On Christmas Day (8:15 PM EST;📺: ABC), arguably the two best teams in all of football will face off in a potential Super Bowl preview, and excitement is at an all-time high. This is the biggest game of the year for both teams and will be a competitive battle until the final whistle blows. The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers come into their matchup with identical 11-3 records, tied with each other for the best record in the NFL. One team will come out on top as the NFL’s best team and it will be an absolute pleasure to watch. Here are a few things to look for in this heavyweight matchup:
Battle of the Defenses
The Ravens and the 49ers come into their Monday Night matchup with the two best scoring defenses in the NFL (BAL: 16.1 OPPG; SF: 16.7 OPPG), meaning both teams’ MVP candidate quarterbacks will be tested. Leading both defenses are arguably the two best inside linebackers in the NFL: San Francisco’s Fred Warner and Baltimore’s Roquan Smith. On top of those two anchoring their respective defense, we will see elite pass rushers such as reigning DPOY Nick Bosa (10.5 sacks) and Justin Madubuike (12.0 sacks). Madubuike especially has had a massive breakout 2023 season, recording the 11th most sacks in all of football from the defensive tackle position through Week 15, which is easily the most sacks by a defensive tackle thus far in 2023 (2nd: MIA Christian Wilkins, 8.0). The Ravens as a unit have the most team sacks in the NFL this year with 50, so the 49ers offensive line led by Trent Williams will be put to the test.
On top of their elite defenses, both Baltimore and San Francisco have pure firepower on the offensive side of the ball. Leading the helm are the quarterbacks: San Francisco’s Brock Purdy and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, who happen to be the two current odds-on favorites for NFL MVP (Purdy: -200, Jackson: +500; FanDuel). The outcome of Monday Night’s game could very well decide who the league’s MVP is in 2023. Not far behind them is 49ers RB Christian McCaffrey (+1100; FanDuel), who is the biggest x-factor in every game the 49ers play. On top of the MVP candidates, each team has some exceptional playmakers, including players like WR Deebo Samuel, WR Brandon Aiyuk, WR Odell Beckham Jr, and rookie WR Zay Flowers. This collection of players has led San Francisco and Baltimore to the 3rd and 4th highest-scoring offenses in football (SF: 30.4 PPG; BAL: 27.4 PPG), which matched up against the previously mentioned top two scoring defenses in the NFL will undoubtedly create some Christmas magic.
What To Look For?
With how truly even these two teams are, there are multiple aspects of the game I will personally be focused on come Monday. Here are a few of those focal points:
The Ravens’ Secondary vs. The 49ers’ Fast-Paced Offense
The San Francisco 49ers and Kyle Shanahan run one of the most high-powered offenses in all of football, ranking 1st in the NFL in yards per play (6.8) and only 29th in the NFL in offensive plays per game (59.3), so the Baltimore Ravens secondary in particular is going to have an important job on their hands trying to contain the 49ers flamethrower offense. Players like S Kyle Hamilton, CB Marlon Humphrey, and CB Brandon Stephens are going to have a heap of responsibility come Monday, and if the season story remains the same, San Francisco will have to get creative.
Will The Ravens Offensive Line Survive Nick Bosa?
The reigning NFL DPOY has had an “underwhelming” season so far to his standards, recording 10.5 sacks through Week 15. However, Bosa remains one of the league’s premier pass rushers. On top of that, the Ravens have had some tackle issues in 2023, with former All-Pro LT Ronnie Stanley specifically having major struggles as of late. The interior of Baltimore’s offensive line in LG John Simpson, C Tyler Linderbaum, and RG Kevin Zeitler will have their hands full with DTs Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead, and along with DE Chase Young lining up on the edge for San Francisco, Bosa will be very hard to contain. Keep an eye on a potential Bosa/Stanley matchup.
Can Baltimore Compete with San Francisco’s Weapons?
It’s no secret that San Francisco has one of the most talented offenses in the NFL surrounding Brock Purdy, with weapons like WRs Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk alongside All-Pro level TE George Kittle. However, despite the clear talent difference in weapons, the Ravens offense has been just as dominant as the 49ers. Players like WRs Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr, backup TE Isaiah Likely, who has stepped up for Todd Monken‘s offense big time in Mark Andrews‘ absence, and red zone machine RB Gus Edwards have helped propel the Ravens offense and Lamar Jackson to new heights. It’ll be an interesting dynamic to see how the Ravens’ weapons match up with the 49ers’ counterparts.
This star-studded matchup is going to light up Christmas night, and all signs are leading toward this being the best game of the 2023 NFL season. Two elite offenses. Two elite defenses. The winner gets the best record in the NFL. Lamar Jackson. Brock Purdy. The lights will be bright, the stars will shine, and the best team shall prevail.