Ray Lewis: The Last Ride
Ravens vs. 49ers
At Mercedez-Benz Superdome, 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS
On CSN: Ravens Kickoff, 5; Ravens Postgame Live, 10; Geico SportsNetCentral, 11
The favorite: 49ers, -4
Last game: Ravens (13-6) beat the New England Patriots 28-13 in the AFC championship two weeks ago; 49ers (13-4-1) beat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 in the NFC championship.
Series: Ravens lead, 3-1.
Last meeting: Ravens won 16-6 on Nov. 24, 2011. It was a defensive battle between two defensive juggernauts that suddenly became offensive forces this season.
Burning questions: Are the Ravens distracted by the deer-antler spray allegations against LB Ray Lewis?; Who is a bigger threat to Baltimore, QB Colin Kaepernick or RB Frank Gore?; Do they have an answer for 49ers TE Vernon Davis?; Can Ravens QB Joe Flacco continue to play error-free?
Quick answers: The insulated Ravens locker room goes to battle for Lewis before he even stands up to battle himself. It’ll make them stronger, not fractured. While Kaepernick can explode for 181 yards rushing like he did in a playoff win vs. Green Bay, the Ravens kept Robert Griffin III in check with just 34 yards when they played the Redskins. The key is Gore. If he gets loose, like RB Alfred Morris did in the Washington game, it becomes a huge problem. It’s not clear exactly how the Ravens will defend Davis, who is a matchup nightmare no matter what they decide. He’s too quick for a LB and too big for DB. That might mean S Bernard Pollard gets the call.
Keys to victory on offense: Flacco has been near perfect in the postseason, throwing for 8 TDs and 0 INTs and the Ravens have scored TDs on eight consecutive trips to the red zone. His only turnover came on a fumbled snap from center. When Flacco doesn't throw a pick, the Ravens are 43-5, including the playoffs. Keeping Kaepernick off the field helps, too, which means establishing RBs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce early and often.
Keys to victory on defense: Turnovers. It goes without saying that the 49ers have too many weapons to stop them. So while their statistics might look gaudy, turning them over and keeping them out of the end zone is the end game. The Ravens have been among the league’s best at doing both. This defense is better when playing with a cushion, as evidenced in New England .
Injury report: RAVENS – Probable: WR Tandon Doss (ankle), LB Dannell Ellerbe (toe, back), CB Asa Jackson (thigh), FB Vonta Leach (knee, ankle), LB Ray Lewis (triceps), DE Albert McClellan (shoulder), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh), DT Haloti Ngata (knee), RB Bernard Pierce (knee, thigh), TE Dennis Pitta (thigh), WR David Reed (thigh), S Ed Reed (shoulder), CB Jimmy Smith (abdomen), LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles, biceps).
49ERS -- Probable: LB Navorro Bowman (shoulder), LB Ahmad Brooks (shoulder), CB Tarell Brown (shoulder), TE Garrett Celek (foot), S Dashon Goldson (foot), RB Frank Gore (shoulder, ankle), LB Clark Haggans (shoulder), G Mike Iupati (shoulder), RB LaMichael James (finger), RB Bruce Miller (shoulder), LB Aldon Smith (shoulder), DT Justin Smith (elbow, triceps), LB Patrick Willis (shoulder).
Prediction: 49ers, 31-28.