If it feels like just days ago I was asking for your predictions on how a Ravens game would turn out, well, it’s because it was.
By the time tomorrow night’s game is over, both the Ravens and 49ers will have played two games in five days, which really is remarkable given the physical toll that these players get put through each time they step on the field.
Beyond all the hyperbole and the talk about the head coaches (what, do they know each other or something?) this shapes up to be a great game between two teams likely bound for the playoffs. It should be lots of fun for all of us to watch.
Here’s how the Ravens and 49ers match up heading into tomorrow’s contest:
Ravens: 343.9 yards per game (15th)
49ers: 322.5 yards per game (20th)
Ravens: 99.6 ypg (t-23rd)
49ers: 134.2 ypg (sixth)
Ravens: 244.3 ypg (12th)
49ers: 188.3 ypg (27th)
Ravens: 304.5 ypg (fourth)
49ers: 323.1 ypg (eighth)
Ravens: 93.2 ypg (fifth)
49ers: 73.9 ypg (first)
Ravens: 211.3 ypg (seventhth)
49ers: 249.2 ypg (23rd)
Ravens: +3 (t-eighth)
49ers: +17 (first)
Two statistical categories that don’t make it on to the weekly list I have above are scoring offense and scoring defense. This week, however, those stats are definitely worth passing along.
Both the Ravens and 49ers have averaged the exact same number of points per game this season (25.6), tying each other for the seventh-best total in the league.
Meanwhile, even though Baltimore is superior to San Francisco in terms of yardage allowed, it’s the 49ers that have the edge in points surrendered. San Fran has the league’s best scoring defense, allowing just 14.5 points per contest, compared to the 17.6 points the Ravens are giving up per game.
Looking at this 49ers team, it’s not hard to see why they’ve put up a 9-1 record thus far.
They’re incredibly strong on the defensive side of the ball, both in the secondary and up front, where inside linebacker Patrick Willis (or, the “next Ray Lewis,” as some have dubbed him) roams. Not only does this group not allow you to run the ball or put up points, but they’ve forced 26 turnovers this season, best in the NFL.
They have a strong running game with a physical, downhill back in Frank Gore who, when healthy, is one of the top rushers in the league, an imposing offensive line, and a quarterback in Alex Smith who won’t intimidate anyone, but will manage the game and take care of the football. Overall, the 49ers have only turned it over nine times all season, tied for the fewest giveaways in the league.
San Francisco’s special teams is equally solid; they have a kicker who leads the NFL in field goals made (David Akers) and a great return unit which ranks tied for first in the league with seven punt returns of 20-plus yards and second in the NFL in kickoff return average (28.0 yards).
Play dominating defense, run the ball well, don’t turn it over and get elite play from your special teams. Yeah, that’s a winning formula, alright.
For the Baltimore defense, the key will be holding Gore in check and making Smith sling it in third-and-long situations. The more third-and-shorts that the 49ers are in, the more they can run the ball, control time of possession and wear down the Ravens defense. Offensively, the Ravens need to stay committed to the run even if they don’t get results early. That will allow them to work the play-action passing game later on.
The Ravens have played more than a few nail-biters lately, and I anticipate this battle will come down to the wire, as well. I think the 49ers’ cross-country flight and the fact the Ravens are playing at home will be a huge factor, and expect Baltimore’s offense to make just enough plays to get the job done.
Put me down for a 20-16 Ravens win.
What about you? Which Harbaugh will take home the win and earn bragging rights? Which division-leading team scores the big “W” in primetime?
Who you got?