The most highly anticipated game of the season pits the Baltimore Ravens against the San Francisco 49ers in a game that impacts the New Orleans Saints.
The 10-2 New Orleans Saints have the second-best record in the NFC and are one game out of the first seed in the NFC to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. There is still a lot of football left to be played but that is the Saints’ remaining goal after clinching the NFC South on Thanksgiving.
The team ahead of the Saints is the San Francisco 49ers, who are 10-1 on the season and have to go to New Orleans in Week 14 to play the Saints in the Superdome. The winner of that game will get the tiebreaker if the two teams finish with the same record.
Anything can happen, though, and the Saints need the 49ers to lose more than against them to give the Saints margin for error if they let one of the last four games slip away from them. Luckily for the Saints, the 49ers play in the most-anticipated matchup of the year on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
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The Ravens have been rolling and right now look like the hardest team to beat in the league. It all stems from a unique offense built around Lamar Jackson, which relies on power running and a quarterback that is lethal on the ground and can drop passes in the smallest of windows.
The Ravens have done a great job at building an offense around Jackson’s skill set to maximize his potential. With multiple tight ends, the team essentially has a larger offensive line that helps the run game and helps protect the pocket.
Thus far, this offense has been a Rubix Cube that defensive coordinators cannot crack. If you send pressure to Lamar he will either escape the pocket and burn you downfield or dump it off to one of his pass-catching tight ends.
If you sit back and don’t blitz then you are going to give Jackson the entire day to throw the ball, which cannot be done with the playmakers in the receiving corps. You cannot simply look to bring four or five and stop the Ravens.
The Ravens have been so great on offense that they have outscored their last five opponents 202 to 62. These have not been shmucks, either, as the Ravens beat the Seahawks by 14, the steller Patriots defense by 17, the Texans by 34 and the Rams by 39.
They come up against a great defense in the San Francisco 49ers, who are coming off of a statement win over the Green Bay Packers that allowed the Saints to be the sole team in the second seed. The 49ers’ defense has figured everyone out and there is a reason that they are 10-1.
However, for the most part, the 49ers have had a relatively easy schedule and the blowout win over the Packers was the first real statement win. And even then, one bad game can happen for any team, the Ravens have been doing it now for five weeks.
The 49ers beating the Ravens makes them the best team in the league, but still a beatable one at that, especially to the Saints. However, if the 49ers completely figure out the Ravens’ offense and hold them to a whimper then the New Orleans Saints should be extremely worried.
Not even because of the record but because of the precedent that it would set. The Ravens have the toughest offense to solve in the league and if the 49ers’ defense shuts it down they will be the first team to really neutralize them all year. If they can solve that offense, they can solve the Saints offense.
Sure, Sean Payton gets creative with Taysom Hill but New Orleans’ offense is nowhere near as complex or hard to crack as the Ravens. We have already seen it this year with Drew Brees under center. If you scheme Michael Thomas right and get pressure to Brees then the Saints will have a hard time.
Even if the Saints end up beating the 49ers next week I would not get overly comfortable. Stopping the Ravens’ high-octane offense is the most telling thing that any defense can do as we head into the playoffs.
That is why the New Orleans Saints should be paying close attention to this game. Their future depends on it.