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Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens) vs. Frank Gore (San Francisco 49ers)
Ray Rice is still the Ravens’ go-to guy out of the backfield, but Bernard Pierce has certainly cut into his workload and I think we'll see more of that Sunday. The 49ers are obviously tough up front and I'm not sure that Rice's physical, north-south running will lead to a big day on the ground. Don't be surprised if Rice is more of a factor in the Ravens’ short passing game.
Colin Kaepernick is getting all of the press, but Frank Gore is still the engine that makes the 49ers offense go. With much of the Ravens’ defensive game-planning geared toward stopping Kaepernick, Gore will find plenty of room to run. He might not see the end zone, with LaMichael James delivering consistently from 15 yards in, but he'll outrun Ray Rice by a considerable margin.
Much like the National League’s one-time mastery over the American League, the NFC has held the upper hand over the AFC in Super Bowl games since the 1980 season, going 21-10 SU and 20-9-3 ATS, including 4-0 SU and ATS the last four years.
However, the NFC is only 6-9 SU and 8-6-1 ATS in the last 13 Super Bowl contests.
Both teams bounce back
Both the Niners and Ravens reach the Super Bowl a year after losing in their respective conference championship games. It’s just the second Super Bowl between teams to lose in AFC and NFC Championships the previous season.
The Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX after both teams lost in the 1994 Conference Championship games.
Ravens’ oh-so special teams vs. Niners’ not-so special teams
The biggest chink in the 49ers' armor this season is their special teams. San Francisco was second worst in the NFL in kick return coverage, giving up 26.9 yards per kickoff. The Niners didn’t take any chances last week, recording five touchbacks on five kickoffs. The Ravens return team was tops in the NFL in average return yards, picking up 27.3 yards per kickoff and returned two kicks for scores, both from speedster Jacoby Jones.
On top of that, Baltimore boasts the steady leg of rookie Justin Tucker, who connected on 32 of his 35 field goal attempts and is perfect on extra points. He’s hit both FG attempts in the postseason so far, which is more than 49ers kicker David Akers can say. Akers has been shaky all season (29 for 42 FGA) and “donged” a 38-yard attempt off the left upright versus Atlanta two weeks ago. San Francisco may roll the dice on fourth down instead of sending out Akers for the long FG shot Sunday.