The Baltimore Ravens (9-2) and San Francisco 49ers (10-1) will meet Sunday in a matchup of teams making strong cases to be Super Bowl LIV opponents. And while Ravens safety Earl Thomas III isn't sure the Niners will play in the big game, he's confident Baltimore will earn a trip to Miami Gardens.
"You think the 49ers are going to the Super Bowl?" he said when asked about the game being a Super Bowl preview, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN. "It could be. Let's see. When the Super Bowl comes, whoever we play, they're going to be in trouble."
A lot can happen between now and February, but the Ravens have earned the right to be confident.
Baltimore has won seven straight games, including impressive victories over the Seattle Seahawks (9-2), New England Patriots (10-1), Houston Texans (7-4) and Los Angeles Rams (6-5). The Seahawks, Pats and Texans appear likely to be playoff teams.
And the Ravens absolutely blasted the two Super Bowl teams from last season, beating the Pats and Rams by a combined 82-26. The Ravens have scored 37 or more points in four straight games, and during their winning streak, the defense has given up just 14.6 points per game. In the past three weeks, it has allowed an average of 8.7 points.
Lamar Jackson is the front-runner for MVP. John Harbaugh should be the front-runner for Coach of the Year. They are firing on all cylinders, and they are doing it against tough competition—Baltimore has a 5-1 record against teams with winning records.
Jamison Hensley @jamisonhensley
At 22, Lamar Jackson is the youngest NFL player ever to win player of the week four or more times in a season. Jackson has five games remaining to set or tie the record for most player of week awards in a season. Tom Brady (2007) and Cam Newton (2015) each won it five times.
But it'll face a major test in San Francisco, which arguably has the best front seven in football. The Niners give up the fewest yards per game (248), allow the second-fewest points per game (14.8) and rank fourth in takeaways (23), first in sacks (44) and second in third-down conversion percentage against (27.5).
Nick Bosa (35 tackles, eight sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries) is running away with the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. And Arik Armstead (10 sacks), Dee Ford (6.5 sacks) and DeForest Buckner (5.5 sacks) are helping him terrorize opposing quarterbacks.
And while San Francisco has faced an easier schedule than Baltimore (it's 3-1 against teams with winning records), its 37-8 annihilation of the 8-3 Green Bay Packers on Sunday night served as a reminder of its talent.
So, yes, Sunday's matchup very well could be a Super Bowl preview. Thomas certainly expects the Ravens to be there.