NEW ORLEANS -- The playoff formula is now firmly established for the Ravens, who are in the Super Bowl for the first time in the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era: Keep it close in the first half, and then impose your will in the second half.
For three straight playoff games, the Ravens have been true to the script: Keep the game close in the first half, feel out your opponent in the process, and then make your move in the second half. Or, as was the case against Denver, in overtime.
In each of the Ravens' three playoff wins against the Colts, Broncos and then the Patriots, they were within six points at halftime and then made the key adjustments later in the game. So don't be surprised if that's the case against the 49ers in Baltimore's biggest game since their Super Bowl XXXV win over the Giants.
And if that formula holds in Super Bowl XLVII, it means that Flacco & Co. will poke around and see what works early on, then make any changes necessary. That was precisely the case in the AFC Championship Game, when the Ravens trailed 13-7 at halftime, but then dominated the second half, outscoring the Patriots, 21-0, in a 28-13 win.
Flacco has been the hottest quarterback in the playoffs, and if he keeps up his brilliance in the Super Bowl, the Ravens will come away with the second title in franchise history. It's important for the Ravens to try and run the ball to get Flacco's play-action passing game in gear, and if receivers Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, as well as tight end Dennis Pitta, can find the seams in the 49ers' defense, they'll move the chains accordingly.
The biggest defensive challenge is containing Colin Kaepernick and keeping him in the pocket as much as possible. If the the Ravens can contain the run game by bottling up Frank Gore and LaMichael James, they'll force Kaepernick into more passing situations and make him a more one-dimensional quarterback.
No small task, but the Ravens have overcome everything that has come their way so far. There's a "team of destiny" quality to them, and one more memorable showing tonight will send Ray Lewis into retirement the way he always dreamed: with confetti flying from the rafters in the Super Bowl.
PREDICTIONRavens 27, 49ers 24