Sunday night football was supposed to be the start of a difficult three-game stretch for the 49ers who played host to the Green Bay Packers. However, the 49ers converted the term "difficult' to easy with their 37-8 beat down of the Packers.
The Packers were coming off of a bye, so they were well-rested and should have been prepared. The extra time they had turned out to be useless as they had no response when the 49ers punched them in the mouth. It was a statement win for the 49ers. They are 10-1, tied with the Patriots for the best record in the league..
It begs the question: Are the 49ers the best team in the NFL?
What the 49ers have accomplished should not be minimized. To be able to win with so many key players injured on both sides of the ball speaks to how resourceful they've been. They have the best defense in the league, even with the changing parts, and the offense continues to evolve in Kyle Shanahan's scheme.
The counter-argument is the 49ers have not played many strong teams. Just three of their victories have come against teams that currently have a winning record: The Steelers and Rams, each just 6-5, and the Packers, who are 8-3.
The 49ers have graduated from being labelled pretenders and have emerged as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, especially if they can secure the NFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs. They can't afford to slip up with the Saints and Seahawks just one game behind. The Niners only loss came against Seattle at home. A loss to New Orleans or Seattle could cost the 49ers big time if it comes down to tie-breakers.
The 49ers and Ravens, who last played a big game against each other in the Harbaugh Bowl/Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans following the 2012 season, have similar approaches: They run the ball and play tough defense. Lamar Jackson gives the Ravens a significant twist to their game as his running ability makes him a matchup nightmare. Much like how the 49ers are quieting their "pretenders" narrative, Jackson is quieting the narrative that he can't win games with his arm.
He has demonstrated he can drop back and deliver the ball on time. That is what makes Sunday's matchup so compelling. Can the 49ers pass rush, the best part of their team, slow Jackson down?
The 49ers had a statement win against the Packers on Sunday night and the Ravens embarrassed the defending NFC champions Rams in Los Angeles on Monday night. Things can change in the last five weeks, of course, but for the moment these are the NFL's two best teams.
If San Francisco can go into Baltimore and slow down Jackson and beat the Ravens, it will resonate throughout the league. Then the Niners they'll have to do it against the next week in the Superdome.