Before the start of the season, Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith said Baltimore's defense "want(s) all the smoke." They're going to get it in San Francisco.
The 49ers offense ranks in the top five in every offensive metric this season – points per game (3), total offense (2), pass offense (2), rush offense (3), third down (4), red zone (1). In-depth DVOA analytics say the 49ers have the third-most effective offense through 14 weeks of any team in the NFL since 1981.
For that reason, the Ravens are entering "Monday Night Football" as 5.5-point underdogs, the second-largest underdog role since Lamar Jackson arrived in 2018.
But on Christmas night, Smith and the Ravens defense plan to play the Grinch role. They want to go into the 49ers' house, knock over their tree, and make off with their beautifully wrapped offensive gifts.
"I think people have jobs, so they have to come up with something," Smith said of the odds. "But at the end of the day, I have the utmost respect and utmost trust in every single guy I go to war with and it doesn't change this Sunday. I'm betting on us 10 out of 10 times."
Safety Kyle Hamilton said he's seen an imbalance in how the two teams, which both lead their respective conferences, are being viewed. In this week’s power rankings, the 49ers are the unanimous No. 1 and Ravens unanimous No. 2.
"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," Hamilton said. "I feel like we are the best team in the league, and we have an opportunity in front of the country to show it."
The 49ers offense is legitimately very good. But here's the thing. So is the Ravens defense.
The Ravens defense leads the league in points per game (16.1) and yards allowed per play (4.41). It's a historically good defense.
"The guys definitely have a lot of weapons, but so do we," Smith said. "I like our team vs. any team.
"I'm not sure what ball anyone has been watching, but if you've been watching the Baltimore Ravens defense, people would know."
That sentiment is echoed around the building, including from Head Coach John Harbaugh
"We feel like we match up well against anybody," Harbaugh said. "We think we have really excellent players, the highest-level players. It's going to be hard for us not to match up well. It's going to be hard to outmatch us – I don't care who you are. So, we like our matchups, I'm sure they like [theirs], and we're going to play on Monday night."
Kyle Hamilton Will Be an X-Factor
Hamilton is one of the Ravens' best matchup weapons, as he's been deployed just about everywhere on defense. Going against an offense with plenty of matchup headaches, Hamilton could be used against any of them.
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel's calling card is his run-after-catch ability. Tight end George Kittle wins with physicality. Running back Christian McCaffrey is one of the shiftiest players in the game. Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who lines up in the slot 17% of the time, is a speedster who runs great routes.
Hamilton could see any and all of those weapons and will need to tap into his wide array of tools to contain them.
"We'll definitely have him all over the place," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. "I've seen him guard the [other] team's No. 1 receiver. I've seen him make tackles. I've seen him beat O-linemen. He really can truly do it all, so he'll be big for [us in] this game, whether it's guarding Kittle, guarding Deebo, making tackles on McCaffrey [or] getting to the quarterback on pressures. I think it'll be a really big game for him just based off the things he can do and how this team attacks you."
Communication Will Be Key
The 49ers' offense, engineered by Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, uses pre-snap motion nearly 80% of the time. By comparison, the Ravens offense uses it on 57% of its snaps.
All that motion is meant to confuse the defense and try to create mistakes. For example, McCaffrey broke so wide open last week against the Arizona Cardinals that he had enough time to fall down and still get back up and score a 41-yard touchdown.
The Ravens have prided themselves on being a loud defense this year in terms of communication. It will require everyone to be on the same page with the 49ers' pre-snap motions.
"That'll be huge. I think not only do they have great players, but they have – it seems like – a lot of different schemes and different things schemed up against players [and] schemed up against coverages. They do a lot," Humphrey said.
"The misdirection – it's like you want to take care of McCaffrey. Then, you have to take care of Deebo. It's so many different things to where everyone has to be on point. Communication is just going to be key in order for us to win."