At the beginning of the year, I posted my predictions for the year at 101sports.com. The team I picked to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl was the San Francisco 49ers. I liked the 49ers coming out of the NFC West with Seattle finishing 2nd and the St. Louis Rams 3rd with the Cardinals bring up the back end, and everything fell in line. I said the Rams would be greatly improved and would finish with a 7-9 overall record. They almost made me look like a Nostradamus by finishing 7-8-1.

Below were my predictions for the 2012 division winners within each conference; bold means I picked them correctly (all this information can be found on TonySoftli.com; media archive).

American Football Conference

NORTH – Baltimore Ravens

SOUTH – Houston Texans

EAST – New England Patriots

WEST – Denver Broncos

National Football Conference

NORTH – Green Bay Packers

SOUTH – New Orleans Saints

EAST – Philadelphia Eagles

WEST – San Francisco 49ers

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots = Texans

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers = 49ers

SUPER BOWL XLVII

San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans = 49ers/Super Bowl Champions

This past year I competed on a national level against my peers with my weekly NFL predictions. I finished toward the top of the heap while battling some very sharp journalists and former NFL personnel men nationwide. I’ve been approached to work full-time predicting games for a living, though I feel that would take all the fun out of predicting games and would force me to think about obstacles outside of watching film, breaking down 53-man rosters, tracking transactions, injuries and statistics on a daily and weekly basis while predicting games straight up.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Baltimore Ravens – The Defensive Match up

While these teams have explosive offenses, they are built differently. Both have very special quarterbacks at the helm; they have different positional attributes but are capable of explosive plays through the air or on the ground. Each team is equipped with playmakers running the ball and receivers outside the numbers that harness the ability to stretch the secondary down the seam. The difference on offense is the offensive lines, where the 49ers get the edge.

The late, legendary Bear Bryant said, “Offenses sell tickets, defenses wins championships.” My football aphorism is, “Offenses win ball games, and defenses win championships.” One of these two great defenses will lead their team to victory and take home the Lombardi Trophy. Both organizations are coached by two defensive-minded head coaches -John, who earned his coaching stripes by coaching college and in NFL, and Jim who played in the NFL as a QB and then coached his way up the chain both collegiately and NFL – and both understand the sacrifice, determination, teamwork, togetherness, grit and desire it has taken to get to the big show.

I threw on my computer analyst hat and dove into several studies of prediction models. I found the most complete model for this year’s Super Bowl based on statistics from the folks at ACTA Sports. I like this system when you look at the big picture. The ACTA model, like most, is not perfect; it has made incorrect predictions the last two years and missed on four of the last six Super Bowls. But the model’s overall system record is 28-14 and is 16 of the last 22, for 73 percent. That is extremely strong.

The reason I lean toward ACTA is because their model favors defense over offense. When I predicted that the 49ers would take home the Lombardi in 2013, it was because of the 49ers’ blue players (playmakers, difference-makers in every game) on defense. Looking back, most oddsmakers felt the same way throughout the 2012 season, favoring the 49ers by a close margin in a high percentage of the games.

There are 12 indicators which are used to predict the winner. When I study this model, one team just destroys the odds with the statistics, pointing to an overwhelming favorite.

Category Win% Team with Advantage

Points Scored .543 Ravens

Points Allowed .630 49ers

Point Differential .630 49ers

Fewer Net Passing Yards .609 49ers

Rushing Yards .543 49ers

Rushing Yards/Carry .565 49ers

Opponent Net Passing Yards .565 49ers

Opponent Rushing Yards .609 49ers

Opponent Rushing Yards/Carry .587 49ers

Opponent Total Yards/Game .652 49ers

Turnover Differential .587 EVEN

Regular Season Record .543 49ers

As you can see, San Francisco has the advantage when you study the 12 indicators. The Ravens fall short in all categories with the exception of two areas: points scored during the regular season (slide past 49ers 398-397) and turnover differential where both teams were even. The 49ers were dominant in several categories, namely total yards per game (350.9 to 294) and season rushing yards total (2,491 to 1,901). The Ravens edged the 49ers in passing yards with 3,739 compared to 3,298, but history shows that teams with more passing yards have lost Super Bowls more often than they have won.

The most significant part of the ACTA data: 10 Super Bowl teams achieved 10 of the 12 indicators, and 9 of those 10 teams went on the win the big game. The only team that fell short despite having 10 plus categories was the Minnesota Vikings in the 1970 Super Bowl. The Ravens have the opportunity to become the first team to beat those odds in 43 years.

When looking for other defensive stats the following was provided by Dr. Richard Winer, better known as the NFL’s Stat Doctor: the Baltimore defense has been on the field for 51 third-down plays in the postseason (17 per game), while the San Francisco defense has only seen 21 (20 of them passing plays). The Ravens defense has struggled to get off the field during the postseason, playing for a total of 256 plays (85.3 avg) compared to 122 plays (61 avg) for the SF defense.

Super Bowl XLVII will be an exciting game, with explosive offensive plays, special teams excitement and mistakes. But when it’s all said and done the defense that can get off the field on 3rd downs, force the most turnovers and possibly score will most likely be crowned champions.