LAS VEGAS | It's a bit of a ho-hum Super Bowl is what I thought a couple weeks ago.
A couple of small-market teams. No utterly ridiculous historical star power like a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning or an Aaron Rodgers.
But more importantly, I wondered where my money was going to go. And then I got very, very thankful the Patriots were staying home – because they cost me plenty last year when I went all in on them here in Vegas.
But I've really come around with this year's game. There are some great story lines, for sure. Obviously, the first time brothers have head coached opposite each other in the game is huge with Jim (San Francisco) and John (Baltimore) Harbaugh walking the sidelines. It's Ray Lewis' last game before walking away from his Hall of Fame career – and it's a Hall of Fame career regardless of this deer antler business. And can Colin Kaepernick, who started the year as a backup quarterback for the 49ers, lead San Fran to a record-tying sixth championship?
The Niners are the Vegas favorites, and late Friday the line moved from -3.5 to -4 as the bettors arriving for the weekend went hard enough on San Francisco to move the line a half-point.
The total has held fairly steady at 47.5, and that's an interesting one. The Ravens have hit the over just once in the playoffs – in their shootout with the Broncos. The 49ers, though, have hit it in both their playoff games, plus three others to close out the regular season. WIth both Kaepernick and Ravens QB Joe Flacco thinking shootout, I like the over – even though historically, it's a coin flip. The over has come in 22 times since Super Bowl II. The under? How 'bout 23? But I'm leaning on the side of shootout.
It's become suddenly cool to love on the 49ers and Kaepernick in particular. I wasn't on Jim Harbaugh's side when he kept Alex Smith out in favor of Kaepernick. But now, obviously, it was a brilliant move.
The Niners may be the fashionable pick to win it all, but they're also the smart pick.
San Francisco (13-4-1) vs. Baltimore (13-6)
5:30 p.m. today, CBS. 49ers -4 (47.5).
The skinny: This probably comes down to who makes fewer mistakes, and who capitalizes quickest on their opponents' mistakes. I think that will be San Francisco. The Niners also have Colin Kaepernick as this great X-factor when he gets outside the pocket and gets mobile. The Niners will key on stopping Ray Rice and the run game, which will force Joe Flacco to pass – and that's where the Ravens' mistakes will come. The Niners will take advantage.
MattE’s pick: 49ers 34, Ravens 17.
Last week: 1-1 straight up, 1-1 against the spread.
Playoffs: 6-4 straight up, 5-5 against the spread.
Regular season: 163-92-1 (.639) straight up, 134-119-3 (.530) against the spread.
Matt Erickson is an award-winning journalist whose NFL picks have appeared in The Times for 10 seasons. He also covers mixed martial arts for The Times, USA Today and is the assistant editor of MMAjunkie.com.