San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (10-2) at New Orleans Saints (10-2)

This is one of the biggest games of the year, as it could be an NFC Championship preview and could easily end up deciding homefield advantage throughout the playoffs in the NFC when all is said and done. The 49ers have fallen to 10-2 after an 8-0 start, but both losses came by a field goal against teams that are also 10-2 and, despite those losses, the 49ers still rank 1st in first down rate differential on the season at +7.94% and 2nd since week 7 at +5.65%, only behind the red hot Ravens. 

The 49ers also haven’t been healthy in recent weeks, but they’re closer to full strength than they’ve been in a while right now. Defensive end Ronald Blair and linebacker Kwon Alexander are out for the year and safety Jaquiski Tartt is also out this week, but cornerback Akhello Witherspoon (6 games), right tackle Mike McGlinchey (4 games), tight end George Kittle (2 games), left tackle Joe Staley (9 games), safety Jimmie Ward (3 games), running back Matt Breida (3 games), and defensive end Dee Ford (2 games) are all expected to play this week after missing significant time earlier in the year. 

The 49ers are getting healthy at the right time ahead of this tough matchup. The Saints only rank 13th in first down rate differential on the season at +1.54%, but their offense was significantly worse with quarterback Drew Brees out of the lineup. With Brees on the field, the Saints have a 38.58% first down rate, which would be 6th in the NFL on the season. Their defense, meanwhile, ranks 12th in first down rate allowed on the season at 34.87%, so this is a very complete team. 

I actually have the Saints a little bit higher in my roster rankings than the 49ers, though that’s dependent on whether or not injured left tackle Terron Armstead is able to return from a 1-game absence after being limited in practice all week. My pick will be dependant on that as well. If Armstead plays, I like the Saints’ chances to win by at least a field goal at home, but I’d like the 49ers to pull the minor upset if Armstead can’t play.

Final Update: With Armstead playing, I’m switching my pick to New Orleans. This line is now 1.5 in most places, but that doesn’t matter.

New Orleans Saints 23 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -1.5

Confidence: None

San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore Ravens: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (10-1) at Baltimore Ravens (9-2)

The Ravens are on some kind of a run right now, winning 5 straight games by at least 14 points or more, becoming just the 6th team to do so in the past 30 years (1993 49ers, 1999 Rams, 2005 Colts, 2007 Patriots, 2009 Saints). Over that stretch, they lead the NFL in first down rate differential by a mile, with a +13.31% rate that dwarfs the second ranked 49ers +7.22% rate. The Ravens aren’t doing this against a cupcake schedule either, with 4 of their last 5 opponents currently having winning records.

What makes evaluating the Ravens tough is how deciding how much value should be put into some of their underwhelming early season performances. Prior to their current stretch, the Ravens lost games against the Browns and Chiefs that they never had a real chance to win and they won by less than a touchdown against a pair of last place teams in the Cardinals and Bengals. They had just a +2.73% first down rate differential through week 6, despite a relatively easy schedule. Their only win by more than 6 points during that stretch came week 1 against a hapless Dolphins team. 

If we include their earlier season performance into the equation, it’s hard to argue that the Ravens should be favored by 6 points over a 49ers team that would be undefeated right now if they hadn’t missed a makeable field goal in overtime against the Seahawks, but it’s very possible a switch flipped for this team after week 6 with Lamar Jackson growing more comfortable in this offense every week. If we more or less ignore how the Ravens played prior to their current 5-game run, then this line is certainly understandable, even with the 49ers leading the NFL with a +9.02% first down rate on the season. I typically don’t like to throw out early season results and only focus on a shorter stretch, especially since doing so in this case would mean throwing out 6 games to focus on 5, so I’m taking the 49ers for pick ‘em purposes, but I have no intention of betting on this.

Baltimore Ravens 24 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +6

Confidence: None

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (8-2) at San Francisco 49ers (9-1)

This is one of the biggest regular season games of the year, with the 8-2 Packers going to San Francisco to take on the 9-1 49ers in a game that could decide the #1 seed in the NFC. Despite their similarly impressive records, the 49ers have statistically been the much better team this season, ranking 1st in first down rate differential at +8.58%, while the Packers rank 15th at +1.51%.  The Packers have had five wins by 8 points or fewer and have just a +45 point differential with a +9 turnover margin, while the 49ers have a +140 point differential with a +5 turnover margin. 

Turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so it’s very notable that the 49ers have been much more impressive on the scoreboard than the Packers despite having less help from turnover margins. However, the Packers have faced a much tougher schedule, as they have faced the third toughest schedule in terms of DVOA, while the 49ers have faced the third easiest. When you adjust for schedule, the statistical gap between these two teams decreases significantly. 

The 49ers also come into this game very banged up. They’re tentatively expected to get top receiving threat George Kittle back from a two-game absence, but he’s expected to be less than 100%, as are wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel, their second and third best pass catchers. They also remain without franchise left tackle Joe Staley, their most explosive running back Matt Breida, impressive rotational defensive end Ronald Blair, top linebacker Kwon Alexander, and starting cornerback Akhello Witherspoon, who will be joined on the sideline this week by dominant edge rusher Dee Ford. Meanwhile, the Packers are relatively healthy right now. 

As a result of all the 49ers’ injuries, the Packers actually have a pretty significant edge in my roster rankings, despite the 49ers having a significant edge in first down rate differential. The Packers are also in a much better spot, with only a trip to New York to play the Giants on deck, while the 49ers have another tough game in Baltimore. Underdogs are 71-36 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs. We’re not getting a ton of line value with the Packers at +3, as I have this line calculated at San Francisco -1.5, but they’re worth a bet in a good spot.

Green Bay Packers 27 San Francisco 49ers 26 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +3

Confidence: Medium

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (3-6-1) at San Francisco 49ers (8-1)

The 49ers got off to a dominant 7-0 start to the season, winning their first 7 games by a 18.57 points per game, despite only a +4 turnover margin, and leading the league with an incredible +12.75% first down rate differential. However, then they went into Arizona for Thursday Night Football week 9. The 49ers won the game to improve to 8-0, but they won by just 3 points against a Cardinals team that has consistently ranked in the bottom-5 in first down rate differential this season and the 49ers actually lost the first down rate differential in the game by 7.77%. On top of that, they suffered a pair of serious injuries, with top linebacker Kwon Alexander going down for the season and tight end George Kittle out indefinitely. 

Without Kittle and Alexander, the 49ers suffered their first loss of the season at home to the Seahawks last week and they suffered additional injury losses in that game. Valuable rotational defensive end Ronald Blair is out for the season, left tackle Joe Staley is out indefinitely, after just returning from a 6-game absence last week, and top wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is highly questionable after not practicing all week. The 49ers also got right tackle Mike McGlinchey back last week and could get cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon back this week, but their backups have played well in their absence, so neither is a significant re-addition. 

The 49ers now face the Cardinals again, but, despite what happened last time and all of the injuries the 49ers are dealing with, the Cardinals should still be a relatively easy matchup for the 49ers in San Francisco this week, especially since the 49ers will have a full week to prepare this time. The Cardinals rank 26th in point differential at -59, despite a positive turnover margin at +4, and rank 28th in first down rate differential at -5.64%. The 49ers, despite their loss last week, still rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +8.94%. Their injuries have dropped them to 8th in my roster rankings, but I still have this line calculated at San Francisco -12.5, so we’re getting line value at -10. I can’t take the 49ers with any confidence because this is a tough spot for them in between a tough overtime loss and another big game on deck against the Packers, but the 49ers should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

San Francisco 49ers 31 Arizona Cardinals 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -10

Confidence: None

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (7-2) at San Francisco 49ers (8-0)

The 49ers are the NFL’s lone undefeated team and have been every bit as impressive as that suggests. Their average margin of victory has been 16.63 points per game, with just two wins by one score or fewer. They haven’t overly benefitted from the turnover margin (+4), which tends to be inconsistent, and they’ve actually missed the 2nd most field goals in the league with seven. They lead the league with a +10.36% first down differential, with a pretty decent lead over the second place Patriots (+8.95%).

The 49ers have done this despite missing some key players: left tackle Joe Staley, right tackle Mike McGlinchey, and cornerback Athello Witherspoon. All three of those players are above average starters and could return to action this week, after absences of 6 games, 4 games, and 5 games respectively, but their backups have played so well in their absence that those players might not be that much of a boost. At the same time, the 49ers lost linebacker Kwon Alexander for the season with a torn pectoral last week and will also be without tight end George Kittle in this game with a leg injury. Both of those players are much more irreplaceable than the players who might be returning.

The timing of those two players going down is bad too, as the 49ers have a big matchup this week against the Seahawks, who are 7-2 and still within striking distance for the division title. The Seahawks haven’t played as well as their record would suggest they’ve played though, with six of their 7 losses coming by one score or fewer. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 12th at +1.71%. Still, with the 49ers missing Kittle and Alexander, we’re not really getting any line value with them as 6-point home favorites. I have this line calculated at San Francisco -6.5, so the 49ers are the pick I would make if I had to, but this is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week.

San Francisco 49ers 31 Seattle Seahawks 24

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -6

Confidence: None

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (7-0) at Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1)

The Patriots have gotten a lot of attention for how they’ve started the season, but the 49ers have arguably been better. Their point differential (+130) is behind New England’s (+189), but they’ve also played one fewer game and they’ve been far less dependent on the turnover margin (+17 vs. +4), which tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. In terms of first down rate differential, the 49ers hold the edge 12.75% to 11.61%. That’s despite the fact that the 49ers have faced a tougher schedule than the Patriots.

The 49ers’ schedule does get easier this week, as they head to Arizona for Thursday Night Football. The Cardinals are 3-4-1, but their three wins have come by an average of 3.3 points per game against 3 teams that are a combined 3-21, while their four losses have come by an average of 15.8 points per game. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 30th at -7.59%. They should have a lot of trouble with the 49ers, like they have with all competent or better competition this season. 

Unfortunately, we’re not getting much line value with the 49ers, as this line has skyrocketed from San Francisco -6.5 on the early line last week to San Francisco -10, after the 49ers blew out the Panthers last week, while the Cardinals were blown out in New Orleans. I have this line calculated at San Francisco -12, but there’s not enough here for the 49ers to be worth betting, especially since these Thursday night games can be tough to predict.

I am also locking in TB +6 @ SEA before that line moves any more. I am considering that for Pick of the Week. 

San Francisco 49ers 26 Arizona Cardinals 13

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -10

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (4-2) at San Francisco 49ers (6-0)

The Panthers started 0-2 with a badly injured Cam Newton under center, but only lost week 1 by 3 points, despite failing to recover all 4 fumbles in the game, and week 2 they only lost by 6 points in a game they had a chance to win at the end. Since then, they Panthers have won 4 straight games with backup quarterback Kyle Allen under center, with Newton inactive and rehabbing. There’s an argument to be made that the Panthers could be 6-0 if Allen were starting all season, though many of those wins would be close. 

The 49ers, meanwhile, actually are 6-0 and most of their wins have not been close, with their only win by less than a touchdown coming in a game in which they won despite losing the turnover battle by 3. Along with the Bills, the 49ers are one of two teams in the league to win multiple games despite losing the turnover battle (Steelers and Rams) and they are 6-0 with a +92 point differential (2nd in the NFL) despite only a +2 turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so it’s very encouraging to see the 49ers able to win games even without winning the turnover battle. 

On the season, the 49ers rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +10.14%, only behind the Patriots at +12.65%. Given that they’ve played a much tougher schedule than the Patriots, there’s an argument that they’ve been the best team in the league thus far. They rank 6th in my roster rankings, significantly better than the Panthers, who rank 14th in my roster rankings and 13th in first down rate differential at +1.71%. This line is a little short at San Francisco -5.5. I have the 49ers calculated as 7.5-point favorites in this one. The 49ers aren’t in a great spot with another game in 4 days on Thursday Night Football, but it’s against the Cardinals, so it’s unlikely that the 49ers won’t be focused for this much more important game. I don’t think we’re getting quite enough line value to bet on San Francisco, but they should be the right side.

Sunday Update: This line has dropped to -4 Sunday Morning. The 49ers are worth a bet at that number. The gap between these two teams is much wider than that suggests.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Carolina Panthers 16

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -4

Confidence: Medium