Why Jerry Rice believes 49ers vs. Ravens will be Super Bowl preview

Why Jerry Rice believes 49ers vs. Ravens will be Super Bowl preview

As far as early December NFL matchups go, this Sunday's tilt between the 49ers and Ravens might be one of the most hyped in recent memory.

The 49ers (10-1), fresh off a demolition of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, will travel east to face Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (9-2), who are winners of seven straight and just pounded the Rams into dust on "Monday Night Football." Both teams have been virtually unstoppable this season, and have dreams of playing in the Super Bowl come February.

San Francisco is led by the NFL's best defense, which has been making mincemeat out of opposing passers all season long. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense slowly are improving and appear close to raising their game to meet the level of their elite defense.

The Ravens' rushing attack has drilled holes through everything put in their way this season. Baltimore leads the NFL with 210.5 rushing yards per game. San Francisco ranks second, albeit well behind the Ravens at 145.6 yards per game. 

Sunday's game will have a number of fascinating matchups. How will Baltimore's offensive line, with a new center, hold up against the 49ers' D-line? Can the Ravens defense force Garoppolo to make mistakes? How in the world will the Niners slow down Lamar Jackson?

The matchup has just about everything and might just be a Super Bowl preview. Jerry Rice certainly thinks so.

"I really do," Rice told 95.7 The Game's "Jo, Lo and Dibs" when asked if he thinks this is a Super Bowl preview. "I was looking at the game between the Cowboys and the Patriots. The Patriots are not putting up points, they won that game 13-9. Dallas just could not get into the end zone. I don't know if it had to do with the weather or they just lost focus on special teams. I don't think Jerry Jones is very excited with the way they played. 

"But the Patriots are not putting up points. With Tom Brady, his passer rating his not that good and they are winning football games on defense. [The 49ers] have the defense. We also have the offense. I think the Ravens and Lamar Jackson, what they were able to do to the Patriots I think has pretty much exposed them a little bit. And you might be looking at the Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl."

While the Ravens are red-hot, their path to the Super Bowl still would go through Foxboro and Gillette Stadium with the Patriots sitting at 10-1. While Jackson torched the Pats in Week 9, it would be hard to bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at home in January.

As for the 49ers, their road to the Super Bowl could be all sorts of treacherous. While they currently sit in the No. 1 seed, a loss coupled with a Seahawks win would send them to the No. 5 seed with four weeks to play. The NFC also is loaded with talent as the 49ers will have to knock off at least two of the Seahawks, Packers, Saints, Cowboys/Eagles and Vikings in order to reach Miami, which is a tall task.

[RELATED: 49ers-Ravens Super Bowl? Earl Thomas not sold on Niners]

Both the Niners and Ravens appear to be the class of their respective conferences, but don't start counting your eggs before January.

Wes Welker, now 49ers coach, doesn't subscribe to Bill Belichick's methods

Wes Welker, now 49ers coach, doesn't subscribe to Bill Belichick's methods

Bill Belichick's Patriot Way has delivered unmatched success over the past two decades, with the legendary coach and quarterback Tom Brady winning six Super Bowl and appearing in three more.

Former wide receiver Wes Welker, now the 49ers receivers coach, thrived as one of Brady's main weapons, catching 672 passes for 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns in six seasons in New England. But Welker and the Patriots had a messy breakup, when Belichick chose not to attempt to re-sign the slot receiver when he hit the open market in 2013.

Belichick's way, while proven effective, can wear on players and Welker doesn't subscribe to the no-nonsense approach to coaching.

"I was still upset about it," Welker told WEEI's "The Greg Hill Show" about his departure from the Pats. "I did want to be there, but there was part of me -- I just like enjoying the game. I like having fun, all those things. Coaching now, you learn a lot from the tactics and different things like that, but at the same time putting your own twist on it and understanding -- I tell my guys all the time: ‘As long as we’re giving great effort and we’re on top of our assignments we’re going to be good. Once it’s not where we need to be, that is when we have problems.’

“Kind of being there and there’s a big mental aspect to the game of being prepared, being this, being that, all those different things, but also enjoying yourself and having fun playing the game. I feel like you’re playing your best ball when you’re having fun and enjoying (yourself). I think there were some times where I didn’t really feel that at times for different reasons -- the guys that we had in the locker room, the camaraderie that we had was better some years than others. We had all these different things and when you’re one of the highest-paid players on the team you’re expected to deliver and like a highly paid player. There’s definitely pressure on that and all these different things is tough and it’s hard. Coach Belichick is hard on guys and tries to get the most out of him that he can.”

There's no question Belichick's my way or the highway attitude isn't for everyone. Even Brady chose to turn in his Patriot Way membership card this offseason, electing to finish his career in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers.

[RELATED: Raiders, 49ers go offense/defense in latest mock draft]

Welker, who began his coaching career with the Houston Texans before joining the 49ers in 2019, no doubt has taken some motivational tricks from Belichick while also crafting his own way that allows his players to be disciplined but also enjoy the journey.

What 49ers' options are with $15.7M left in cap space this offseason

What 49ers' options are with $15.7M left in cap space this offseason

Two weeks into the new league year, and with most of the team’s contracts tabulated, the 49ers rank 20th in the NFL in room under the league’s salary cap.

According to figures released by the NFL Players Association, the 49ers have 74 players under contract for the 2020 season and are $15,741,039 under the league’s $198.2 million salary cap.

Only the top 51 players count toward each team’s salary cap until the cutdown to 53 players for the start of the regular season.

The figure does not include the recently signed one-year contract for backup offensive lineman Ben Garland or free-agent agreements with lineman Tom Compton and wide receiver Travis Benjamin.

The 49ers carried over $7.86 million of unused cap room from last year’s cap into 2020.

The 49ers must leave cap space this offseason to sign their rookie class. The 49ers have seven scheduled draft picks, including Nos. 13 and 31 in the first round.

The club is also expected to pursue a contract extension with tight end George Kittle, who is in line to become the NFL’s highest-paid tight end -- by a lot.

[RELATEDGeorge Kittle's new contract will be 49ers' next priority after free agency]

Kittle has one season remaining on his original rookie contract. Earlier this offseason, the Cleveland Browns signed tight end Austin Hooper to a four-year, $42 million contract.

Here is the list of salary cap space for each team (players under contract in parenthesis):

Houston (64) $45,834,619
N.Y. Jets (65) $45,018,663
Cleveland (65) $45,347,227
L.A. Chargers (53) $39,675,066
Tennessee (58) $33,186,101
Washington (68) $32,145,235
Detroit (76) $31,893,750
Denver (76) $28,875,754
Philadelphia (65) $28,544,977
Indianapolis (69) $27,540,144
Dallas (62) $27,310,030
Jacksonville (61) $23,485,088
Miami (78) $23,359,352
Buffalo (67) $23,172,999
Chicago (61) $22,122,887
N.Y. Giants (65) $18,571,509
Carolina (62) $17,508,922
L.A. Rams (55) $16,883,884
Raiders (73) $15,825,066
49ers (74) $15,741,039

Tampa Bay (62) $15,512,767
Cincinnati (62) $15,181,484
Green Bay (63) $13,580,733
Minnesota (59) $13,172,243
Baltimore (57) $12,230,579
Seattle (64) $11,919,646
Arizona (63) $10,360,175
New Orleans (64) $9,914,157
Pittsburgh (69) $9,344,614
Atlanta (60) $7,456,988
New England (67) $1,568,575
Kansas City (62) $676,971

Source: NFL Players Association.