1:00 PM EST, FOX – Line: Ravens -6, Over/Under: 46.5
A potential Super Bowl Preview is on tap as the two hottest teams in the league meet with the surging Baltimore Ravens playing host to the revitalized San Francisco 49ers, from M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Any concerns over the staying power of the 49ers (10-1, 1st in NFC West) following their first defeat of the season, a thrilling 24-27 affair against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football three weeks ago, were immediately quelled following their recent string of performances in back-to-back victories over the Arizona Cardinals (36-26) and the Green Bay Packers (37-8). Though the former caused them some problems in their second meeting of the term, it was San Francisco’s showing against the latter last Sunday Night that really opened the eyes of skeptics, cementing their status as the favorite in the NFC. This one was never in question, folks, for Kyle Shanahan’s charges bested the red-hot Packers with frightening ease, grinding their way to a commanding 23-0 lead at Halftime that they would never relinquish. Though the Offense certainly experienced their share of struggles, accumulating a disjointed 339 Total Yards on just Sixteen First Downs, while stalling on Third Down (3-of-9) and scarcely possessing the football (24:44), the Defense put forth arguably their most impressive performance of the campaign, in completely and utterly nullifying the Packers’ Offense, leaving two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers with one of the poorest showings of his illustrious career. Indeed, count Defensive Coordinator, Robert Salah, as one of the fastest rising coaching candidates for this one was a CV Builder, as his troops limited Rodgers to 20-of-33 Passing for a scant 104 Passing Yards, his lowest total in a game in which he finished since 2015. The Niners sacked him five times, hit him on ten occasions, and forced a Fumble that was recovered No. 2 Overall Pick, Nick Bosa (35 TKL, 14 TFL, 16 QBH, 8.0 SK, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 INT, 1 PD), who also accounted for one of those Sacks. Despite possessing the football for a whopping 35:16, the visitors could do very little with it, mustering a meager 198 Total Yards on Nineteen First Downs, including a season-low Eighty-One Net Yards, a miserable 1-of-15 on Third Down, and 1-of-3 on Fourth. Sophomore Linebacker, Fred Warner (81 TKL, 6 TFL, 4 QBH, 3.0 SK, 3 FF, 4 PD), led the team with Eleven Tackles, a Sack, and that Forced Fumble, while the star-studded Defensive Line consisting of Arik Armstead (38 TKL, 10 TFL, 13 QBH, 10.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR), DeForest Buckner (45 TKL, 6 TFL, 11 QBH, 5.5 SK, 1 FF, 3 FR, 1 TD, 2 PD), and the aforementioned Bosa accounted for all but one of those Sacks and Seven Hits of the Quarterback. Clearly, all those years of spending premium Draft Picks on Defensive Linemen is bearing the ripest of fruit, which has completely transformed a Defense that had been an afterthought since the earlier part of the decade, into arguably the most fearsome unit in the league. In 2019, they’ve evolved into monsters allowing just 14.8 Points per Game (2nd Overall) on 248.0 Total Yards (1st Overall), including 136.9 Yards against the Pass (1st Overall) on scant 4.0 Net Yards per Attempt (1st Overall), and another 111.1 Yards versus the Run (19th Overall) on 4.7 Yards per Carry (25th Overall), while permitting 27.5% on Third Down (2nd Overall) and 41.7% in the Red Zone (3rd Overall). Furthermore, they lead the league with Forty-Four Sacks (1st Overall), which has led to a dramatic increase in Takeaways; it’s really a rather remarkable turn of events, for in 2018, San Francisco could only manage a league-low Seven Takeaways (32nd Overall), only to register Twenty-Three through eleven games thus far (4th Overall). To put this all into a historical context, their dominant performances on Defense when coupled with their punishing Offense (averaging 30.2 Points per Game, 2nd Overall) has led to an average Point Differential of 15.4, which would rank as the second-largest behind only the 1985 Chicago Bears (16.1), who of course, dominated en route to claiming Super Bowl XX. The lingering question is, can the Offense do enough, or more particularly can Jimmy Garoppolo (68.8%, 2,731 YDS, 7.21 NY/A, 20 TD, 10 INT, 59.9 QBR) do enough, to bring home the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy, their first since 1994? Garoppolo was acquired midway through the 2017 campaign in a deal with the New England Patriots where he impressed while Tom Brady served an early season suspension. Shanahan, alongside General Manager, John Lynch, moved mountains to acquire his services, though it would be a while before that transaction would pay dividends; the unheralded product out of East Illinois missed all but three games last season with a torn ACL, and has slowly begun to shed the label of Game Manager in this run-heavy Offense. With that said, he’s been nothing short of a winner, going a stellar 16-3 as the Starter in San Francisco, and with an improved Supporting Cast, bolstered by the midseason acquisition of veteran Receiver, Emmanuel Sanders (47 REC, 576 YDS, 12.3 Y/R, 4 TD), and the healthy return of Pro- Bowl Tight End, George Kittle (52 REC, 670 YDS, 12.9 Y/R, 3 TD), we’re beginning to see the promise that made him so desirable years ago. Over the last five games, Garoppolo has rid himself of the requisite rust rehabbing from injury, completing an efficient 69.4% of his Attempts for an average of 283.4 Yards on 7.7 Net Yards per Attempt, throwing Thirteen of his Twenty Touchdowns opposed to Four Interceptions. Delayed by injuries, it appears that the Sixth-Year Signal-Caller is well-worth the wait, which is a notion that can be applied to the team as a whole.
Meanwhile, we’ll challenge you to find a team hotter than the Ravens (9-2, 1st in AFC North), who over the past few weeks have mounted an all-out assault on some of the elite teams in the league, handling each of them with frightening ease. Any questions in regards to this team’s credentials have long-been quelled by now, as Baltimore has absolutely handed it to the likes of the Seattle Seahawks (30-16), New England Patriots (37-20), Houston Texans (41-7), and most recently the Los Angeles Rams (45-6) over the course of a five-week span that has quite frankly has left the sporting world in awe. John Harbaugh, Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman, and Sophomore Quarterback, Lamar Jackson (66.9%, 2,427 YDS, 7.29 NY/A, 24 TD, 5 INT, 111.4 PR), have combined to create something truly unique and effective in this era of football where everyone has grown so enamored with the pass, turning to a ground and pound attack that while many skeptics initially wrote off as an antiquated throwback to the days of old, actually appears to be the next evolution of the game. It al starts with Jackson, who for all intents looks like the second coming of Michael Vick on the gridiron, making the most of his supreme athleticism that has left every defense that he’s encountered searching for answers. Many openly questioned the passing credentials of the Signal-Caller when Baltimore drafted him No. 32 Overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, in a class that was ripe with supposed Franchise Quarterbacks selected ahead of him in the First Round. However, this club has done a masterful job of tailoring their Offense to the unique skills of their Quarterback, and as a result have reaped the benefits; the Ravens lead the NFL in scoring 35.1 Points per Game (1st Overall), surpassing the 40-point threshold on four occasions, including in each of the last three outings. For those have long said that points come via the passing game, we’d ask them to reconsider, for Harbaugh’s charges rank atop the league despite leading it Rushing Yards (210.5), Rushing Attempts (37.0), Rushing Touchdowns (), and Yards per Carry (5.7), which has in turn led to a unit that has churned out yards all the while moving the chains and chewing up precious Time of Possession; the Ravens lead the league in Third Down Percentage (50.4%), Scoring Percentage (55.9%), along with Time (3:29), Plays (6.90), and Yards (42.9), and Points (3.19) per Drive, further validating their shift offensively. Jackson’s ability to propel the Offense on the ground has been a riddle that the rest of the NFL simply has yet to solve, with the 22-Year Old ranking Ninth Overall in Rushing Yards (876) and Tenth in Rushing Yards per Game (79.6), all the while sitting atop the NFL in Yards per Carry (7.1). To put what he’s doing into proper context, Jackson has rushed for more yards than the likes of venerable Tailbacks such as Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, and so on. Furthermore, at 876 Rushing Yards through eleven games, he’s on pace to shatter the aforementioned Vick’s single season record of 1,039 set back in 2006. With that said, those that have wondered about his skills as a passer, it’s remarkable what a dominant running game can do for a Quarterback, particularly when he’s the one doing the running. A year after throwing for just Six Touchdowns in Seven Starts, Jackson leads the NFL with a whopping Twenty-Four Touchdown Passes, which includes a staggering Thirteen in his last four games alone with nary an Interception on his ledger. When we last saw him and the ravens, they made the trip to the west coast where they absolutely embarrassed the reigning NFC Champion, Los Angeles Rams in a 45-6 rout on Monday Night Football. This one was the epitome of domination, folks, as the visitors racked up a total of 480 Yards on Thirty-One First Downs, including 285 Rushing Yards on Forty-Eight Carries, with Jackson completing an efficient 15-of-20 Passes for 169 Yards and a career-high Five Touchdowns. He also rushed for another Ninety-Five Yards, while veteran Tailback, Mark Ingram (151 CAR, 778 YDS, 5.2 Y/C, 9 TD), added 111 Yards and a score on Fifteen Carries, with Gus Edwards (85 CAR, 445 YDS, 5.2 Y/C, 2 TD) chipping in with Fifty-Five Yards on Fourteen Attempts of his own. Baltimore possessed the football for a ridiculous 39:56, scoring on their first Seven Drives, moving the chains at will as they converted 9-of-15 Third Downs, and all three of their attempts on Fourth Down. For those crying that the Offense hasn’t gotten enough production from their Receivers, Rookie Wideout, Marquise Brown (35 REC, 519 YDS, 14.8 Y/R, 6 TD), Five Receptions on Seven Targets for Forty-Two Yards and Two Touchdowns, while Willie Snead (23 REC, 277 YDS, 12.0 Y/R, 4 TD), added another two scores on his only Two Catches. Of course, the Defense benefits tremendously from a running game like this, and they proceeded to get after the Rams, relegating them to 222 Total Yards, including a scant Twenty-Two Yards rushing on just Nine Carries, while Jared Goff was picked off twice and sacked on two occasions. Former Rams’ Cornerback, Marcus Peters (40 TKL, 1 TFL, 5 INT, 3 TD, 9 PD), continued to make plays for the Ravens after a midseason trade sent him to Baltimore, intercepting Goff in his return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, his third pick in five games with his new club. On the season, the 26-Year Old leads the league in both Interceptions (5) and Defensive Touchdowns (3).