Baltimore Ravens limped to the finish line in the regular season but have picked up steam in the playoffs as that momentum will pay dividents in the Super Bowl, writes Mike Tierney.
Super Bowl 47: Why the Baltimore Ravens will win
Forget the regular season. Or, at least, downplay its significance. That Baltimore staggered to the finish line with four losses. That their offence and defence ranked a middling 16th means nothing.
The NFL play-offs have evolved into a model similar to other sports' post-season tournaments. All that matters is who is hot, no matter a team's record, seed or long and winding path facing them.
A year ago, the New York Giants survived a late-season swoon of five defeats over a six-game span and scrounged out a No 4 seed in the NFC. Their fizzle turned to sizzle as they stormed all the way to the Super Bowl and victory over the New England Patriots.
The Ravens – seeded fourth in the AFC – are the new New York.
Joe Flacco is daring and unflappable, twin traits required of elite quarterbacks. He might not qualify yet, but what other QB has won a half-dozen play-off away games? Answer: none.
No running back possesses the varied skills set of Ray Rice. Other weapons at Flacco's disposal might not rise to Pro Bowl level, yet they bring diverse talents to the banquet table.
In defence, inspiration and adrenalin will overflow to send out linebacker Ray Lewis – and possibly safety Ed Reed – into retirement with a ring.
Obscured by Colin Kaepernick's fine play is this: The 49ers quarterback rode the bench until midseason. The brightest of spotlights can bring out previously unnoticed nerves.
And besides, in sibling rivalries, big brother usually prevails. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh is 50, San Fran's Jim 49. So, Ravens win by a margin nearly as small as their age difference.
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