In only his 10th NFL start, Colin Kaepernick is on the brink of becoming a Super Bowl champion quarterback. But his inexperience in big games could prove to be a negative for the San Francisco 49ers.
The most overanalyzed game of the year is also the one that attracts the most wagering, of course, and opinions on this title game are relatively split.
The 49ers are 4-point favorites over the Baltimore Ravens today in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The total is 47½ to 48.
Las Vegas handicapper Andy Iskoe recommends plays on the underdog Ravens and under the total. Iskoe (TheLogicalApproach.com) analyzes the matchup:
It has taken 20 weeks and 266 games to reach this point. The Ravens and 49ers meet in a rematch of a well-played 2011 regular-season game on Thanksgiving, won by Baltimore 16-6 - a game that featured the first NFL matchup between head coaching brothers. Now the Ravens' John Harbaugh and the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh match wits for the ultimate prize.
There were several similarities in how the Ravens and 49ers reached the Super Bowl. Both won on the road. Both overcame halftime deficits. And, perhaps most impressively, each shut out its opponent in the second half in the conference championship game.
San Francisco is the 11th different NFC team to play in the Super Bowl in the past 12 seasons. NFC teams have won the past three league titles.
As to whether the point spread matters, Super Bowl winners are 16-4-2 ATS since 1990, with seven underdogs winning outright. Twelve of the 22 games have been decided by double digits, though the past two and six of the past nine were decided by six points or fewer. The favored team has won 15 of the last 22 Super Bowls. To be fair, however, only six times was the favored team less than a 6-point choice. In seven of the 22 games there was a double-digit favorite and each of the last three double-digit underdogs won outright.
Surprisingly, the better team, as measured by regular-season record, has not fared well at all. The team with the better record has lost six of the past seven Super Bowls straight up, including last season when the New York Giants (9-7) upset New England (13-3).
Will the Ravens (10-6) continue this recent trend against San Francisco (11-4-1)?
Another interesting Super Bowl fact concerns recent point-spread history and is pretty much in line with the straight-up trend. In each of the past nine Super Bowls, the team with the better regular-season record has failed to cover.
Certainly, today's matchup has the potential to be highly competitive, more of a physical game than a finesse game, given the makeup of the teams and their strong defenses.
Traditionally, Super Bowls have tended to be one-sided; the average margin of victory has been more than 14 points. That had been true for much of the first 30 Super Bowls. But in recent years the Super Bowls have tended to be extremely competitive, with nine of the past 15 decided by a touchdown or less.
So after poring over all the data and history, what might happen in Super Bowl XLVII?
If this matchup was played 100 times under similar conditions, we might see nearly a 50/50 split in results. The game has all the makings of a chess match with both coaches knowing one another extremely well.
In fact, it's easy to make a compelling, convincing case for each team. There are more reasons to bet on either team rather than against either team.
The Ravens, led by quarterback Joe Flacco, have reached the playoffs in each of their five seasons, going 8-4 straight up and ATS, including 6-4 straight up and 7-3 ATS on the road. San Francisco was favored by many before the season to win the NFC. The full-season statistics support the 49ers as being the better team, though the Ravens' play over the second half of the season greatly reduces those edges.
Interestingly, not only did both teams have identical plus-9 turnover margins, they did so in the same way, losing just 16 turnovers apiece while forcing 25 from their opponents.
Through the season, San Francisco had the better rushing stats, on both sides of the football. Baltimore had the more potent passing attack, but the 49ers might have put up similar stats had Kaepernick been the starting quarterback from the start of the season.
At more than a field goal, taking the points with the Ravens is attractive. They have a significant edge in postseason experience, and their defensive leaders - Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs - are finally healthy.
Running back Ray Rice is more versatile than San Francisco's Frank Gore. But the edge for the 49ers getting the straight-up win relates to the emergence of Kaepernick. Though his lack of experience showed when his first pass was picked off and returned for a touchdown in the divisional round game against Green Bay, his talents engineered a comeback win.
Defense is still the strength of both teams, and that leads to a play under the total, especially if the number goes back up to at least 49.
In a rare Super Bowl in which the points matter, the forecast is for the 49ers to capture their sixth Super Bowl with a 24-23 victory.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL