Predictions for Ravens vs. 49ers
The last time the Ravens and San Francisco 49ers played in a game this big it was in the Big Game seven years ago. Could Sunday's showdown at M&T Bank Stadium be a preview of this season's Super Bowl?
Certainly no team in the NFL is playing as "lights out" (see what I did there?) as the 9-2 Ravens and 10-1 49ers. The main question heading into the game is whether San Francisco's top-ranked defense can do what no team has been able to do this season: stop the Ravens' top-ranked offense.
Led by MVP front-runner Lamar Jackson, the Ravens are riding a seven-game winning streak and have scored 40-plus points in their past three games, which they've won by an average of 36 points. They've won each of their past five games by at least two touchdowns. The 49ers are allowing less than 15 points per game, second only to the New England Patriots.
The majority of the pundits we looked at believe in this instance a good offense will beat a good defense. Of the 59 prognosticators we looked at, 50 predicted a Ravens victory, although none expect Baltimore, a six-point favorite, to steamroll the 49ers.
It's a crucial game for both teams. The Ravens, currently the No. 2 seed in the AFC, trail the Patriots by a game for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, while the 49ers, currently the No. 1 seed in the NFC, lead the NFC West by a game over the Seattle Seahawks.
Here's a sample of what pundits are forecasting for the game:
The 49ers defense will not be able to contain Jackson.
Sporting News’ Tadd Haislop: "San Francisco has the best defensive front in the league, but QBs who can escape the rush have given the 49ers fits this season."
CBS Sports’ John Breech: "The one problem I have with the 49ers in this game is that I'm not sure they're going to be able to stop Lamar Jackson. Although the 49ers are 10-1, they've struggled against mobile quarterbacks. Their only loss came to [Seattle quarterback] Russell Wilson, and although they beat the Cardinals twice, they had no answers for Kyler Murray, who absolutely torched the 49ers defense two different times. There have only been two games this season where a quarterback has had a QB rating of 100 or higher against the 49ers and both of those were Kyler Murray. Wilson's rating against the 49ers was 86.9. In those three games, the 49ers went 2-1, but could have easily lost all three. When you look at the Ravens, not only do they have Jackson, but they have more all-around talent than both the Seahawks and the Cardinals, which is going to make this a tough matchup for the 49ers."
Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz: "While Jackson's improvements as a passer have vaulted him toward superstardom, he's also greatly improved his effectiveness as a scrambler. … And if the 49ers' pass rushers storm toward Jackson on Sunday afternoon, they'll leave themselves susceptible to giving up a long run to one of the NFL's most electrifying players."
The Ravens' top-ranked rushing attack should have success against a 49ers defense that is strong against the pass but somewhat susceptible in the running game.
Russell Street Report’s Matt Wise: "The Niners are on the verge of breaking records as a pass defense. They're currently allowing just 136.9 passing yards per game and have had as many interceptions (11) as they have [passing] touchdowns allowed. Against the run though, San Francisco ranks 19th and has allowed at least 100 yards rushing in nine of 11 games. In the same way they steamrolled the Rams by running right at their big-name defensive line, the Ravens should once again lean heavily on the run against the 49ers on Sunday."
The Baltimore Sun’s Daniel Oyefusi: "The 49ers present the best collective defensive front the Ravens have faced all season but San Francisco surprisingly allows the eighth-most yards per carry (4.7). That's music to the ears of quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' top rushing attack."
The Ravens playing at home and at 1 p.m.ETagainst a West Coast team could be a factor.
Sports Illustrated’s Todd Karpovich: "The Ravens caught a break when the time of the game remained at 1 p.m. ET. The time difference from the West Coast could be a factor. Baltimore is also the hottest team in the league and it's beaten Seattle, New England, Houston and the Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers should be the next victim."
Sporting News’ Haislop: "This is a long road trip for the road team playing in an early Sunday afternoon window. Jackson will wake up the 49ers, but by then it will be too late."
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio: "I like the Ravens to hold serve at home. … I think it's going to be a close game; Justin Tucker field goal-type of a game. … I feel like the Ravens at home, that energy, and they continue to be pushing to a higher and higher level of performance. I love this one."
A potential matchup between Ravens offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa could be the deciding factor.
Ebony Bird’s Richard Bradshaw: "I'll tell you this now, there is no more important matchup in the whole game than this right here. … This fight will determine the outcome of the game. If Bosa wins, Lamar Jackson will get uncomfortable and make bad decisions that'll cost the Ravens dearly. If Stanley wins, then Baltimore's offense doesn't miss a beat and it's a blowout."
Inclement weather could play a role.
Russell Street Report’s Adam Bonaccorsi: "With an expected rainfall starting Saturday night and running through Sunday evening, I expect a wet game to feature plenty of rushes and less passing, which falls right into the Ravens' favor."
San Francisco Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle is the key to a 49ers victory.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah: "I look at the key matchup in this one: You looked at the talented safeties for the Baltimore Ravens, they've got to deal with George Kittle. I think George Kittle's the X-factor in this football game. George Kittle makes a couple plays. … I think the 49ers actually shock everybody and win this game."
The Ravens' penchant for blitzing will be put to the test.
NFL Network's Bucky Brooks: "[Defensive Coordinator] Wink Martindale does a great job of pressuring the passer, but when you pressure the passer and become real aggressive, that zone running game can crease you. So we'll see what kind of game plan they come up with, but this is a challenge, maybe the biggest challenge that the Baltimore Ravens defense has faced."
Fansided’s Matt Verdarame: "Ultimately, give me San Francisco holding up well and being able to beat Baltimore's blitzing."
Ravens Getting What They Hoped for From Hollywood Brown
There's no denying the impact rookie wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown has had on the Ravens offense. Despite undergoing foot surgery in the offseason and battling an ankle injury, Brown has proven to be the home run threat the team hoped he would be when it selected him in the first round with the 25th overall pick.
"It's official, Marquise Brown was a hit for the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL Draft," Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler wrote. "The Ravens are getting exactly what they hoped they would from Brown. Brown can stretch the defense and he's been a reliable receiver. If Lamar Jackson gives him a fair shot at it, Brown is going to catch the football."
The speedy Brown has been the perfect complement to an offense that relies heavily on its potent running game and tight ends. Brown, who scored two touchdowns in the Ravens' 45-6 rout of the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night, is tied for the team lead with six receiving touchdowns, and he's second in both receptions (35) and receiving yards (519) even though he missed two games due to injury.
Projected over a full season, Brown would have 62 catches for 923 yards and 11 touchdowns. Torrey Smith had the best season, statistically speaking, for a Ravens rookie wide receiver in 2011, when he had 50 catches for 841 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Brown is a big part of the offense," Schisler wrote. "The defense has to worry about him at all times. Jackson has a strong connection with him. Brown came into the season still getting right after a Lisfranc injury. He's missed two games and probably hasn't been 100 percent this entire season. Brown is getting the job done as a rookie and he may only be scratching the surface of his potential."
Should Ravens Fans Root for Steelers Sunday?
The two teams chasing the Ravens in the AFC North play each other Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) host the Cleveland Browns (5-6) in a rematch of a game from two weeks ago that turned ugly and resulted in players from both teams receiving fines and suspensions.
Who should Ravens fans be rooting for in this one?
"The answer probably depends on who you'd prefer [the Ravens] playing in a potential early-round playoff matchup," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens have a three-game lead in the AFC North over the Steelers, and another Pittsburgh loss would push the Ravens even closer to a division title. However, a Steelers victory would make the Browns 5-7 and move them closer to the brink of playoff elimination.
"The Browns are building some momentum, with three wins in a row. They've already beaten the Ravens once this season. Their final four games after Pittsburgh are two against the winless Cincinnati Bengals and one each against the Ravens and Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers will still have to play the Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Ravens. Just one man's opinion, but if I'm the Ravens, I'm pulling for the Steelers. With all the issues the Steelers are having on offense, the Browns profile as a more dangerous team at the moment."
The Athletic Selects Ravens All-Decade Team
As we head into the final weeks of the 2019 season, Zrebiec made his picks for the Ravens all-decade team. Here's what he came up with:
Quarterback: Joe Flacco
Running back: Ray Rice
Fullback: Vonta Leach
Wide receivers: Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Steve Smith Sr.
Tight end: Dennis Pitta
Offensive line: Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, left guard Kelechi Osemele, center Matt Birk, right guard Marshal Yanda, right tackle Michael Oher
Outside linebackers: Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil
Interior defensive linemen: Haloti Ngata, Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce
Inside linebackers: Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley
Cornerbacks: Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith
Safeties: Ed Reed and Eric Weddle
Kicker: Justin Tucker
Punter: Sam Koch
Return specialist: Jacoby Jones