GUIDE FEATURES OUTSIDE-BOX SUPER BOWL PICK
This time of year, it would be easy for anyone predicting the outcome of the 2014 NFL season to simply fall back on how the last one ended.
For the most part, that's what most preseason magazines do.
In the first of the Ravens Report series that annually takes a look at how the upcoming season is being forecast, the Athlon Sports guide didn't exactly go out on a limb, tabbing Seattle and Denver to meet February 2015 in a Super Bowl rematch, but with the Broncos winning this time.
Unlike Athlon Sports, The Sporting News didn't stay in the box. In fact, you could say it is predicting a "Jim Harbaugh Bowl."
The Sporting News is tabbing Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers, a team that has advanced to the last three NFC Championship Games and Super Bowl XLVII, to beat the team he used to lead as quarterback, the Indianapolis Colts, during Super Bowl XLIX.
Harbaugh nearly took the Colts to a Super Bowl in 1995, but fell short when his last-second Hail Mary end-zone heave during the AFC title game at Pittsburgh fell into receiver Aaron Bailey's stomach, and then hit the turf.
The 49ers will open the 2014 preseason against Jim Harbaugh's brother, John, and his Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, conjunctive with four days of joint practices.
If the following The Sporting News predictions don't give both Harbaughs an indication of how things might play out, that game and those practices certainly will.
Here are a few highlights from The Sporting News' preseason magazine:
Even though The Sporting News didn't pick the Ravens to get back to the Super Bowl stage, it does seem to respect the AFC North.
The magazine stated that three teams from the division would get into the AFC playoffs, as happened in 2011. It predicted the Pittsburgh Steelers to return to the top of the four-team loop, followed in order by the Cincinnati Bengals and Ravens.
The Sporting News had the Ravens and Bengals slated to fall on Wild Card Weekend to New England and Pittsburgh, respectively.
Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising prediction for the NFC was that of the Chicago Bears earning a wild-card berth despite an underachieving defense during recent years, not to mention Jay Cutler's spotty quarterback play.
The Sporting News tabbed the reigning Super Bowl champion Seahawks to lose during the Divisional Round of the playoffs, leaving the Green Bay Packers to fall to San Francisco during the NFC Championship Game.
The Sporting News regarded the Ravens as a fringe playoff team, assigning it the 13th spot in the 32-team power rankings.
Also, when one considers the fact that the Ravens are coming off an inconsistent, 8-8 season, it should be no surprise that the position-unit grades hover right around the B-C range.
The most highly regarded unit in Baltimore was -- perhaps surprisingly, given the historical lack of success at the position -- the wide receiver corps, which was assigned a B+, with every other unit on the team either getting a B or a C.
The 2014 draft class got an A grade.
The Sporting News listed its top 10 candidates for the 2015 draft class, as well as those players it feels could be this year's top rookies.
The Sporting News also asked readers what they thought today's best NFL rivalry was. The days of New England-Indianapolis and Baltimore-Pittsburgh (at least for now) appear to be gone, with San Francisco-Seattle declared as the current top rivalry.
Also, there was a thought-provoking look at several NFL veterans who had yet to win a Super Bowl despite many years in the league, spotlighting players such as Champ Bailey, Michael Vick and new Ravens receiver Steve Smith.
Lastly, the magazine had a must-save list of all the active and career leaders in the various statistical categories, a handy tool to settle barroom arguments.
On those lists, Johnny Unitas and ex-Ravens starter Vinny Testaverde are still ninth and 10th in touchdown passes with 290 and 275, respectively. Ravens kicker Matt Stover is sixth in points with 2004, and Rod Woodson (71) and Ed Reed (64) are third and sixth in career interceptions.
Joe Platania is in his 21st season covering professional football.