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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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Ravens' Benjamin Watson named finalist for Walter Payton Man of the Year

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USA Today Sports

Ravens' Benjamin Watson named finalist for Walter Payton Man of the Year

Ravens' tight end Benjamin Watson is among three finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award which "recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field."

The 14-year veteran is being recognized for his One More Foundation, which Watson and his wife Kirsten created in 2008. According to their website, the foundations purpose is "devoted to spreading the love and hope of Christ to One More soul by meeting real needs, promoting education and providing enrichment opportunities through charitable initiatives and partnerships." This is the second time in Watson's career he has been nominated. 

RELATED: RAVENS' 2017 MVP'S

In addition to this nomination, Watson was awarded the 2017 Bart Starr Award which is given annually to a NFL player who "best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community." 

Some of Watson's charitable efforts through the One More Foundation include participating in #MyClauseMyCleasts to bring awareness to human sex trafficking, playing secret Santa to 25 families from Building Families for Children and partnering with the New Orleans Family Justice Center- where he used to play- helping survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is a finalist for his Receptions for Research Foundation which focuses on cancer research and programming. Olsen and his wife Kara also started the HEARTest Yard Fund, a family service program that "provides families of babies affected by congenital heart disease with services including in-home, private nursing care, physical therapy and speech therapy, all at no cost to the families or hospital."

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Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is a finalist for the $37 million he raised for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in addition to his already established Justin J. Watt Foundation

The winner will be announced at NFL Honors airing February 3rd at 9 p.m ET on NBC. 

The winner will receive a $500,000 donation with $250,000 of it going to their foundation of choice and the other $250,000 going in his name to help expand Character Playbook nationwide.

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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AP Images

Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

RELATED: WHO WERE THE RAVENS' MVP'S IN 2017?

To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."