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NFL Films’ Cosell Picks Ravens to Triumph in Super Bowl

The Baltimore Ravens will defeat the San Francisco 49ers in a defense-minded Super Bowl, predicted Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films Inc.

The Ravens are “underrated by many, many people,” Cosell, who foresaw the New York Giants’ upset Super Bowl victory a year ago, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend before tomorrow night’s national championship.

“This game will not be quite as high-scoring as some think,” he said, predicting a 23-20 win for the American Football Conference champions.

A key matchup for the Ravens will be their wide receivers against the 49ers’ cornerbacks, Cosell said.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco “throws the deep ball arguably better” than anyone else, Cosell said. Flacco, 28, is a better quarterback than many think, he said, having won more games -- including post-season -- than any other signal caller in his first five years, and more road playoff games than any other quarterback in history.

The task facing the Ravens is how to stop 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose ability to run the football has given San Francisco a new dimension on offense. In a formation known as the pistol, Kaepernick takes the snap and puts the football into the chest of his running back, either letting him take it or holding onto it and running himself.

‘Running Element’

“We’re seeing a new element in the NFL, and he’s sort of the poster child for it,” Cosell said of Kaepernick, 25. “He has that special running element. This is new in the NFL, so therefore defensive coaches are still trying to figure this out. So right now, offenses -- and particularly Kaepernick and the 49ers -- they’re one up on the rest of the league.”

What the Ravens need to do on defense is force the 49ers to “speed it up” and not give them time to let plays develop, Cosell said. Pistol option offenses rely on having the defense “sit back and react to all this backfield action, as opposed to being aggressive and proactive,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the Ravens’ personality. I think they’ll attack the backfield action and try to speed it up.”

Cosell called Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, 37, who is retiring after the Super Bowl, “an outstanding player” who belongs with the all-time greats at his position even as he has slowed after 17 years in the National Football League.

“I don’t think there was a smarter linebacker than Ray Lewis when it came to diagnosing before the snap of the ball what the other team was doing,” Cosell said.

Cosell, a nephew of the late sportscaster Howard Cosell, has spent more than 25 years with NFL Films.

Brain Injuries

Even as the NFL remains the most popular U.S. sports league, it is facing a lawsuit on behalf of more than 4,000 former players who accuse it of covering up brain injuries.

While injuries are a concern, Cosell said players tell him that “it’s almost impossible to legislate safety in a game in which hitting people is really the modus operandi. And that’s what I hear over and over again. You simply cannot legislate safety.”

Tomorrow night’s Super Bowl game in New Orleans is the first in which the opposing teams will be coached by two brothers, Jim Harbaugh, 49, of San Francisco and John Harbaugh, 50, of Baltimore. While Jim is “a very fiery guy,” John’s demeanor is “a lot more relaxed,” Cosell said.

Cosell said both teams reflect the personalities of the other brother, not their own coaches.

The Ravens “are more reflective of Jim Harbaugh’s personality, a more fiery team, whereas I think the 49ers are in some ways more reflective of John Harbaugh’s personality, sort of very straightforward in their approach,” Cosell said.

“It’s a real interesting dichotomy between the brothers and the teams,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net.

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