The coaching battle between brothers Jim and John Harbaugh will be a mere conversation point on Thanksgiving when the San Francisco 49ers travel to face the Baltimore Ravens, in a battle between two playoff-hopefuls.
The 49ers are the clear favorites to win the weak NFC West division, while the Ravens are in a tight AFC North battle and may even be fighting for a wild card berth.
More than a matchup between brothers, the late Thursday game will be a battle between among the two stingiest defenses in the NFL.
San Francisco's defense are the NFL leaders in average points allowed (14.5). The most points they have allowed all year is 27, which came in their Week Two overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys. There have only been three opponents that have scored 20 points or more against the 49ers this season.
The Ravens's defense is third in the NFL in average points allowed (17.6), and fourth in total average yards allowed per game (304.5), while the 49ers are eight (323.1). Baltimore may be without future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who is listed as questionable with a toe injury.
San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith has silenced some critics this season. Smith has completed 62.4 percent of his passes, and has thrown 13 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. His 93.9 passer rating ranks seventh in the NFL.
The 49ers also have one of the best rushers in the league. Frank Gore averages 4.6 yards per carry, and already has 870 yards on the season, to go along with five touchdowns.
Baltimore will need a balanced attack to beat San Francisco. The Ravens have a strong passing attack with wide receivers Anquan Boldin and rookie Torrey Smith. Though quarterback Joe Flacco has had some struggles this season, the Ravens are capable of putting up points, and when they do, they win. Baltimore's three losses came in games when the Ravens failed to score more than 17 points.
Ray Rice will also be key against the 49ers. The former Pro Bowl running back has averaged 4.2 yards a carry, and has rushed for 662 yards, and eight touchdowns. San Francisco has the best rush defense in the NFL, as Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis has emerged as one of the best defensive players in the league.
The 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown all season.
I'll tell you what, it's going to be a hard-fought game, said John Harbaugh, the Ravens head coach. I don't think it's going to be a trick 'em game.
LINE: Ravens are favored by 3 points.
OVER/UNDER: 40 points.
PREDICTION: This game will be just as tight as many expect it to be. With the rushing game hampered by a hard-nosed San Francisco defense, the Ravens' offense will have to throw the ball more than they'd like, but it will yield positive results. The 49ers' offense will need Gore to have a big game, otherwise they may be in for a long night. In a hurry-up offense, Alex Smith will need to be accurate in his passes to Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, but the Ravens can contain both receivers -- even without Ray Lewis. Expect the Ravens to squeak out a victory, but in ugly fashion.
PREDICTED SCORE: Ravens 21, 49ers 20.