Neither John nor Jim Harbaugh are hiding the fact the Thanksgiving Day contest between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers will be overshadowed by their historic matchup against each other.
They just hope everyone realizes each oversees a solid football team, too.
John’s AFC North-leading Ravens host Jim’s NFC West-leading 49ers on Thursday night in the first meeting between head-coaching brothers in NFL history.
Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed the Baltimore as a 3 1/2-point home favorite, with the total set at 38 1/2.
John, who is in his fourth season coaching Baltimore, said the contest is going to be one to remember.
“It’s an amazing thing. To say that you’re not thinking about it probably wouldn’t be real,” John said. “It’s a historic thing, it’s very special. I couldn’t be more proud for our parents or for Jim. I just think it’s really neat.”
Jim, in his first season with San Francisco (9-1), has remained more business-like leading up to the game. San Francisco can clinch the division with a win and a Seattle loss to Washington on Sunday.
“There’s just not a lot of time to really even think about the warm and fuzzy reunions, or the nostalgia of it all,” Jim said. “There’s just work to be done.”
The 49ers’ surprising turnaround has been largely due to Harbaugh’s tough attitude, and his players have followed suit. San Francisco hadn’t won nine games in a season since going 10-6 in 2002 – the team’s last playoff appearance.
John, meanwhile, has brought consistent winning back to Baltimore, leading the Ravens to at least the divisional round of the postseason in each of his previous three seasons.
Now, each have their teams in position for playoff runs.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s going to be a hard-fought game,” John said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a trick ’em game.
“It’s two very physical teams, two teams with quite a lot at stake. It’s two teams that play a very similar style of football. It’s going to be a great night for football. If you’re a football fan I wouldn’t think you’d want to miss this game.”
Resurgent quarterback Alex Smith may get his toughest test of the season against Baltimore’s fourth-ranked defensive unit, even if All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis is held out for a second straight game.
Smith, after years of scrutiny, has thrived as a game manager under Jim Harbaugh, throwing 13 touchdown passes to four interceptions with a passer rating of 93.9 – seventh-best in the NFL.
He went 20 for 38 for 267 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 23-7 win over Arizona, hitting Michael Crabtree with seven passes for 120 yards.
Smith is confident the potential distraction of what is being dubbed as the “HarBowl” won’t get in the way. It hasn’t yet for his coach.
“No mention of his brother in regards to this game,” Smith said. “It’s business as usual, staying with our routine.
“It’s a short week, we’re traveling East, there will be obstacles for us that we have to overcome. It will be a crammed week.”
John Harbaugh has kept mum on Lewis’ status for Thursday, though the veteran said he’s anxious to get back on the field after missing Sunday’s 31-24 win over Cincinnati with a foot injury.
“I am taking every opportunity to get treatment on my foot to prepare to play on Thursday,” Lewis said. “Anytime you see your team on the field, you always want to be out there with them. As the leader of your team, it doesn’t sit well with me to be on the sidelines.”
San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis said it will be a challenge facing the Ravens’ tough defense with or without Lewis.
“It doesn’t really make (any) difference whether he is playing or whether he isn’t,” Davis said. “I don’t think that one guy on defense could make a big difference. It doesn’t matter.”
Baltimore may not agree with that sentiment. It gave up a season-high 483 total yards against the Bengals and allowed two rushing touchdowns for only the second time in 38 games dating back to 2009.
The Ravens may have their hands full again with running back Frank Gore, who needs 61 yards to pass late Hall of Famer Joe Perry (7,344) for the most in 49ers history.
Gore, who has been limited in practice due to a nagging right knee injury, ran for 88 yards on 24 carries Sunday. He bounced back after being held to zero yards on six carries Nov. 13 against the New York Giants after averaging 126.8 yards in five games prior to that performance.
The Baltimore offense may have to turn it up a notch, much like it did versus Cincinnati. The Ravens scored their most points since a 34-17 win over the New York Jets on Oct. 2, as Joe Flacco threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns. He hit rookie Torrey Smith with six passes for a season-high 165 yards, including a 38-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
Ray Rice, who ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals, will face a 49ers defense that leads the league against the run at 73.9 yards allowed per game.
The 49ers haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Nov. 22, 2009, a stretch of 35 consecutive games.
The most recent meeting was a defensive battle, with Baltimore winning 9-7 in San Francisco on Oct. 7, 2007.