A batch of final impressions from a week at the Super Bowl, with the game between the Ravens and San Francisco 49ers finally on deck:
Is anyone left in Ravenstown? Fans in purple have taken over the Big Easy, seemingly outnumbering their San Francisco counterparts by a wide margin. And believe me, that isn't just the observation of someone with Charm City connections.
"I would say it's at least three to one Baltimore," a waiter at the Rib Room said during a meal in the bustling (to put it mildly) French Quarter Friday night.
Just eyeballing the landscape, I would concur that Baltimore fans are outnumbering those of the Niners, at least so far. It's actually not a surprise. Before they ever landed here, the Ravens had heard though tour operators and ticket brokers that they would have bigger numbers – as much as 70-30, one member of the front office told me.
As for what that means for Sunday's game crowd, it's natural to assume the Ravens will have louder support, not only because of the numbers but also because it turns out fans in New Orleans, thousands of whom will attend, have no love for the 49ers, who dominated their Saints for years when they were in the same division and also knocked them out of the NFC playoffs a year ago.
Super Bowl crowds can be odd, surprisingly muted because of the heavy corporate (read: indifferent) influence. But domes are loud. The Ravens will hear plenty of cheers.
Let's not let this week end without complimenting the host city. New Orleans has done a wonderful job of providing a backdrop that was clean and fun and slightly nuts in the right way. It was always easily the best place to go to a Super Bowl before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2006, and I'm sure plenty of people here wondered if that great vibe could be reclaimed. Well, the answer is yes, New Orleans is still the best place to go to a Super Bowl. A lot of work went into that. Well done.
Someone will grab the headlines when the game is played Sunday night, but there's no doubting who has been the star of the week leading up to the game. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh has been genial with fans and reporters, shaken a thousand hands, offered insights and, oh, by the way, prepared a team for the biggest game of his career. The Super Bowl is a high-stress, high-profile occasion that has swallowed some coaches whole, but Harbaugh seemingly has thrived in the environment, as if he were meant for it.
Ordinarily, the fact that Baltimore is a four-point underdog would be somewhat daunting. I'm not a gambler, but I believe in the gambling experts who set the lines. They know what they're doing and tend to get things right, hardly a surprise since their livelihood depends on it.
But having said that, they clearly haven't been able to get a handle on the Ravens, who won as eight-point underdogs in Denver and nine-point underdogs in New England.
I'm sure the Ravens actually are happy they're again being picked to lose. It feeds right into their underdog, circle-the-wagons mentality, which has worked for them.
Most experts and insiders are picking the 49ers, and it seems they're doing so largely because the 49ers' pistol offense is on a roll with quarterback Colin Kaepernick while the Ravens' defense has yielded to a degree in the postseason, playing a record number of snaps and giving up over 400 yards per game.
But what's going unnoticed is the Ravens' defense also has allowed just four touchdowns in three playoff games despite playing all those snaps and giving up all those yards. They have protected the red zone against quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
I think that's where this game will be decided. Both offenses are going to move the ball. I foresee both teams scoring in the 20s. It will come down to whether the 49ers put up touchdowns or field goals when they're near the goal line. I say the Ravens pull it off, 27-23.