This week’s matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers is already being touted as “the game of the year” and a “potential Super Bowl preview.” However, the dueling dichotomy in which its being predicted by in the national media is stark.
Both teams come into this Monday Night Football showdown on Christmas night with identical records at 11-3, sitting atop their respective divisions and conferences. Despite this, some pundits are counting the Ravens out before they even get on the plane to travel to the West Coast.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Ravens star second-year defensive back Kyle Hamilton was asked if the team embraces the role of being looked at as the underdogs for just the second time this year.
“I think internally we don’t feel that way,” Hamilton said. “Externally, I don’t know what it is. Whether it’s-I don’t know what it is. Whether it’s the lack of prime time games we’ve got or whatever. But I think the 11-3’s are not created equal right now in terms of the 49ers vs. us. We feel a little disrespected by that. I feel like we’re the best team in the league and we got an opportunity in front of the country to show it.”
The 49ers are currently favored to win by 5.5 according to DraftKings Sportsbook but in the eyes of Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, it won’t even be that close. The hot-take sports talk show host predicted that San Francisco will win convincingly and them being crowned Super Bowl champions is all but guaranteed assuming they stay healthy the rest of the way.
Well that does it then. Cancel this game and the playoffs ♂️— Ryan Ripken (@ryanripken) December 22, 2023
Or hear me out, you go out and compete and see what happens.
“As long as their key players are healthy, the 49ers are gonna kick the shit out of everybody they face. The quest is for second place,” Florio said. “The 49ers kick the shit out of the Ravens on Monday night. I’m sorry. I know that’s disrespectful to the Ravens, but let’s be realistic. They’ve gotta fly across the country, on Christmas night, and the 49ers are waiting. And the 49ers are going to dismantle the Ravens. If it’s a Super Bowl preview, the Super Bowl is gonna suck.”
The 31-second clip of him completely dismissing the Ravens and any chance they have of winning is a prime example of the disrespect Hamilton eluded to with his comments earlier in the week.
Florio wasn’t the only media figure that slighted the Ravens on Friday. During a segment talking about his reluctance in trusting the Miami Dolphins to contend for a championship this year, Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd took jabs at the other teams that have been at the top of the conference over the past few years.
“I’ve had my doubts about Miami all season long,” Cowherd said. “I don’t expect much from them in the playoff although this is the year to do well in the AFC. (Patrick) Mahomes is down, (Joe) Burrow is gone, Baltimore is falling apart.”
The Ravens have a top-five offense and an elite defense, one of the deepest rosters in the league, and not only leads their division but has the best record in the conference. For a team with all of this, and one that hasn’t lost a game since since early November, they’re far from falling apart. In fact, they appear to be peaking at the right time heading into what many believed would be the toughest part of their schedule.
Despite injuries suffered by key players on both sides of the ball and a rise in the level of competition during their four-game win streak, the Ravens have continued to find ways to weather any storm.
Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews suffered a serious ankle injury that put him out of commission indefinitely. Since then, they’ve had several of their wide receivers and second-year tight end Isaiah Likely step up to fill the void more than admirably. Undrafted rookie running back Keaton Mitchell was an electrifying spark for the offense over the last two months before suffering a season-ending torn ACL in last week’s win. They still have a talented backfield, though, with plenty of veteran experience and the best dual-threat quarterback in league history. Lamar Jackson can carry the load for the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack.
The national media isn’t all bad when it comes to covering the Ravens in relation to the other hot teams in the AFC at least. On Monday, the Ravens had their legitimacy vehemently defended by Cowherd’s former co-host and fellow Fox Sports talk show host Joy Taylor on an episode of Speak. When asked by co-host Emmanuel Acho if the Buffalo Bills, who are currently the ninth seed in the current AFC playoff standings, were “quietly the best team in the AFC”, she quickly rebutted with a simple question, “Do the Baltimore Ravens not exist?”
Are the Bills quietly the best team in the AFC?— Speak (@SpeakOnFS1) December 18, 2023
"Do the Baltimore Ravens not exist? They're the best team in the AFC... I demand that we put a little bit of respect on the Baltimore Ravens." — @JoyTaylorTalks pic.twitter.com/ITENHEokqa
“They’re the best team in the AFC,” Taylor said. “I demand that we put a little bit of respect on the Baltimore Ravens.”
Ravens’ veteran All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith understands the business side of content creation and that it usually comes with one or more teams being slighted. However, he told reporters on Wednesday that he has the “utmost respect and the utmost trust” in all of his teammates as they prepare for their toughest test of the season.
Roquan Smith on the Ravens being an underdog to the 49ers:— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) December 20, 2023
“I’m betting on us 10 times out of 10 — 11 if you want to add one.” pic.twitter.com/jYgRK2KrLH
“I’m betting on us 10 times out of 10 — 11 if you want to add one,” Smith said.
While the 49ers themselves have been nothing but humble and complementary of their underdog opponents leading up to this game, the Ravens have been given plenty of bulletin board material from outside sources. More importantly, they know they have a golden opportunity to shock the world on a national stage in their biggest litmus test of the season.
The Ravens could not only play the role of the Grinch that stole Christmas with a win, but put the entire league on notice if they flip Florio’s prediction script. While a double-digit win over the hottest team in the league seems like a longshot, it wouldn’t be inconceivable given the unpredictable nature of the sport and would be quite a bold statement.
Even if they aren’t able to pull off an upset and come up just short, a strong performance against the Super Bowl favorites would go a long way in seeing how they rank among the league’s elite.
Five years ago, the roles were reversed and the Ravens were the hottest team in the league during Jackson’s unanimous MVP-winning season. The 49ers came to Baltimore in early December and suffered just their second loss of the year. They dropped their third game of the season two weeks later to the Atlanta Falcons. However, their loss to the Ravens helped mold them into the team that made a deep playoff run and returned to the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly a decade.
As unsatisfactory as losing this game would be given all the hype, emerging healthy and with a clearer picture of who they are would be just as beneficial for the Ravens as extending their win streak and snapping the 49ers’.