San Francisco 49ers (2-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7)
These two teams have had similar seasons statistically. Both have poor records, but rank significantly better than their record suggests in first down rate differential. The 49ers rank 12th at +1.26%, while the Buccaneers rank 16th at +0.95%. Both teams have been crushed by the turnover margin, with turnover margins of -15 and -23 respectively, but turnover margins tend to completely unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. For example, the Buccaneers were -4 in turnover margin last week in New York in 3-point loss to the Giants and, on average, teams with a turnover margin of -4 in a game have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week.
The 49ers’ offense obviously hasn’t been as good since Jimmy Garoppolo went down, but they haven’t been terrible either, moving the chains at a 36.30% rate in 7 games without Garoppolo, as opposed to 41.30% in the 3 games Garoppolo started. CJ Beathard took over the starting job after Garoppolo got hurt, but he missed a start with a hand injury and lost his job to 3rd string quarterback Nick Mullens, who has been an upgrade in 2 starts.
After Beathard turned the ball over 10 times in 5 starts, the 49ers are just -2 in turnover margin in Mullens’ two starts, with both turnovers bouncing off receivers’ hands. Turnover margins tend to stabilize in the long run anyway, but Mullens has definitely been an upgrade over Beathard. They’ve also been decent defensively, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 36.49% rate, 17th in the NFL, and should force more turnovers going forward.
The Buccaneers have also switched quarterbacks several times this season, but under different circumstances. Ryan Fitzpatrick began the season as the starter, but the Buccaneers have switched quarterbacks mid-game three times this season and are now back to Jameis Winston for his second stint as their starting quarterback this season. Both quarterbacks have committed numerous turnovers, 13 for Fitzpatrick and 12 for Winston, but they’ve also averaged a combined 9.11 yards per attempt (3rd best in the NFL), taking numerous shots downfield to one of the better receiving corps in the NFL. As a result, they have moved the chains at a 43.34% rate, 4th best in the NFL. Regardless of which quarterback they start, they should continue moving the chains at a high rate and their turnover margin should be better, even if only by default, going forward.
The biggest problem for the Buccaneers is that they have the worst defense in the NFL. They rank 31st in first down rate allowed at 42.39% and have been even worse in recent weeks due to numerous injuries, including linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, safety Justin Evans, and cornerback MJ Stewart. The injury bug has also spread to their offense, with tight end OJ Howard going down for the season, which is a big hit to their receiving corps. The 49ers, meanwhile, are getting healthier coming out of the bye, with both linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Jaquiski Tartt both expected back this week. For that reason, I’ll give them the edge in this one, but this could easily end up being a push.
Final Update: Foster will not play for the 49ers after being arrested for domestic violence last night. Despite that, sharp action on San Francisco has pushed this line down to 2. Given that, I’m changing my pick, but this is still a no confidence pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 San Francisco 49ers 27
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -2