A potential Super Bowl preview between the NFL’s top two teams this season, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, headlines an extended Christmas holiday slate with playoff berths also at stake.
Baltimore will visit San Francisco to cap a Christmas Monday triple-header with each conference leader at 11-3 and on pace for a first-round bye and home-field advantage until Super Bowl 58 on February 11 in Las Vegas.
“It’ll be probably the game of the year. I’m excited to be part of it,” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said.
“If this could be a rematch of Super Bowl I would love it. That would mean we took care of business and got there. But for right now it’s just good to have a very good challenge on Monday. We’re just really excited for that.”
The rivals boast the NFL’s longest active win streaks, the 49ers with six in a row and Baltimore with four consecutive victories, but the Ravens are oddsmakers’ underdogs, a snub that irks players.
“We feel a little disrespected by that,” Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton said. “I feel like we’re the best team in the league and we have an opportunity in front of the country to show it.”
Baltimore’s run-pass threat quarterback Lamar Jackson takes inspiration from seeing the 49ers favored.
“I like being the underdog. I believe we play better when we’re doubted,” said Jackson, who played down Super Bowl hype.
“Super Bowl is in February. We’re in December,” Jackson said. “We have to focus on Monday night. I’m not worried about what people are saying.”
The Ravens allow the NFL’s fewest points and second-fewest yards and top the league in quarterback sacks while 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy leads the NFL with 29 touchdown passes and ranks second in passing yardage with 3,795.
“He’s playing at a very high level, leading a very high-level offense to great success,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He sees things. He gets the ball out quick. He can make every throw.”
San Francisco also boasts NFL rushing leader Christian McCaffrey, who has run for 1,292 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“Everybody knows where we want to be and we know each week you have to bring your best ball,” McCaffrey said. “We’re going to get everyone’s best shot, so the standard has got to continue to rise.”
Purdy and Jackson are among the top contenders for NFL Most Valuable Player.
“I heard he’s the MVP front-runner, but I know my real MVP front-runner is in this locker room,” Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike said of Purdy and Jackson. “(Purdy) has a good team. He’s doing good things. But he hasn’t seen us yet.”
Philadelphia (10-4) will host the New York Giants (5-9) and defending champion Kansas City (9-5) will entertain Las Vegas (6-8) in the other Monday contests.
Ten NFL games on Sunday include a showdown of 10-4 teams Dallas and Miami. Each stands second in a conference race and ready to pounce upon a Ravens-Niners loser in the chase for playoff seeding.
Kicking off the gridiron feast on Saturday will be two 8-6 playoff contenders in road contests, with Buffalo at the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati at Pittsburgh.
– Chiefs, Dolphins near playoffs –
The Detroit Lions (10-4) visit Minnesota (7-7) on Sunday needing only a victory to clinch the NFC North title and join San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas in the NFC post-season.
The Lions could clinch their first playoff berth since 2016 with a loss by either Seattle or the Los Angeles Rams. They have lost nine consecutive NFL playoff games since last winning in 1991.
In the AFC, only Baltimore has clinched a playoff spot but Kansas City and Miami can do so with weekend triumphs and the Cleveland Browns (9-5) could manage the feat by winning Sunday at Houston (8-6) and having four or more other games fall exactly in their favor.
The Browns have reached the NFL playoffs only once in the past 20 seasons.