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.
It’s time to take a brief break from the Marshawn Lynch hysteria to preview our final team of NFC West, other than our Seahawks. The 49ers are coming off a very surprising season, as they went from mediocrity it 2010 to the NFL championship game in 2011. Now the question is if they can build on that success and take the next step.
Helping out this time is Eric Melendez from Niner Noise.
Biggest Team Need Heading Into Offseason: Starting right guard
Key Free Agents Retained: QB Alex Smith
Key Player Additions: WR Mario Manningham
Key Players Leaving: Right guard Adam Snyder
Quick Thoughts on Draft: Going after WR A.J. Jenkins with the first round pick was a huge surprise as the team has no options at starting guard who have any previous experience as a starter.
Quick Thoughts on 2012 schedule: The 49ers’ secondary will tested often this season. The 49ers will go up against the Packers, Lions, Saints, Giants and Patriots in 2012. All five teams finished in the top-five of passing offense last season.
Most Interesting Roster Battle: Running back. With Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon the 49ers have a crowded backfield. It will be interesting to see who makes the team and who doesn’t, and where they fall on the depth chart.
Biggest Strength Heading Into 2012: Defense. The 49ers were completely dominant in all games last season on defense and will only get better in 2012.
Biggest Weakness Heading Into 2012: Right guard. If the 49ers want to continue their great rushing attack from last season and to improve their passing offense, they need a solid starter at right guard. Right now, there are not many options to be excited about.
Biggest Question Still To Be Answered: When will safety Dashon Goldson sign his contract? Goldson is the 49ers franchise tagged player and so far is holding out for more money than what the 49ers offered him in a multiple year contract.
2012 Prediction: 12-4, NFC West division champions.
I’m not sure where to start on my take on the 49ers. They’re a good team, but they were probably the least impressive 13-3 team I’ve ever seen. They’re bringing back all their talent from last season, but they didn’t make any upgrades and there are a number of warning signs that point to them not being able to match their 2011 success. Throw in that the 49ers were the league’s least-injured team in 2011, and that they’ll like see the other side of that coin in 2012, and they really are a tough team to preview.
Lets start with the positives. Their front 7 is scary. Justin Smith probably should have won the defensive rookie of the year award. He had an amazingly dominant year. That is especially true when you realize that move of Aldon Smith’s 14 sacks came on plays where he ran a stunt with Justin Smith, so essentially Justin Smith took out the blockers so Aldon Smith could come in clean. Justin Smith deserved an assist on almost all of those sacks. oh, and the rest of the front 7 is pretty damn good too.
On offense, the running game looks a lot like Seattle’s. Very solid blocking and a premier running back, and great depth behind him too. Combine a solid running game and a solid front 7 on defense, and you’re likely going to win the time of possession stat in almost every game.
Now for the bad. The secondary is very overrated. None of their 4 starters would start in Seattle. They also just paid a lot of money to keep a very average Rogers at CB, which is never a good idea. (Its the equivalent of the Seahawks giving Marcus Trufant a large contract this offseason. Surprisingly similar players when watching the game film.)
On offense, their WR corps is poor at best. They’re entire passing offense predicated on the fact that Randy Moss will suddenly become productive again, after 2 seasons of looking old. Crabtree is rapidly approaching getting hit with the bust label, and first round draft pick AJ Jenkins has looked so bad in practices so far that team doesn’t expect him to get on the field at all until late in the season.
And finally we come to Alex Smith. Harbaugh managed Smith in the best way possible last season. That is, they essentially removed him from the game plan. That’s the right idea what your QB was one of the worst players at his position in the league for the previous 6 seasons. I just don’t see how they can keep on a lid on this barrel of crap for another 16 games without it exploding all over the field. Especially not after the ego laced drivel that’s come out his mouth this offseason. Expect Smith to lose at least 2 winnable games for the 49ers this season.
One more thing (so I guess my comments on Smith shouldn’t have been preceded by “finally”) Much of the 49ers success was because of their record +28 turnover differential. As I’ve shown statistically on this site before, turnovers are a cruel mistress. Over the past 2 decades, teams that are the best at creating turnovers in any given season, are almost always below average at doing so the next season, even with the same players. The 49ers likely wont be able to depend on turnovers to make up for their other shortcomings again in 2012.
I still expect the 49ers to be good, and most likely win the division, but 10 to 11 wins seems like the max for the talent on their roster.
Today is the deadline for the editors of the 35 sites that belong to Fansided NFL to cast their ballot for a number of awards. I’ll be making all of my votes public throughout the week. I don’t feel there to be any reason for secrecy. I put a lot of thought into my picks, and while i’m sure there will be plenty of disagreements, I think that’s ok.
1) Von Miller, DE, Denver
Miller was an absolute force for Denver at DE. He picked up 11.5 sacks, and also added 64 tackles. He also did this while getting constant double teams, as teams chose to double Miller more than any other player on the Broncos defensive line. While Tebow took all the credit, it was Miller and the defense that were the real heros for Denver this year.
2) Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle
People will accuse me of being a homer for putting Sherman this high, but I don’t care. I think he deserves it. … [visit site to read more]