The San Francisco 49ers are unified behind coach Jim Harbaugh, former quarterback Ron Jaworski says. They take that solid approach into the Super Bowl as Las Vegas oddsmakers’ four-point favorites to beat the Baltimore Ravens.
It continued a trend. The 49ers were the oddsmakers’ pick to win all five of their previous Super Bowl trips. They are back in the National Football League championship game for the first time in 18 years.
Led by a second-year quarterback and coach, San Francisco is picked to beat the Ravens in the Feb. 3 contest in New Orleans, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book. It’s the second time in 11 years that the National Football Conference champion has been favored over the American Football Conference entry in the title game.
“The 49ers have been one of the most heavily supported teams all season,” Jeff Sherman, the LVH Super Book assistant manager, said by e-mail. “Even though the Ravens have been the underdog darling as of late, the 49ers are still considered the stronger side power-rating wise.”
The 49ers fought back from a 17-point deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 two days ago, the biggest comeback in the history of the NFC championship game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The old record was 13 points when Atlanta beat Minnesota 30-27 in overtime in the 1999 title game.
Though much has been made of the 49ers’ fleet-footed quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Jaworski, an ESPN analyst and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, said it is their coach who has made the biggest difference in the organization.
The 49ers had gone eight straight years without a winning record before Harbaugh arrived from Stanford University in 2011. In his first year, he led the team to a 13-3 regular-season record and the NFC championship game, where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants, 20-17, in overtime.
“They are a unified team,” Jaworski said on the Walt Disney Co. network yesterday. “There is one voice on that football team and it’s his. Jim has come in there and wrapped his arms around everyone and said, ‘This is what we are going to do. I am in charge of this organization. Follow me.’ He never gets rattled. He has shown incredible leadership for that organization.”
The Las Vegas oddsmakers’ favored team has won 33 of the previous 46 Super Bowls, with the Giants winning last year’s title against the New England Patriots as three-point underdogs. The New Orleans Saints won three years ago in the championship game over the Indianapolis Colts, who were 4 1/2-point picks.
The Ravens are the first team since the playoffs expanded in 1978 to win in the divisional round and conference championship round as underdogs of more than a touchdown in both games. The Ravens were nine-point underdogs when they pulled off a 38-35 double-overtime win in Denver on Jan. 12, and they upset the Patriots 28-13 on the road, with New England a 7 1/2-point favorite.
“We knew what we were capable of,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs told reporters after the win in Foxborough, Massachusetts, two days ago. “Unfortunately the bandwagon is full, and we want you all to come in two weeks and bet against us again.”
Jaworski said odds can be thrown out when a talented team such as the Ravens gets hot and becomes emotionally charged for the big game.
In Baltimore, that lift may come from linebacker Ray Lewis, who was named the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player when the Ravens won following the 2000 season and has announced retirement plans when this season is done.
“‘Let’s win it for Ray,”’ Jaworski said the Ravens are feeling. “‘Let’s send Ray out with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.’ Players rally around that kind of stuff.”
Over $10 billion was estimated to have been wagered worldwide on last year’s Super Bowl, according to Las Vegas-based handicapping information website Pregame.com, with less than 1 percent of that bet legally at Nevada sports books.
The 49ers were tied as the third favorites to win the Super Bowl at the start of the season, with 10-1 odds at the LVH Super Book, meaning a winning $100 bet would yield a $1,000 profit. The Ravens were the eighth favorites at 14-1.
San Francisco is the first NFC champion favored by more than a field goal since the 2001 St. Louis Rams, who were 14-point picks against the Patriots and lost 20-17 in the most recent title game at the Louisiana Superdome.
The 49ers made five Super Bowls from 1982 through 1995. They routed the San Diego Chargers 49-26 as record 18 1/2-point favorites following the 1994 season.
San Francisco is seeking to join the Pittsburgh Steelers as the only NFL franchises with six Super Bowl titles.
This year’s game is the first Super Bowl to have brothers as opposing coaches, with San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh facing Baltimore’s John Harbaugh.
Jim Harbaugh and Kaepernick also are the first coach-quarterback tandem to reach the Super Bowl within their first two NFL seasons, and Kaepernick’s nine career starts will be the third fewest for any quarterback to start the championship game.
“He competes like a maniac all the time,” Jim Harbaugh said of Kaepernick, who replaced Alex Smith as the starter during the season. “In practice, in games, it stays the same.”
John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco are both in their fifth season in Baltimore. Flacco has outplayed Peyton Manning and Brady the past two weeks in getting the Ravens to the Super Bowl for the second time. Baltimore beat the Giants 34-7 as three-point favorites after the 2000 season.
Having been picked to lose is a role they’ve gotten accustomed to this postseason.
“Being an underdog, they don’t expect you to do it and we like to prove them wrong,” Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie said. “That’s just a challenge for us.”