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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.

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Keenum's concussion vs. Ravens likely played part in new NFL guidelines

Keenum's concussion vs. Ravens likely played part in new NFL guidelines

The concussion suffered last year by Rams quarterback Case Keenum against the Ravens, and the way it was handled, surely played a part in new punishment announced Monday by the NFL for teams violating the league’s concussion protocol.

The Players Association and the league made a joint announcement about the new standards.

Under the new policy, teams could be fined anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 for a first violation of the concussion protocol, or suffer loss of draft picks. For a second violation, the minimum fine will be $100,000.

Major concerns about enforcing in-game concussion protocol were raised during a November game last year at M&T Bank Stadium between the Rams and Ravens.

With just over a minute left to play, Ravens defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan sacked Keenum, and the back of his head slammed violently against the turf. Keenum held his head while lying on the ground and initially had trouble getting to his feet.  

The Rams’ athletic trainer ran onto the field to check on Keenum, but he remained in the game. Keenum fumbled two plays later, and after the game, it was announced he had suffered a concussion.

The league investigated the Rams’ handling of the situation and the team was not fined. However, not everyone was satisfied, including NFLPA president Eric Winston.

“Show me someone that says, ‘No, the Rams did exactly the right thing,”’ Winston told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year. “They didn’t. Everybody knows they didn’t.  So there has to be discipline, right? Because when a player doesn’t do something that he’s supposed to do, he gets fined for that when it comes to health and safety.”

As a result, the NFL and the Players Association have agreed on punishment that could help protect players who have been concussed.

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New commercial shows Flacco should just buy cars, not sell them

New commercial shows Flacco should just buy cars, not sell them

Fortunately for Joe Flacco, he was born with an arm meant for chucking footballs prodigious distances and a body destined to stand in an NFL pocket. That's because — if he wasn't in possession of these gifts and didn't have the work ethic to put them to good use — he may not be cut out for everyday life and a typical job.

Last year, a Pepsi and Tostitos commercial came out and showed that the Ravens quarterback was clueless when it came to party throwing. A recent Ford ad, meanwhile, is demonstrating that No. 5 should stick to purchasing vehicles as opposed to selling them.

Here's the spot in its entirety:

Trying to convince someone to buy a car because it's "like two motorcycles stuck together" is not exactly the best selling point. As the commercial concludes, letting Flacco focus on the field and the professionals take care of everything else is the most ideal use of everyone's time.

RELATED: RAVENS SHOULD CONSIDER A RUNNING BACK BY COMMITTEE APPROACH

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NFL great Jim Brown worked with league to reinstate Josh Gordon

NFL great Jim Brown worked with league to reinstate Josh Gordon

Jim Brown, one of the greatest NFL players of all time, has been actively involved in trying to rehabilitate the career of Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon.

In his role as a special advisor with the team, Brown has been in contact with Gordon, who was conditionally reinstated by the NFL on Monday.

Gordon has been suspended 27 of the Browns’ last 32 games due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The league announced Monday that Gordon would still be suspended the first four games of the 2016 season, but could be reintstated Week 5.

Gordon can join the Browns when they begin training camp Thursday, and participate in team meetings and activities. If Gordon meets all of the league’s behavior requirements during his suspension, he can return in Week 5. He will miss the Ravens-Browns game Week 2 in Cleveland, but could Gordon could face the Ravens when they host the Browns in Week 10.

Gordon is an extraordinary talent, who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013, with 1,646 yards in just 14 games. Plenty of people, including Brown, are hoping Gordon has finally put his problems behind him.

“I’ve talked with Josh twice on the phone, and the last time I talked with him he sounded very motivated and I think he was in rehab and feeling good about it and discovering some things about himself,” Brown told Cleveland.com. “He really seemed ready to take responsibility for himself.”

Robert Griffin III and all the Browns’ quarterbacks will certainly be glad to see Gordon in camp. Ironically, Gordon’s 2016 debut could come against the Patriots in Week 5, who will also be expecting quarterback Tom Brady to return from his four-game suspension for Deflategate.