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San Francisco 49ers: Keys to Super Bowl Victory

The San Francisco 49ers are four-point favorites in the Super Bowl this coming Sunday, and a lot of advanced metrics suggest they will win; they lead in ten out of twelve major statistical categories for NFL teams over Baltimore, trailing the Ravens in only one category, total points scored, and that’s only by one point. However, despite the fact that they’re statistically better than the Baltimore Ravens in most measures, they still have to beat them on the field, and the Ravens have been exceptionally hard to beat this postseason.

It seems like every year come playoff time, there’s a time that just seems to catch fire and resemble the clichéd “team of destiny.” This year, that team is doubtlessly the Baltimore Ravens. Riding the emotional high of Ray Lewis’ impending retirement and the seeming emergence of Joe Flacco as a franchise-caliber quarterback, the Ravens are not to be trifled with. The 49ers have to take care of business on several fronts in order to win, favored on paper or no. Here are San Fran’s major keys to victory.

The O-Line Must Pave the Way

The rushing attack has been a huge part of both team’s attacks this season, though San Francisco has been far more efficient than Baltimore when they’ve ran the ball this postseason. Per ESPN’s Stats and Information: “Frank Gore is averaging 27.0% more rush yards per game than Ray Rice this postseason on nearly the same number of carries per game. And, the 49ers rush defense has been the stingiest in the postseason, allowing 38.7% fewer rush yards than the Ravens.” Frank Gore isn’t an inherently better running back than Ray Rice, but he does have a better offensive line; the group even won the Madden MVP Award for the 2012-13 season.

“They have been doing a phenomenal job blocking people,”49ers quarterback Kaepernick said. “In pass protection, I’ve barely been touched. In the run game, they’re opening up huge holes for our running backs. They open up the edges for me when I’ve been running. As an offensive line, they’ve been playing lights out.”

If the 49ers are to continue their season-long dominance on the ground, they’re going to have to push Baltimore’s defensive line off the point of attack and get into their second level to clear lanes for Gore and Kaepernick (if he decides to take off). Baltimore was ranked 20th in the league in rushing yardage allowed this season, so the 49ers should be able to create holes and exploit them.

Turnover-Free Football

When Jim Harbaugh took over the 49ers last season, his first edict was to reduce turnovers, and they did just that. They were ninth in the league with +.6 turnovers per game. However, Baltimore was even better, ranking fifth with +.7 turnovers per game. Both teams had a turnover differential of 9 on the season. When two teams are neck and neck like that in a statistical category, it generally means that the team that exceeds in that area on that particular day will be one that wins. It usually isn’t rocket science to say that the team who turns the ball over less will win, but in this case that old football truism is especially true.

Stop Deep Plays

Against Atlanta in the Conference Championship, San Francisco’s defensive backs appeared surprisingly susceptible to the deep ball. Julio Jones and Roddy White frequently confused them by lining up in bunch formations and getting behind them. If they let Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith do the same, one of the fastest offensive players in the NFL, the 49ers are in deep trouble.

I think it will be a close game decided by a touchdown. My prediction: 28-21. Take the Niners at -4.

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