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SUPER BOWL: Ravens-49ers matchups

SUPER BOWL: Ravens-49ers matchups

Matchups for the Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in New Orleans:

When the Ravens (13-6) have the ball

When QB Joe Flacco (5) looks out from behind center Matt Birk (77) on Super Bowl Sunday, he could be seeing two things: $$$$, and the fiercest defense he's faced all season.

Flacco's contract is up after this game, and while it's a near cinch the Ravens won't let the five-year veteran leave, it's going to cost a few million bucks to keep him. A victory against San Francisco and its bevy of All-Pro defenders would add even more moolah to the pot.

This is one formidable challenge for Flacco because the Niners are more versatile than the defenses presented by Indianapolis, Denver and New England in the postseason.

Start with the league's best linebacking corps, featuring two All-Pros in Patrick Willis (52) and NaVorro Bowman (53). Aldon Smith (99) is considered a linebacker, but is a hybrid LB-DE and he led the NFC with 19 1/2 sacks. Ahmad Brooks (55) comes off a spectacular second half in Atlanta.

But Flacco and his targets - WRs Anquan Boldin (81) and Torrey Smith (82), TE Dennis Pitta (88) and do-everything RB Ray Rice (27) - should be encouraged by what the Falcons accomplished in the first half. They found seams and gaps everywhere, and the 49ers' secondary must be stingier this time.

Boldin has been sensational on every route in the postseason (16 catches, 17.3-yard average, 3 TDs). CBs Carlos Rogers (22) and Tarell Brown (25) and Chris Culliver (29) will have a difficult time with the smart, physical Boldin.

Smith can get deep on anybody, so safeties Dashon Goldson (38), an All-Pro, and Donte Whitner (31) have to be sharp. In each playoff game, Smith has gotten open for a long pass, even if it wasn't a completion.

And the biggest deep ball Baltimore completed was the 70-yarder to tie the game at Denver late in regulation time. That was to WR Jacoby Jones (12).

Pitta against Willis, Bowman and the safeties is a juicy matchup, too.

So is the entire offensive line attempting to neutralize Aldon Smith and defensive linemen Justin Smith (94), Ike Sopoaga (90), Ray McDonald (91), and Ricky Jean Francois (95). The main chore will fall to LT Bryant McKinnie (78), who seems to have resurrected his career in the postseason, and RT Michael Oher (74). Right guard Marshal Yanda (73) is Baltimore's best blocker.

When the 49ers (13-4-1) have the ball

Everyone tries to run on Baltimore; all three opponents in the playoffs did so and the Niners will, too. The difference: San Francisco has, by far, the best running back in Frank Gore (21), best running QB in Colin Kaepernick (7), and best run blocking, led by left guard Mike Iupati (77) and left tackle Joe Staley (74) that the Ravens will face.

But the Ravens have the most physical and fundamentally sound front seven that San Francisco has seen in the playoffs. Ray Lewis (52), the 17-year linebacker playing his final game of a Hall of Fame quality career, looks like he is in his prime and has 44 tackles in the three playoff wins. Fellow LBs Dannell Ellerbe (59), Terrell Suggs (55) and rookie Courtney Upshaw (91) must be especially active in getting to the holes if San Francisco's line remains dominant.

To prevent the 49ers from winning in the trenches, DT Haloti Ngata (92), NT Terrence Cody (62) and DE Pernell McPhee (90) need to be stout.

Gore is complemented by rookie RB LaMichael James (23), who has a nice burst, and, of course, Kaepernick. The second-year QB set a record for the position with 181 yards rushing against Green Bay in the divisional round. He didn't run much against Atlanta, but presents a major challenge whenever he tucks in the ball.

Or when he is throwing it. Kaepernick isn't just a threat to use his Usain Bolt-style strides to break down defenses. His arm is strong and accurate, and he isn't timid about letting go into tight spots to connect with TEs Vernon Davis (85) and Delanie Walker (46), WRs Michael Crabtree (15) and Randy Moss (84).

Ravens pass rushers Suggs, DE Paul Kruger (99) and McPhee will need help containing Kaepernick, so watch for frequent blitzes from the secondary of safeties Ed Reed (20) and Bernard Pollard (31), CBs Cary Williams (29) and Corey Graham (24).

Controlling Davis is a key because he's a nightmare matchup for Baltimore's less-than-fast LBs.

The Niners could break some long plays in the secondary, too, because many of Baltimore's backs are mediocre tacklers. But Pollard will rock your world.

Special teams

Baltimore has the edge here on returns and field goals. San Francisco gets the nod in punting.

All-Pro Jones led the league in kickoff returns with a 30.1 average and scored twice. He also ran back a punt for a TD.

Rookie Justin Tucker (6) has been a stud, making 30 of 33 field goals, including the winner in double overtime in Denver. But P Sam Koch (4) had too many low kicks that New England returned for good field position in the AFC title game.

The Ravens were solid on coverages during the season, but fell apart against Denver as Trindon Holliday ran back a punt and a kickoff for scores. They also struggled stopping Wes Welker's punt runbacks in New England.

San Francisco PK David Akers (2) has gone from All-Pro in 2011 to slumping this season and missed his only try against the Falcons. But the Niners have stuck with him.

Andy Lee (4) is among the top punters in the NFL. James and Ted Ginn Jr. (19) have breakaway capabilities on returns, but aren't consistent.

Coaching

Yo, bro!

The Har-bowl is unique, but hardly a fluke. Both Harbaughs owe a strong debt to their dad, Jack, a lifelong coach who not only taught them how to play football, but how to teach it.

John's pro resume is record-setting: the only coach with wins in his first five postseasons. He was selected over Rex Ryan and several others to take over the Ravens in 2008 after making his mark as Philadelphia's special teams coordinator.

Unlike John, who did not play in the NFL, Jim quarterbacked 14 seasons with four teams after being selected in the first round of the 1987 draft by the Bears. He has been in coaching a relatively short time, but his meteoric rise took him to San Diego - the Toreros, not the Chargers - and Stanford, where he tutored Andrew Luck.

Jim Harbaugh was the 2011 NFL Coach of the Year as a rookie, guiding the Niners to the conference title game.

Both of them will make the difficult decisions that sometimes change the course of a season or career. John fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in December. Jim Caldwell took over and the offense, particularly Flacco, has been strong since.

Jim made the move to Kaepernick in November and we all know how that worked out.

Intangibles

Baltimore's additional boost has become tangible, actually, with the way the Ravens have performed at such a fevered pitch during Lewis' final postseason. Saying goodbye by giving him the Vince Lombardi Trophy to parade around is pretty darn motivating.

For the 49ers, a record-tying sixth Super Bowl - Pittsburgh also has six, but has been beaten twice, while San Francisco is 5-0 - and a first since the days of Steve Young is quite an inducement.

And, of course, each coach wants to sit atop the family tree.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Prediction and preview for Raiders at Ravens

Prediction and preview for Raiders at Ravens

What: Raiders (2-1) vs. Ravens (3-0)

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

Where: M & T Bank Stadium

Injuries:

Ravens – RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), CB Sheldon Price (thigh), and LT Ronnie Stanley (foot) are doubtful; WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), OLB Elvis Dumervil (foot), WR Devin Hester (thigh), LG Alex Lewis (concussion), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), G John Urschel (shoulder) are questionable.

Raiders – S Nate Allen (quad), OT Austin Howard (ankle), OT Menelik Watson (calf) are out; C Rodney Hudson (knee), RB Taiwan Jones (knee), OT Matt McCants (knee) are questionable.

Five questions to ask:

1. How badly will Stanley’s injury hurt the Ravens’ offense?

The guess is that Stanley won’t play, and even if he does, he won’t be 100 percent. Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack is one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. If James Hurst starts at left tackle, the Ravens will have to give him help to deal with Mack.

2. Will Raiders LG Kelechi Osemele punish his former teammates?

Osemele is one of the league’s best and most physical linemen, and he talked about pancaking some of the Ravens this week. He also says the Ravens didn’t try hard to keep him during free agency, and Osemele has a long memory. There could be some thunderous collisions between Osemele and Ravens’ defenders. If Osemele loses his composure, it will hurt the Raiders, who lead the NFL in penalties.

3. Will Ravens’ corners Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright give up the homerun ball to the Raiders?

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr loves to throw deep, and he torched the Ravens for 351 yards and three touchdowns in 2015. Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper beat Smith during a 37-33 Raiders’ victory. Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree has superb hands, and both he and Cooper topped 100 yards against the Ravens last year. The Ravens’ secondary has improved, with Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb taking over as the starting safeties. But the Raiders will try to isolate Smith and Wright, looking for a big play or two that could make the difference.

4. With OLB Elvis Dumervil returning to action, will the Ravens’ pass rush be dominant?

The Ravens have gotten good pressure on quarterbacks without Dumervil, led by Terrell Suggs and Timmy Jernigan with three sacks each. Now Dumervil is ready for his 2016 debut, after missing the first three games recovering from foot surgery. Carr could face a lot more pressure in the pocket than he did against the Ravens last year.

5. Can the Ravens finally have a breakout game offensively?

The Raiders rank dead last in the NFL on defense, yielding 436 yards per game. The Ravens only have four touchdowns all season. It’s time for quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense to put four quarters together.

Prediction:

Ravens 30, Raiders 20 – Being at home, and getting a consistent pass rush on Carr, should allow the Ravens to remain unbeaten.

RELATED: Stanley misses 3rd straight practice, question mark for Sunday

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Fantasy Football: Updated Week 4 rankings

Fantasy Football: Updated Week 4 rankings

Updated Week 4 fantasy football rankings following news on several key players, including Bills receiver Sammy Watkins placed on injured reserve. 

Quarterbacks

1.  Philip Rivers, SD -- The Saints defense has only allowed three touchdown passes, but they're not stopping anyone. Opponents are averagng over 300 passing yards per game. Look for Rivers top that at home in what projects as another shootout.
 
2.  Cam Newton, CAR
 
3.  Drew Brees, NO
 
4.  Andrew Luck, IND
 
5.  Matthew Stafford, DET
 
6.  Kirk Cousins, WAS
 
7.  Andy Dalton, CIN
 
8.  Carson Palmer, ARI
 
9.  Blake Bortles, JAC
 
10.  Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
 
11.  Derek Carr, OAK
 
12.  Joe Flacco, BAL
 
13.  Matt Ryan, ATL
 
14.  Russell Wilson, SEA - The Seahawks offensive line is a mess, the Jets defensive front rocks and Wilson isn't 100 percent. Don't be shy about sitting him for comparable option.
 
15.  Dak Prescott, DAL
 
16.  Trevor Siemian, DEN
 
17.  Eli Manning, NYG
 
18.  Jameis Winston, TB
 
19.  Alex Smith, KC
 
20.  Ryan Tannehill, MIA
 
21.  Jimmy Garoppolo, NE
 
22.  Sam Bradford, MIN
 
23.  Brian Hoyer, CHI -- For those in need, Hoyer faces a Lions defense that has allowed an NFL-high 10 touchdown passes.
 
24.  Brock Osweiler, HOU
 
25.  Tyrod Taylor, BUF
 
26.  Marcus Mariota, TEN
 
27.  Ryan Fitzpatrick, NYJ
 
28.  Blaine Gabbert, SF
 
29.  Jacoby Brissett, NEQ
 
30.  Cody Kessler, CLEQ

Running Backs

1. David Johnson, ARI
 
2.  Le'Veon Bell, PIT - He's baaaaaack. Adjust your lineups. Not the easiest of returning matchups, but Kansas City hasn't been exactly stout against the run so far.
 
3.  Ezekiel Elliott, DAL
 
4.  C.J. Anderson, DEN
 
5.  Melvin Gordon, SD
 
6.  Lamar Miller, HOU
 
7.  LeGarrette Blount, NE
 
8.  Mark Ingram, NO
 
9.  DeMarco Murray, TEN
 
10.  LeSean McCoy, BUF
 
11.  Todd Gurley, LA
 
12.  Carlos Hyde, SF
 
13.  Christine Michael, SEA
 
14.  Jeremy Hill, CIN
 
15.  Matt Forte, NYJ
 
16.  Frank Gore, IND
 
17.  Charles Sims, TB
 
18.  Devonta Freeman, ATL
 
19.  Matt Jones, WAS
 
20.  Isaiah Crowell, CLE -- The Redskins are not good stopping the run and the Browns will want to help rookie QB Cody Kesseler  by featuring Crowell and Duke Johnson.
 
21.  Jordan Howard, CHI
 
22.  Spencer Ware, KC
 
23.  Latavius Murray, OAK
 
24.  Theo Riddick, DET
 
25.  Jerick McKinnon, MIN
 
26.  Tevin Coleman, ATL
 
27.  Giovani Bernard, CIN
 
28.  Orleans Darkwa, NYG -- Tricky call here since Rashard Jennings looks like a game-time decision. If Jennings sits and with no Shane Vereen, Darkwa would receve 18+ touches.
 
29.  Dwayne Washington, DET
 
30.  Cameron Artis-Payne, CAR
 
31.  Chris Ivory, JACQ
 
32.  Terrance West, BAL
 
33.  T.J. Yeldon, JAC
 
34.  Duke Johnson, CLE
 
35.  Justin Forsett, BAL
 
36.  Matt Asiata, MIN
 
37.  Fozzy Whittaker, CAR
 
38.  DeAngelo Williams, PIT
 
39.  Derrick Henry, TEN
 
40.  Jamaal Charles, KC -- Good news! Charles (knee) will reportedly make his season debut. However, Spencer Ware likely remains heavily involved for now as Kansas City works its star back into action. Monitor news Sunday morning if you're considering using Charles as an RB2 or Flex.
 
41.  James White, NE
 
42.  Chris Thompson, WAS
 
43.  Damien Williams, MIA
 
44.  Kenyan Drake, MIA
 
45.  Jay Ajayi, MIA
 
46.  Alfred Morris, DAL
 
47.  Travaris Cadet, NO
 
48.  Robert Kelley, WAS
 
49.  Bilal Powell, NYJ
 
50.  DeAndre Washington, OAK
 
51.  Shaun Draughn, SF
 
52.  Dexter McCluster, SD
 
53.  Paul Perkins, NYG
 
54.  Chris Johnson, ARI
 
55.  Jalen Richard, OAK
 
56.  Devontae Booker, DEN
 
57.  Mike Gillislee, BUF
 
58.  Bobby Rainey, NYG
 
59.  Jacquizz Rodgers, TB
 
60.  Robert Turbin, IND

Wide Receivers

1.  Antonio Brown, PIT
 
2.  A.J. Green, CIN
 
3.  Allen Robinson, JAC
 
4.  Julio Jones, ATL
 
5.  Odell Beckham Jr., NYG
 
6.  DeAndre Hopkins, HOU
 
7.  Marvin Jones, DET
 
8.  Alshon Jeffery, CHI
 
9.  Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
 
10.  Travis Benjamin, SD -- The DFS stack of the week? Benjamin and Philip Rivers against the Saints' terrible secondary. Factor in the likelihood Antonio Gates sits and Benjamin could get 15+ targets.
 
11.  T.Y. Hilton, IND
 
12.  Brandin Cooks, NO
 
13.  Amari Cooper, OAK
 
14.  Kelvin Benjamin, CAR
 
15.  Mike Evans, TB
 
16.  Demaryius Thomas, DEN
 
17.  DeSean Jackson, WAS
 
18.  Jarvis Landry, MIAQ
 
19.  Doug Baldwin, SEA
 
20.  Julian Edelman, NE
 
21.  Stefon Diggs, MIN
 
22.  Emmanuel Sanders, DEN -- His 27 targets nearly doubles teammates Demaryius Thomas. Now faces a Bucs defense allowing the third most points to fantasy wide receivers.
 
23.  Jeremy Maclin, KC
 
24.  Michael Crabtree, OAK
 
25.  Terrelle Pryor, CLE
 
26.  Willie Snead, NO
 
27.  Tyrell Williams, SD
 
28.  Sterling Shepard, NYG
 
29.  Brandon Marshall, NYJ
 
30.  Steve Smith, BAL -- Prediction: Smith goes for 90+ yards and a touchdown. Jalen Ramsey angered him. Sorry, Oakland. This ranking could rise by Sunday.
 
31.  Will Fuller, HOU
 
32.  Allen Hurns, JAC
 
33.  Devante Parker, MIAQ
 
34.  Mike Wallace, BAL
 
35.  Michael Floyd, ARIQ
 
36.  Jamison Crowder, WAS
 
37.  Phillip Dorsett, INDQ
 
38.  Golden Tate, DET
 
39.  Tavon Austin, LAQ
 
40.  Tajae Sharpe, TENQ
 
41.  Quincy Enunwa, NYJ -- No Eric Decker means more work for the impressive Enunwa
 
42.  Tyler Lockett, SEAQ
 
43.  Cole Beasley, DAL
 
44.  Michael Thomas, NO
 
45.  Torrey Smith, SFQ
 
46.  Mohamed Sanu, ATLQ
 
47.  Terrance Williams, DAL
 
48.  Victor Cruz, NYG
 
49.  Pierre Garcon, WAS
 
50.  Dez Bryant, DALQ
 
51.  Kevin White, CHI
 
52.  Kenny Britt, LAQ
 
53.  Anquan Boldin, DET
 
54.  Chris Hogan, NE
 
55.  Marquise Goodwin, BUF
 
56.  Vincent Jackson, TB
 
57.  Robert Woods, BUF
 
58.  Dontrelle Inman, SD
 
59.  Markus Wheaton, PIT
 
60.  Kenny Stills, MIA

Tight Ends

1.  Greg Olsen, CAR
 
2.  Jordan Reed, WAS
 
3.  Rob Gronkowski, NE -- Patriots list Gronk as questionable. It would be understandable why owners would fret using him after last week's bait and switch. Just not sure how you can though assuming the Sunday morning news isn't scary.
 
4.  Travis Kelce, KC
 
5.  Eric Ebron, DET
 
6.  Dennis Pitta, BAL
 
7.  Kyle Rudolph, MIN
 
8.  Coby Fleener, NO
 
9.  Julius Thomas, JACQ
 
10.  Jason Witten, DAL
 
11.  Zach Miller, CHI
 
12.  Delanie Walker, TENQ
 
13.  Dwayne Allen, IND
 
14.  Jimmy Graham, SEAQ
 
15.  Gary Barnidge, CLE
 
16.  Jacob Tamme, ATL
 
17.  Hunter Henry, SD
 
18.  Martellus Bennett, NE
 
19.  Jack Doyle, IND
 
20.  Charles Clay, BUF
 
21.  Cameron Brate, TB
 
22.  Clive Walford, OAK
 
23.  Jesse James, PIT
 
24.  Larry Donnell, NYG
 
25.  Vance McDonald, SF

Defenses

1.  Arizona Cardinals
 
2.  Denver Broncos
 
3.  Seattle Seahawks
 
4.  Houston Texans
 
5.  New England Patriots
 
6.  Minnesota Vikings
 
7.  Carolina Panthers
 
8.  Cincinnati Bengals
 
9.  New York Jets
 
10.  Washington Redskins -- Home game against a rookie QB in his first road start screams streaming option
 
11.  Kansas City Chiefs
 
12.  Pittsburgh Steelers
 
13.  Baltimore Ravens
 
14.  Los Angeles Rams
 
15.  New York Giants
 
16.  Buffalo Bills
 
17.  Detroit Lions
 
18.  Miami Dolphins
 
19.  Indianapolis Colts
 
20.  Dallas Cowboys

Kickers

1.  Stephen Gostkowski, NE
 
2.  Adam Vinatieri, IND
 
3.  Chandler Catanzaro, ARI
 
4.  Justin Tucker, BAL
 
5.  Dan Bailey, DAL
 
6.  Steven Hauschka, SEA
 
7.  Graham Gano, CAR
 
8.  Josh Lambo, SD
 
9.  Brandon McManus, DEN
 
10.  Dustin Hopkins, WAS
 
11.  Blair Walsh, MIN
 
12.  Matt Prater, DET
 
13.  Cairo Santos, KC
 
14.  Will Lutz, NO
 
15.  Chris Boswell, PIT
 
16.  Josh Brown, NYG -- Minnesota has allowed the most field goal attempts (12) thru three weeks. 
 
17.  Matt Bryant, ATL
 
18.  Nick Novak, HOU
 
19.  Mike Nugent, CINQ
 
20.  Sebastian Janikowski, OAK