In what should be a great match-up to bring the NFL’s annual slate of Thanksgiving Day games to a close, the 49ers travel cross-country to take on the Baltimore Ravens in a tilt featuring plenty of intrigue. These two teams are coached by the Harbaugh brothers, Jim and John. Jim Harbaugh has his San Francisco squad truly defying the odds at the moment, as they look poised to end their playoff drought and end the season atop the NFC West. They currently sit with a 9-1 record and could easily be 10-0 if it wasn’t for a wild comeback victory by Dallas in Week 2. More impressively for San Francisco is they are currently flawless against the spread, with a record of 9-0-1.
John Harbaugh is experiencing a season of extreme highs and lows with his wildly enigmatic Ravens squad. When this team is on, they’re undoubtedly one of the best in football. They can beat teams in a variety of different ways, and remain as physical a side as there is in the NFL. But this team has been prone to huge letdowns and critical lapses at key junctures in their season. Though they enter this pivotal clash with an impressive 7-3 record, when you consider who they’ve lost to (Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle), you can’t help but wonder if they too could be a perfect 10-0.
The Harbaugh brothers lead two teams that play remarkably similar football and excel in their respective game-plans. Both are physical, hard-hitting, smash-mouth sides that run the football very well and don’t give up much on defense. The 49ers defense has been the best against the run all season and will make life very difficult on Ravens’ star back Ray Rice. Baltimore is continuing their traditional dominance on defense, boasting the league’s 4th-ranked unit, but could be short-handed for this game as key linebacker Ray Lewis remains questionable. Lewis is the undisputed leader on that defense, and if he can’t go it’s undoubtedly a huge loss, but one that the team is capable of overcoming considering the depth they boast.
49ers vs. Ravens Spread, Line, and Betting Odds:
San Francisco 49ers +3 (+105)
@ Baltimore Ravens -3 (-125)
Over 40 (-110)
Under 40 (-110)
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49ers vs. Ravens Pick:
This will be a very competitive football game featuring two teams, and brothers, that despise losing. As mentioned earlier, the 49ers have virtually emerged from nowhere to possess one of football’s best records, but they’ve yet to prove themselves on the road against one of the game’s elite teams. Travelling cross-country is always an arduous journey, and when you consider San Francisco must play this game in the very hostile atmosphere that awaits in Baltimore, it will make life very difficult on a 49ers squad unfamiliar and untested in such conditions.
Both teams possess great running games, and dominant individual backs in Frank Gore of the 49ers, and Ray Rice of Baltimore. Though both teams will try and establish their dominant ground games, both defenses are exemplary in stuffing the run, and should force both quarterbacks to turn to their aerial attack.
This is where the game should open up and tilt the edge to the hometown Ravens. Joe Flacco takes a fair amount of flack, but has proven he can be a more than capable quarterback, especially in these types of playoff-like games. His adversary, the former first overall pick Alex Smith is definitely improving and gradually shedding himself of that unfortunate ‘bust’ label that plagued him for years, but still remains unproven and untested in this sort of situation. San Francisco ranks an abysmal 27th in the league throwing the ball, while the Ravens enter this one the 12th ranked team through the air. Add in the fact that the Niners’ defense, while awesome defending the run, has struggled mightily in giving up passing yards. Look for the Flacco to Boldin connection be in fine form Thanksgiving evening, while the emerging Torrey Smith should stretch the field and get behind the 49ers’ secondary with regularity.
The Ravens have been prone to having bad games in traditional letdown spots, but you can bet they’ll be raring to go in the prime-time spotlight pitting brother vs. brother in a potential Super Bowl preview. San Francisco is a successful run-heavy team, but with a banged up Frank Gore going against a mean Ravens defense in a hostile atmosphere, they won’t experience the results they’ve become accustomed to. Alex Smith has been solid this season, but will get hurried, sacked, and intercepted against the toughest defense he’ll face all season. Not to mention he leads an awful third-down offense, currently sitting at only a 31% conversion rate in this situation. Conversely, Baltimore has been its usual self on the pivotal down on defense, only allowing 32 percent of them to turn into first-downs.
Right now this line has been fluctuating between 3 and 3.5 points at various sportsbooks in favour of Baltimore. In an affair which is expected to be a low-scoring defensive struggle, it’s important to take the key number of 3 to give yourself some added insurance in the event of a field goal differential.
A lot of the 49ers success this season can be attributed to a relatively weak NFC West schedule. They’re a good team, and the undisputed class of the NFC West, but this a huge step up in competition for the Niners and their quarterback Alex Smith against a vicious defense. Expect the Ravens to squeak out a hard-fought victory led by their stout defense on Thanksgiving Thursday.