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3 keys to a 49ers victory: Super Bowl preview vs. the Ravens?

The 49ers have arguably their toughest matchup of the season against the Ravens.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

The San Francisco 49ers continued their second-half success with a 45-29 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14, extending their winning streak to six games ahead of a crucial Week 16 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens at Levi’s Stadium on Christmas.

It’s a marque end-of-season matchup between the NFL’s best two teams, record-wise, this season, and one that holds heavy playoff implications for the 49ers as they look to clinch the No. 1 seed.

Should the 49ers win, they’ll need just one victory over their next two games and could wrap up the NFC by Week 17, allowing them to rest starters in Week 18 ahead of the playoffs.

The 49ers come into the matchup with some health concerns. Defensive tackle Arik Armstead (foot/knee), wide receiver Jauan Jennings (concussion protocol), tight end Ross Dwelley (ankle), and linebacker Oren Burks (knee) are all out.

As a result, Javon Kinlaw is expected to start at defensive tackle alongside Javon Hargrave, while Ray-Ray McCloud and Ronnie Bell could see bigger roles at receiver.

Heading into the game, the 49ers are seen as six-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, with the over/under placed at 47 points.

Here’s what you need to know about the 49ers’ opponent on Monday.

Opponent Preview

The Baltimore Ravens have skyrocketed to the top of the NFL with some offensive personnel changes, as they hired offensive coordinator Todd Monken from the University of Georgia, while bringing in Odell Beckham Jr. on a one-year deal to complete their wide receiver core.

However, Baltimore’s philosophy hasn’t changed much, as they lead the league in rushing at 163.8 yards per game, despite facing injuries to J.K. Dobbins and most recently, Keaton Mitchell.

The Ravens, most recently beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-7, are on a four-game winning streak, and are winners in eight of their last nine.

The Ravens enter Week 15 with a few injury concerns, as cornerbacks Jalyn Armour-Davis (concussion) and Arthur Maulet (knee) have been ruled out, while wideout Zay Flowers is listed as questionable with a foot injury.

Baltimore has a top-five offense in both yards per game (374.1) and points per game (27.4), which they’ll put to the test against a 49ers defense that just gave up 29 points to the Arizona Cardinals.

Defensively, Baltimore has been equally as impressive, allowing just 287.9 yards a game, which ranks second in the NFL, while leading the league in points allowed per contest at 16.1.

In a potential Super Bowl matchup between contenders, which team will ultimately rise as the victor?

Keys to the Game

Run Game: It’s no secret that the Baltimore Ravens will look to run the ball, as they lead the league in rushing at 163.8 yards per game.

However, their yards have come in a variety of ways, as quarterback Lamar Jackson leads the team in rushing with 741 yards on 5.5 yards per carry, averaging 9.6 rushing attempts a game.

Lead back Gus Edwards has seen the most attempts this season, rushing for 663 yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.1 yards per carry.

The Ravens also did have electric backup Keaton Mitchell, who unfortunately tore his ACL last week against the Jaguars, ruling him out for the season.

On the 49ers side, they’ll be missing their best run defender, as Arik Armstead has been ruled out once again.

Last week, with Armstead out, the 49ers allowed a season-high 29 points to the Cardinals, who rushed for 234 yards as a team.

That cannot happen against the Ravens, who are explosive and have made the most of their opportunities on the ground this season.

On the flip side, the 49ers have elite running back Christian McCaffrey, who can shoulder the load in both facets of the game.

While the 49ers will clearly use McCaffrey as a runner, something intriguing to note about the stellar Ravens defense is that they rank 24th in the NFL in DVOA to running backs in the passing game.

It’s clear that the running backs and the run game will play a vital part in this contest, and which team fares better in that aspect could ultimately end up the winner.

Brock Purdy: On Monday, Brock Purdy will face off against another elite defense, perhaps the best he’s seen since the 49ers 19-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 6.

That was arguably Purdy’s worst performance of his career, as the quarterback completed 12/27 passes for 125 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception.

Much has changed since then, as Purdy has been elite over the 49ers’ six-game winning streak, propelling him to the front of the MVP conversation, as he’s accumulated a 17:2 touchdown-interception ratio over that stretch.

Now, in Week 16, Purdy will get the chance to prove himself once again versus one of, if not the league’s best defenses.

However, with the exception of Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow, the Ravens are playing one of their toughest challenges of the season at quarterback in Purdy, who will look to carve up another victory for the 49ers.

With playoff football on the horizon, Purdy will get a chance to prove himself under a big spotlight against a tough opponent, providing a strong indication of where his play level is at ahead of the playoffs.

Something’s got to give: will Purdy struggle for the first time in a few weeks, or will the daunting Ravens defense succumb to the 49ers’ elite offense?

Red zone: The 49ers’ red zone struggles are long gone. Over the past four weeks, the 49ers have been at the top of the league, scoring touchdowns on 13 of their last 14 opportunities.

Over the season, they’ve been consistently good at getting to the red zone, averaging 3.9 trips per game, which is third in the NFL, and scoring touchdowns at a 68.5 percent rate, the best in the NFL.

They’ll now face off against a Baltimore offense that ranks second in the NFL with four red zone trips a game, although they rank ninth with a 60.7 touchdown conversion rate, which has dropped to 40 percent over the past three games.

This’ll be an intriguing battle in the red zone because the Ravens are the league’s best team in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on only 37.5 percent of opponent trips.

The 49ers allow just 51.5 percent of opponent red zone trips to convert to touchdowns, which is eighth in the NFL, but Baltimore has just been on a different level defensively.

The true battle will be within the red zone, as limiting one team to three points over seven could play a huge difference in what’s expected to be a tight game.