If you're heading to the 49ers-Ravens game in Baltimore on Sunday, bring a poncho. Heck, bring four. It still might not be enough.
Sunday's highly anticipated game between two Super Bowl hopefuls is expected to be a bad weather game. When I say bad, well, just have a look:
It's going to be cold, wet and humid. Not exactly a quarterback's dream scenario.
So, it begs the question: Which team does the forecast favor more?
At first glance, San Francisco might appear to be the answer, despite the fact that the 49ers will be playing on the road against the highest-scoring team in the NFL. Why? Because they've been there before.
In Week 7, San Francisco went into a torrential downpour in Washington and came out of the mud bowl with a 9-0 shutout road win. It certainly wasn't the prettiest 49ers' performance this season, as evidenced by their muddied uniforms following the victory. The weather significantly hampered both passing attacks and kicking games, but of the two teams, the 49ers performed far better in both categories. Jimmy Garoppolo threw for twice as many yards as Case Keenum, and while Robbie Gould missed one field-goal attempt, he converted his three others for the only points in the game. Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins missed his lone attempt.
The Ravens, on the other hand, haven't had a bad weather game yet this season. They've played in a slight drizzle twice, but nothing like the weather that is expected Sunday in Baltimore.
So, it favors San Francisco, right?
Not so fast. It's not that simple.
Just like in Week 7, Sunday's weather likely will result in both offenses favoring the run more than the pass. The problem for the 49ers, then, is that the Ravens are a far better rushing team than Washington. They're not just good or even great. They're the best in the league.
Baltimore averages 210.5 rush yards per game. San Francisco ranks second in the league with an average of 145.6. That's a bigger difference than between the 49ers and Bengals, who rank 28th in the NFL with 81.1 rush yards per contest.
And the Ravens' leading rusher isn't even a running back. That would be quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is the MVP frontrunner and on pace to set the single-season rushing record by a QB. He is the focus of every opposing defense he faces, and rightfully so, but Baltimore has planned for that.
Behind Jackson, the Ravens have one of the strongest running-back tandems in the league with Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, both of whom average 5.2 yards per carry and have combined for 1,223 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. At least two of Jackson, Ingram and Edwards usually are on the field at the same time, and they're all capable of breaking a big one.
But what about the defenses? Don't the 49ers have an advantage there?
Based on pure talent, yes. San Francisco arguably has the best defense in the league, and as evidenced by Sunday night's win over the Packers, the 49ers' front seven can wreak havoc on any game plan.
But the QBs that have somewhat been able to expose San Francisco's defense have been of the dual-threat variety, and Jackson is the scariest of that bunch. Arizona's Kyler Murray has given the 49ers a lot of trouble both times they faced him this season, and Seattle's Russell Wilson dealt them their only loss.
Now, the bad weather might hamper Jackson's ability to cut and change direction, thereby limiting his impact as a runner. However, one would assume he'll still be somewhat of a running threat at a minimum, and that's an advantage that San Francisco can't match.
If the 49ers have an advantage other than prior experience, it's their rushing attack against Baltimore's rush defense. The Ravens only allow 87.7 rushing yards per game so far this season which ranks third-best in the league. But that's more a reflection of the success of their rushing offense than it is their defense. Baltimore averages 35:05 of possession per game (1st in NFL), nearly two minutes more than San Francisco, which ranks second. In the Ravens' back-to-back losses in Weeks 3 and 4, they gave up 140 and 193 yards rushing to the Chiefs and Browns, respectively.
The 49ers are at their best when they're running effectively enough to set up the play-action pass. They very well might do that against the Ravens on Sunday, but even if they do, the weather might rule out their resulting advantage through the air.
Baltimore doesn't have the same concern, or at least not to the same degree. If passing seems all but impossible, they can revert to their bread and butter, and let Jackson and the rushing attack do their thing.
The weather shouldn't be a major advantage for either side. But even if it tilts ever so slightly towards Baltimore, that could prove the difference between two seemingly evenly-matched teams.