On one of my favorite Sundays of the year, I’ve decided to revive my weekly feature from earlier in the season to analyze the big game. This year’s Harbaugh Bowl is full of narratives that are range from compelling to obnoxious and by this time you’ve heard them all. Instead I’d rather examine what exactly is going to transpire on the field. Without further ado here is what I can definitively call the last edition of “Matchups of the Game” of the 2012 season.
Matchup #1: Torrey Smith vs. Carlos Rogers
In his second season in the NFL Torrey Smith has established himself as the sort of wide receiver who gives defensive coordinators high blood pressure. Although his yardage totals haven’t been staggering (855 this year) Smith is a legitimate deep threat playing with one of the most dangerous deep ball quarterbacks in the league. His opposition is 2011 Pro Bowler Carlos Rodgers who at 31 saw his play come down a bit from the previous season where he snagged 6 interceptions and broke up 19 passes. This year those totals were at 1 and 7 respectively. It seems like Father Time is creeping up on Mr. Rogers but he is still an effective player. Neither player shares a significant size advantage (Torrey Smith is 6-1 204, Rogers is 6-0 199) so this matchup is likely to be won with the legs. Smith is a 23 year old burner and Rogers is 31 and on the way down. I like Smith here to have at least one or two big catches in this game.
Matchup #2: Bryant McKinnie vs Aldon Smith
Bryant McKinnie is a mountain of a man at 6-8 335 who has often been criticized for not living up to his massive (no pun intended, seriously) potential. The fact of the matter is that the one-time Pro Bowler has been durable and effective for a decade which is nothing to sneeze at. Baltimore’s offensive line play has improved since his reinsertion into the lineup that moved Michael Oher to his more natural position at right tackle. One wonders whether the 33 year old McKinnie can keep it up in this game as he has gotten a bit lead footed in his old age and more importantly his opponent is a dangerous one. Aldon Smith is a sack master with 33.5 sacks in his first two years in the league including 19.5 this year. He has potential to be a dominant force in this game with one caveat. Smith is struggling down the stretch after looking like a real contender for the single season sack record. Many people are saying that Smith needs the presence of Justin Smith to truly excel and while Smith will play in this game he will be playing through a nasty triceps injury and probably won’t be the same. Although there is a correlation between Justin Smith’s injuries and reduced production from Aldon I tend to think that dominant players like Aldon Smith find a way to produce regardless of the circumstances. I like a big rebound performance from Aldon Smith against the aging McKinnie.
Matchup #3: Ray Lewis vs. Frank Gore
Obviously I had to include Ray Lewis. In this game he will actually play a meaningful role even if he clearly isn’t what he once was. He will be charged with keeping Frank Gore at bay between the tackles. Frank Gore turns 30 this year and every year I expect him to break down physically but he keeps going strong. Probably more wishful thinking on my part than anything else…. Gore had 1214 yards on the ground in 2012 his highest total since his sophomore year in 2006. He is relentless at breaking tackles and still has respectable top-end speed, especially for his age. He also benefits from an offensive line that isn’t even fair. On the flip-side Gore is exactly the kind of running back the Lewis has a chance to contain. Gore lacks elite speed, is prolific between the tackles and isn’t much of a threat receiving the ball. All Lewis has to do is match Gore’s physicality as he won’t have to deal with him in the open field that often. Even so, I expect Gore to be effective in this game and Lewis to put up some high tackle numbers but probably nothing else. If Lewis is able to put up 10-12 tackles and Baltimore wins that will probably be enough of an excuse to give him the MVP, which is probably the storyline everyone wants.
The Superbowl is a holiday of sorts, even if the hated 49ers are in it and one that should be celebrated with friends, family, and an unholy amount of food and or adult beverages. Strap in and enjoy the ride.