Only Smattering of Pundits Are Picking Ravens to Beat 49ers
Monday night's showdown in San Francisco between the Ravens (11-3) and 49ers (11-3) is a battle of the two teams that share the NFL's best record, but the prevailing opinion from national pundits is that the 49ers are the best of the best.
Only seven of the 53 prognosticators we looked at picked the Ravens, who are a 5.5-point underdog, to win. Most expect a close game, but Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio does not — and he didn't mince words.
"As long as their key players are healthy, the 49ers are gonna kick the s— out of everybody they face. The quest is for second place," Florio said. "The 49ers kick the s— out of the Ravens on Monday night.
"I'm sorry. I know that's disrespectful to the Ravens, but let's be realistic. They've gotta fly across the country, on Christmas night, and the 49ers are waiting. And the 49ers are going to dismantle the Ravens. If it's a Super Bowl preview, the Super Bowl is gonna suck."
The Ravens have heard all the talk and they're taking it personally.
"I think the 11-3 [teams] are not created equal right now in terms of the 49ers versus us, and we feel a little disrespected by that," safety Kyle Hamilton said this week. "I feel like we are the best team in the league, and we've got an opportunity in front of the country to show it."
When Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked if being underdogs will be used in his messaging to the players, he smiled and said, "It was mentioned, sure."
One pundit who isn't ready to crown the 49ers is Yahoo! Sports’ Frank Schwab.
"We've spent most of the season gushing about the San Francisco 49ers, and rightfully so," Schwab wrote. "They have an exciting offense with an assembly line of stars scoring touchdowns, a feel-good MVP candidate at quarterback in Brock Purdy and a fantastic defense to go with it. The 49ers are significant Super Bowl favorites and it's hard to argue. They look unbeatable at times. But has a similarly great team flown under the radar as much as this season's Ravens? It's at least possible they're the best team in the NFL, and we are totally overlooking it.
"The Ravens are a well-coached, balanced team with a superstar quarterback and no glaring weakness. We'll see how close the Ravens and 49ers are when they meet Monday night. Maybe after that, the Ravens won't be under the radar anymore."
Here's what pundits are saying about the game:
The 49ers' stars give them a slight edge.
The Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer: "On paper, the Ravens match up well — or at least as well as anyone can against a historically dominant team. They should have answers for a 49ers offense that overwhelms defenses in the middle of the field. And they have the running game to take advantage of San Francisco's most glaring weakness. But, in a game this evenly matched, star power matters. And the 49ers have the advantage there. Nick Bosa and Fred Warner can limit the Ravens' passing game, and Brock Purdy is surrounded by All-Pros. The Ravens beat an elite San Francisco team in Baltimore four years ago, but a road win Monday will be by far this team's toughest challenge."
The Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer: "San Francisco is a cut above. They have so many weapons, and Brock Purdy gets the ball to them quickly. That should be enough to neutralize a fierce Baltimore pass rush and smothering secondary."
The Ravens will be hard-pressed to score enough points to win without playmakers Mark Andrews and Keaton Mitchell.
The Baltimore Sun’s Brian Wacker: "Scoring against San Francisco, which allows the second-fewest points per game in the NFL, will be difficult. Lamar Jackon has performed at an MVP level, but the offense is simply less dynamic without tight end Mark Andrews and running back Keaton Mitchell and thus a bit more predictable."
Whether the Ravens can run the ball effectively is one of the keys.
CBS Sports’ John Breech: "As fun as that battle should be, I feel like this game is going to come down to whether Baltimore can run the ball on the 49ers defense. The Ravens are averaging 163.8 yards per game on the ground this year, which ranks first in the NFL by MORE THAN 20 YARDS. The Ravens are 9-1 this season when they rush for at least 130 yards, but 1-2 when they don't. When they're able to move the ball on the ground, they play with a lot of confidence. However, I'm not so sure they're going to be able to move the ball on the ground against a 49ers team that ranks third in the NFL in stopping the run this year. Remember that 130 number I just mentioned? Well, it's been the 49ers' magic number, too. The Niners are 1-2 this year when surrendering more than 130 yards on the ground, but 9-1 when they hold a team under 130."
The 49ers will look to exploit the Ravens' run defense.
USA Today’s Lorenzo Reyes: "If there's one weakness in Baltimore's defense, it's against the rush, where the Niners are lethal. Christian McCaffrey is averaging 116.8 rushing yards per game over his last four. San Francisco also gets creative in using Deebo Samuel in the rushing game. Playing with all the confidence in the world, I like the 49ers here, especially with the game in the Bay Area."
The Ravens defense is built to neutralize the 49ers' offense.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah: "When you look at what the Niners do, they work and live in the middle of the field. Well, guess how Baltimore for 20-plus years has built their team — right down the middle of the field. Their best players are their defensive tackles, their linebackers, their safeties. They are equipped. Now if the 49ers are clicking and they've got everything going, it's darn near impossible to stop. But if you're going to look at play style and personnel, Baltimore is probably the best to handle that to give them a fighting chance against the 49ers."
The Baltimore Sun’s C.J. Doon: "The 49ers are the class of the league right now, but they are not unbeatable. A three-game losing streak against Cleveland, Minnesota and Cincinnati in October proves that. Brock Purdy has been playing like an MVP candidate since that stretch, though he hasn't faced a defense anywhere near the Ravens' level. I'm betting on Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald to force Purdy into some mistakes and the run defense to slow down Christian McCaffrey just enough for Baltimore to hold on behind another heart-stopping performance from Lamar Jackson. Justin Tucker wins it with a late field goal, just like he did the last time these teams met in 2019."
Bold prediction: The Ravens will hold McCaffrey out of the end zone.
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley: "He is the second 49ers player to score 20 touchdowns in a season, joining Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who scored 23 in 1987. But Baltimore, which leads the NFL in scoring defense, hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown in four straight games, a span of 13 quarters."
Samuel is a matchup X-factor.
ESPN’s Seth Walder: "The Ravens don't let receivers get open. In fact, they have the second-best defensive team open score (71) in ESPN's receiver tracking metrics. But that's not how Samuel wins — he's a YAC machine. Maybe the Ravens can slow down Brandon Aiyuk (who does excel at getting open). But stopping Samuel is a different sort of challenge."
|7 of 8 panelists pick 49ers
|8 of 8 panelists pick 49ers
|4 of 5 panelists pick 49ers
|“Man, Santa delivered an absolute gem for Christmas this year! It's the crown jewel of Week 16 and my midseason Super Bowl matchup. This game features three MVP candidates (Lamar Jackson, Brock Purdy and Christian McCaffrey) and a pair of top-five offenses -- which have scored at will for much of the season. But it's the defenses that could most influence this outcome, as Baltimore leads the NFL in scoring D (allowing just 16.1 points per game) and sacks (50), and San Francisco is second in scoring D (16.7 ppg) and tops in takeaways (25). The major difference I see in these teams? The offensive weapons outside of the quarterback, especially with Baltimore losing Keaton Mitchell for the season. Advantage: Niners.” — Brooke Cersimo
|7 of 10 panelists pick 49ers
|49ers 24, Ravens 20
|“The Ravens weren't caught looking ahead to this battle of potential top playoff seeds in a possible Super Bowl ‘prematch.’ Both teams rolled out their usual respective conference dominance in Week 15 and it's impossible to find two hotter teams in the NFL. San Francisco's offensive versatility and explosiveness are better than Baltimore's. Brock Purdy stays sharp vs. a tough pass defense with plenty of help, while Lamar Jackson's playmaking is contained enough in crunch time.” — Vinnie Iyer
|8 of 8 panelists pick 49ers
|“This is the game of the week, maybe the year. These are the two best teams in either conference. The 49ers get a break getting the Ravens playing consecutive road games. The 49ers offense is the best unit of all four in this game, which is why I think they win this one. Brock Purdy wins the MVP battle with Lamar Jackson.” — Pete Prisco
|Pro Football Talk
|2 of 2 panelists pick 49ers
|“As long as their key players are healthy, the 49ers are gonna kick the s— out of everybody they face. The quest is for second place. … The 49ers kick the s— out of the Ravens on Monday night.” — Mike Florio
|7 of 7 panelists pick 49ers
This Could be 'Legacy Defining Season' for Jackson
In addition to being billed as a potential Super Bowl preview, the Ravens-49ers game also is being looked at as perhaps a determining factor in whether Jackson or Purdy wins the MVP award.
Sports Illustrated’s Matt Verderame said there is even more at stake for Jackson over the final weeks of the regular season and the postseason.
"Although Jackson is only 26 years old, this could be a legacy defining season for him," Verderame wrote. "Stuck with only one playoff victory, a deep postseason run culminating in a championship would vault Jackson from stardom to likely Hall of Famer.
"So far, he's done everything to put himself and the Ravens in the best position possible. Now he has to finish the job."
There's no question that Jackson is focused on doing exactly that. He often describes individual accolades as "cool," but Jackson has been obsessed with leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship literally since his first day with the organization.
Patriots OT Trent Brown Told Malik Cunningham Months Ago He Should Join Ravens
Months before the Ravens signed quarterback Malik Cunningham off the Patriots' practice squad last week, New England offensive tackle Trent Brown told the former Louisville star that he should jump at the opportunity to go to Baltimore if he gets the opportunity.
"It's funny because I told him months ago if they ever called, if anybody, that's the team where he should go," Brown told A to Z Sports. "It was almost like I saw it coming. And that's really good for him to actually get a real chance to play his real position."
Cunningham was used primarily as a wide receiver by the Patriots.
- Hamilton appeared on “The Rich Eisen Show” to discuss the 49ers game, his improvement in Year 2, how Hall of Famer Ed Reed has influenced him, and more.