The NFL had its game of the year on Sunday as the red-hot Ravens hosted the one-loss 49ers, and it did not disappoint as Baltimore emerged with a 20-17 victory on the final kick of the game.
It could just be a Super Bowl preview and, if it is, sign us up. But there was a more important message coming out of this game: No team has a better resume down the stretch than the Ravens.
1. Why should the Ravens be the undisputed Super Bowl favorites at this point?
You will be hard-pressed to find a team with a better track record this late in the season. During their eight-game winning streak, the Ravens have beaten both conferences top seeds (San Francisco, New England), four likely division winners (Patriots, 49ers, Seahawks, Texans), and another team that would qualify for the playoffs (Steelers).
Yes, the Ravens lost at the Chiefs (33-28), but that was in Week 3. They’re a different team now.
While the Ravens didn’t earn any style points against the 49ers — Lamar Jackson threw for just 105 yards and didn’t have a completion of more than 20 yards — this was an old-school game in a driving, swirling rain. And it was still a lot of fun.
Love seeing coaches Kyle Shanahan and John Harbaugh combine to go for five fourth-down conversions. Each team made its share of plays. There was tough defense in the trenches and some hard hits. It had the feel of a heavyweight bout. A Super Bowl rematch could be even better.
“Just a great win,”Harbaugh said. “They played a very good game. They had a plan. It was obvious what the plan was, all three phases, and it was a gritty game. It’s a grit win for us.”
2. Why should Ryan Tannehill — of all people — be a long-shot MVP candidate?
The Titans were left for dead at 2-4 following a 16-0 loss to the lowly Broncos. But since the former Dolphins quarterback replaced Marcus Mariot, Tennessee has run into the thick of the AFC playoff picture with five wins in their last six games. Included was a victory over the Chiefs, and two emphatic wins over AFC South foes Jacksonville and Indianapolis (31-17 on Sunday).
Tye Smith’s blocked field goal that led to a 63-yard touchdown return won the game Sunday, and the offense continues to go through running back Derrick Henry (149 yards in 26 carries; the team is 8-0 when he rushes for 100 yards). But the offense is feeding off the reinvigorated Tannehill.
He was 17-for-22 for 182 yards, two touchdowns and 131.2 rating, and that’s exactly what this team needs now and will require with a tough closing schedule (Raiders, Texans twice, Saints).
3. Why will this not be a fun week to be around the Eagles’ facility?
You could maybe understand the Eagles losing at home to the Patriots and then the Seahawks. Those are two good, playoff-bound teams. But the Dolphins? And after watching the Cowboys get humiliated on Thanksgiving by the Bills? Inexcusable.
Philadelphia missed a perfect opportunity to resurrect its season with the first of three games against teams with losing records. But it fell on its collective face when the defense allowed 37 points to Ryan Fitzpatrick after yielding a combined 34 points to Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.
Don’t blame Carson Wentz for this one. With three starters back in the offensive lineup, Wentz had 310 yards and three touchdowns.
4. Why did Sunday’s loss to the Redskins likely seal the fate of Panthers coach Ron Rivera?
Carolina got pushed around at home by the previously 2-8 Redskins. Derrius Guice rushed for a career-best 129 yards and two touchdowns, including a 60-yard run, and Adrian Peterson had 99 yards on 13 carries. Even maligned rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins had an efficient game.
Carolina owner Dave Tepper is known for having one of the sharpest, analytical minds on Wall Street. It’s not really a question of if he fires Rivera after five losses in the last six games (four straight) after a 4-2 start, but when, and who the forward-thinking Teppers is eyeing.
5. Which coaches have cost their team victories with questionable quarterback choices?
The answer: Bengals rookie coach Zac Taylor and Jaguars coach Doug Marrone.
We know Taylor wanted to take a look at rookie Ryan Finley, but the decision to bench Andy Dalton likely cost the Bengals victories against Raiders and Steelers. Dalton finally rescued his team and delivered the first win of the season with 243 passing yards and a stellar touchdown pass between three Jets defenders to Tyler Boyd.
Marrone, likely under the direction of the front office that signed Nick Foles to a four-year, $88-million contract, stuck with his veteran quarterback way too long during this now four-game losing streak.
Foles was benched Sunday after three turnovers and a 41.7 rating in the first half, and Gardner Minshew gave the Jaguars hopes of a comeback with a pair of scoring drives. But it was too little, too late.
Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.