NFL Super Bowl open thread

Are you ready forone last bit of football?  The 2012 season comes down to two teams, two brothers, one party town, and about a billion viewers.  Neither San Francisco nor Baltimore were favored to reach Super Bowl XLVII, but they scratched and clawed their way past every other NFL team to vie for the Lombardi Trophy — and to ride out the biggest hype in the biggest event in sports.

Before we get to the pick, let’s catch up on a couple of related stories to today’s game.  First, deer across North America can breathe easier today, because it turns out Ray Lewis isn’t snorting their antlers after all … or at least no one saw him do it:

The man who reportedly supplied Ray Lewis with deer-antler spray can’t confirm the Baltimore Ravens linebacker ever used the stuff.

Sports Illustrated reported Tuesday that Lewis sought help from a company called Sports With Alternatives To Steroids (SWATS), which says its deer-antler spray and pills contain a naturally occurring banned product connected to human growth hormone.

Mitch Ross spoke for nearly an hour outside the Super Bowl media center Friday in a bizarre session that revealed very little about his connection with Lewis. The linebacker has denied ever using the substance.

Asked if Lewis ever tried deer-antler spray, Ross said, “I never saw him put it in his mouth.”

Meanwhile, the players have been hanging out in New Orleans all week long, notorious as a party town.  But NFL players are disciplined, focused professionals who eschew the night life … all right, I didn’t type that with a straight face.  It’s not just the night life that can trip you up, but also boneheaded and weirdly intolerant comments:

But there will be distractions. History says so. For every Justin Smith, a 49ers defensive end who packed just a duffel bag for his eight-day stay and rarely leaves the hotel, there is a Super Bowl cautionary tale about a football player, fueled by testosterone, curiosity and boredom, who ventured out of the team bubble and onto the police blotter.

It’s human nature. And distractions don’t come only in the form of a rabble-rousing football player. It can be a grandma who is locked out of her hotel room, a screaming toddler or a young player who says something regrettable in one of the hundreds of media interviews during Super Bowl week.

It happened Tuesday, when 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver told a shock jock that he wouldn’t accept an openly gay man on his football team. Within hours, the interview went viral and the 49ers went into damage-control mode. Culliver apologized, but it never ends there during Super Bowl week. His teammates were soon peppered with questions about homophobia.

“I didn’t sleep that much,” Culliver said. “I tossed and turned thinking about it.

“We are trying not to have any distractions to the team.”

It was only Thursday morning.

Say, don’t the 49ers play in San Francisco?  And shouldn’t Culliver be more concerned with on-field skill than off-field lifestyles?

So both teams have had their distractions this week.  Who’s going to … y’know … actually win the game?

I’m picking the 49ers, although I don’t think it will be easy.  Statistically, the Ravens are a mediocre team, who happen to be peaking at the right moment.  A two-week gap won’t benefit that kind of a team; a bye benefits a team with mild injuries who play more consistently well, not the team riding on week-to-week momentum.  The Ravens D is only 17th against the pass and 20th against the run, and they’re older.  That will allow Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore to get the most out of their read-option offense, and it’s going to tire out the defensive backers of the Ravens by the second half.

On the other side of the ball, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco has picked up confidence in his deep passing game — but he’s going up against the 4th-ranked defense against both the pass and the run.  The Ravens are only 15th in passing and 11th in rushing — not bad, but not elite.  If the 49ers break into the lead early, the Ravens are not going to be able to play comeback as easily as they did against the Broncos, especially with San Francisco watching that game film for the last two weeks.

The 49ers will outlast the Ravens in this one.  San Francisco 31-23 over Baltimore.