The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers have thrived this season because they are hard-nosed, physical and relentless.
Both teams are mirrors of their head coaches.
Thursday night John and Jim Harbaugh will make history becoming the first brothers to compete on opposite sidelines as head coaches.John Harbaugh is seeking to take the Ravens (7-3) to the postseason for the fourth time in as many years at the helm. Meanwhile, Jim Harbaugh has turned the 49ers (9-1) into a legitimate Super Bowl contender in his rookie year as an NFL head coach by instilling his unmatched work ethic into a blue-collar offense and the league’s stingiest defense.
Like the 49ers, the Ravens are built around a rugged defense and a punishing ground game. Though Baltimore may be minus All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens’ defense ranks fourth overall in the NFL and fifth against the run, allowing just 93.2 yards per game.
Similarly, the 49ers run defense has been stout in 2011. San Francisco has a streak of 32 consecutive games without allowing an opposing back to rush for 100 yards or more, but that streak may be in great jeopardy come Thursday night. Ravens running back Ray Rice, who rushed for 104 yards on 20 carries against the Bengals last week, ranks 12th in the NFL with his 663 rushing yards this season.
As for the Ravens’ passing game, quarterback Joe Flacco and rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith have really seemed to click as the season has progressed. Smith leads all rookie receivers with an 18.5 yard per catch average, and has hooked up with Flacco on passes of 74, 51, 49 and 36 yards this season.
Considering San Francisco ranks No. 1 in the NFL against the run, but only 23rd against the pass, one would think defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will have to pay special extra attention to Flacco, Smith and the rest of the Ravens’ receiving threats.
The ramifications of the outcome of this contest will be grand for both teams. With a win over the Ravens Thursday combined with a loss by the Seahawks Sunday, the 49ers would clinch the NFC West championship. For the Ravens, a win Thursday and they remain in control of their own destiny, having already swept the Pittsburgh Steelers, who also sit atop the AFC North at 7-3.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:20 p.m. and the game can be seen on NFL Network, but if you live in the Baltimore market and you do not have NFL Network, the game will be shown on your local NBC affiliate.