Prediction: Niners 30, Ravens 3
The Niners are going to blow out the Baltimore Ravens 30-3 on Thursday, and I'll explain why.
First, the football reasons. The Ravens offense revolves around their running back, Ray Rice. The Niners defense will stop him with their front seven. That means the secondary can double team both wide receivers, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Those are the Ravens three main weapons on offense, and the Niners D is more than equipped to shut them down.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens probably will play without the injured Ray Lewis. So that means they have three great players – Haloti Ngata, Terrelle Suggs, and Ed Reed – and a bunch of average Joes. Without Lewis, Frank Gore will have a big game running the ball. Ed Reed will probably focus his coverage on stopping Vernon Davis, so all the other 49ers receivers will have big games – Michael Crabtree, Delanie Walker, Kyle Williams, maybe even Braylon Edwards. The table is set for him to perform, as Greg Roman likes to say, because he hasn't done anything the last two weeks.
So, the Niners have the better roster. They also have the superior quarterback. Joe Flacco is shaky and inconsistent, and Alex Smith is better than that. I want to remind you that last week the 49ers coaches kept comparing John Skelton to Joe Flacco in interviews. Some comparison.
The Niners also have the superior Harbaugh.
I believe Jim has the superior football mind and the superior staff of assistant coaches.
But there's something else working in Jim's favor this week, and it's psychological.
Jim Harbaugh has a simple life narrative he's constantly repeating. He's the ultimate underdog. He's Captain Comeback.
He operates best when conventional wisdom says he'll fail. He helped create that conventional wisdom yesterday by reminding both local and Baltimore reporters that the Niners have received "the short end of the straw" this week because they have to travel three time zones to play on a short week. No team has had to do that since 1975. It's basically a scheduled loss, and to pull off a win would be accomplishing the impossible, right?
Maybe for anyone else, but not for Jim Harbaugh. He lives for the opportunity to prove people wrong. It's his life narrative, so you could call this a Narrative Game for Harbaugh and the Niners. They're the underdogs again, just as they wanted.
But Harbaugh won't just squeak past his brother's team. He's going to blow them out. His whole life he's been trying to outshine his brother. "Who wouldn't like John?" Jim asked local reporters sarcastically yesterday.
Jim crafted his maniacal competitive streak to surpass his high-achieving brother.
And this Thursday night he's going to take John's birthright for good.