The Ravens leave for San Francisco today, ready for a Christmas showdown between the two teams sitting atop their conferences.
Here are my thoughts on the game, all in 50 words or less:
The Ravens have a Grinch-like feel. They're crotchety because people think they're going to get beat. They have to spend Christmas on the road. They want to go into the 49ers' house and steal their presents. The only thing that will warm the Ravens' hearts is a win.
The Ravens are an intrinsically motivated bunch. They don't need much to be said outside their own huddle to get fired up. But any extra noise helps, and NBC Sports' Mike Florio provided it Friday when he said the 49ers are going to "kick the s--- out of the Ravens."
You'd be naive to think that athletes at any level aren't fueled by doubters. There's a reason why the term "bulletin board" material exists. It's part of sports. Before that was said, Kyle Hamilton said he felt the Ravens were being disrespected. Now he has a better case.
The Ravens aren't afraid to stick their chests out either. Hearing all week about the 49ers' offensive weapons, the Ravens said they can match up with anyone. That's been the persona of this team under Roquan Smith's leadership, and it harkens to the dominant times of Ray Lewis & Co.
With Lamar Jackson under center, the Ravens have lost by more than a touchdown only four times in the regular season. The 49ers could of course win Monday night. They're a really good team. But I definitely would not expect a blowout in either direction.
The Cardinals piled up 234 rushing yards against the 49ers last week. Their top defensive tackles, Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave, are both dealing with injuries. Losing Keaton Mitchell hurts, but the Ravens may be best served trying to pound the rock and keeping the 49ers offense on the sideline.
"Game manager" shouldn't be an insult. The objective for a quarterback is to get the ball to their playmakers. Brock Purdy is doing that at a very high level. By comparison, Jackson makes more unscripted plays out of nothing, but neither MVP-candidate quarterback should be penalized.
The Ravens' interior pass rush will be a problem for the 49ers. Offensive scheme can do a lot, but there's not a lot of scheming you can do in one-on-one matchups against defensive tackles – especially one as disruptive as Justin Madubuike. The consecutive games sack record could be under assault.
Kyle Hamilton vs. George Kittle (and others) will be key to the Ravens' success.
The game against the 49ers doesn't impact the Ravens' chances of getting a first-round bye as much as next week's game against the Miami Dolphins will. This is being billed as the best regular-season game since 2007, but next week is a bigger game.
With that said, I'm surprised Ravens-Dolphins didn't get flexed out of the 1 p.m. timeslot. Sure, fans looking to celebrate on New Year's Eve may be happy, but I wanted that night game atmosphere again at M&T Bank Stadium. Taylor Swift continues to rule the world.