San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (0-1) at New York Jets (0-1)

Going into the season, I thought the 49ers had a good chance to continue being a top level team after making the Super Bowl last year, as they didn’t have the factors that usually indicate a coming regression by a top level team. They didn’t benefit from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+4). They didn’t win an unsustainably high amount of close games (5-3 in games decided by 7 points or fewer). They didn’t stay unsustainably healthy, actually having the 6th most adjusted games lost to injury of any team in the league last season. They also mostly avoided the significant personnel losses that high level teams often have, ranking 4th in the NFL in snaps returned from last season and generally doing a good job of replacing the few key players they lost. They also brought back all key members of their coaching staff. 

However, injuries have really taken their toll on this team thus far and were a big part of the reason why they fell flat in a game they should have won at home against the Cardinals. The 49ers were without their starting receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk and stud tight end George Kittle spent most of the game as a decoy after suffering an injury of his own. Aiyuk is back this week, but Kittle will be out, as will top cornerback Richard Sherman (47 snaps last week) and possibly talented edge defender Dee Ford (46 snaps last week). In their current injury situation, the 49ers have fallen to 12th in my roster rankings.

Fortunately, the 49ers get an easy matchup this week, as not only are the Jets one of the worst teams in the league, but they have their own injury problems, down starting running back Le’Veon Bell, starting wide receivers Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder, and possibly top linebacker Avery Williamson. We’re not getting any line value with the 49ers as 7-point road favorites, but the 49ers are also in a good spot with only another easy matchup with the Giants on deck, as teams are 63-42 ATS as 6+ point favorites since 2016 before being 6+ point favorites again the following week. I don’t have much confidence in this banged up 49ers team, but they should be the right side.

San Francisco 49ers 28 New York Jets 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -7

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (0-0) at San Francisco 49ers (0-0)

Every year there is at least one team that proves to be overhyped. The Cardinals seem like the leading candidate going into this season. Much of their hype is based around second year quarterback Kyler Murray, who many are expecting will follow in the footsteps of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson and breakout as an elite quarterback in his second season, after a nondescript rookie year. 

However, Mahomes and Jackson are the exception to the rule when you look historically and Murray has a long way to go to become that level of a quarterback. He doesn’t have the size of either quarterback, the athleticism of Lamar Jackson, or the throwing ability of Patrick Mahomes and finished his rookie year as just Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked quarterback out of 39 eligible. Despite that, he enters the season with the 6th highest MVP odds, ahead of much more established players like DeShaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, and Drew Brees.

That hype is showing up in this line, favoring the reigning NFC Champion 49ers by just 6.5 points at home over the Cardinals. The Cardinals have more talent around the quarterback this season with Kenyan Drake and DeAndre Hopkins, but they still have issues on the offensive line and their defense, which finished last season 30th in first down rate allowed, isn’t noticeably improved either. The Cardinals should be a better team this season, but they finished last season 27th in first down rate differential last season at -3.87%, so they have a long way to improve.

The 49ers, on the other hand, finished last season 2nd in first down rate differential at +5.29%. This season, they have injuries in the receiving corps and they won’t have their normal homefield advantage in this one, but they’re still close to last year in terms of talent level. It’s typically tough for teams to be as good as the 49ers were last season in back-to-back years, but the typical risk factors for regression aren’t really present here. 

The 49ers didn’t benefit from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+4). They didn’t win an unsustainably high amount of close games (5-3 in games decided by 7 points or fewer). They didn’t stay unsustainably healthy, actually having the 6th most adjusted games lost to injury of any team in the league last season. They also mostly avoided the significant personnel losses that high level teams often have, ranking 4th in the NFL in snaps returned from last season and generally doing a good job of replacing the few key players they lost. They also bring back all key members of their coaching staff. They should be able to win this one with relative ease, so I like them a lot if you can get them less than a touchdown. Including playoffs, the 49ers won 10 of their 15 games by a touchdown or more last season.

San Francisco 49ers 27 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -6.5

Confidence: High

San Francisco 49ers 2020 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

It wasn’t hard to see how the 49ers could be significantly improved from 2018 to 2019. The 2018 49ers went just 4-12, but they were significantly better than that in first down rate differential, ranking 19th at -0.05%. Their struggles in 2018 were primarily due to their horrific league worst turnover margin of -25, but turnover margins tend to be highly inconsistent on a year-to-year basis in general and the 49ers were getting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo back from a torn ACL that limited him to 3 games in 2018 and they made some significant defensive additions, so it wasn’t hard to see how they could be significantly improved in the turnover margin, even beyond the natural randomness of turnovers.

However, I don’t think anyone foresaw the 49ers being as good as they were in 2019, as they exceeded expectations on both sides of the ball, finishing in the top-10 in first down rate (9th at 38.24%) and in first down rate allowed (6th at 32.95%), joining only the Ravens as one of two teams to do so last season. Overall, the 49ers went 13-3, earned the #1 seed in the NFC, finished 2nd in the NFL in first down rate differential at 5.29%, and came within a half quarter of winning the Super Bowl, blowing a double digit 4th quarter lead to the Chiefs.

The question now becomes what can the 49ers do for an encore and can they make it all the way. History suggests they can’t, as there have only been three teams to ever win the Super Bowl the year following a Super Bowl defeat, including just one team over the past 47 years, and the 49ers were also handicapped by a lack of cap space this off-season. However, they still managed to rank 4th in the NFL in snaps returned from last season and they return 18 of 22 offensive and defensive starters. They should also be healthier this season, after having the 6th most adjusted games lost to injury in 2019, so there is plenty of reason to believe the 49ers can continue to play at a high level. 

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo returns, after making all 16 starts last season for the first time in his career. The jury is still out on him being an elite quarterback and he’s not as young as you’d think given his relative lack of experience (26 career starts), but he showed last season that he’s good enough to take this team very far with the right supporting cast. His injury history is still a minor concern, but the fact that he played all 16 games last season is very promising and it’s very possible we could see him take a step forward in 2020 in his 2nd year removed from the injury.

For a quarterback who completed 69.1% of his passes for an average of 8.36 YPA, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions and who ranked 13th among quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus, any noticeable improvement from him in 2020 would likely put him among the top-10 of starting quarterbacks in the league. He may never become the true elite quarterback he flashed signs of one day being earlier in his career, but as long as he can stay healthy, he should at least be a consistently above average starter long-term.

The 49ers are also in good shape at the backup quarterback spot, as 2017 undrafted free agent Nick Mullens showed some promise as the 49ers’ 3rd starting quarterback option in 2018, completing 64.2% of his passes for an average of 8.31 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions and leading the 49ers to a 37.80% first down rate in his 8 starts, most equivalent to the 12th ranked Seahawks if he had done that over the full 2018 season. Mullens would obviously be a dropoff from Garoppolo and he’s still very inexperienced, but they could get by with him for a few games if needed, given the level of talent on the rest of this roster.

Grade: B+

Offensive Line

One of the four starters the 49ers lost from 2019 is left tackle Joe Staley, who opted to hang them up this off-season, rather than return for his age 36 season in 2020. Staley was still Pro Football Focus’ 26th ranked offensive tackle last season, so he was still playing at an above average level, though injuries did limit him to 434 snaps last season. The 49ers did a good job replacing him though, sending a 2021 3rd round pick and a 2020 5th round pick to the Redskins for disgruntled left tackle Trent Williams. 

Williams held out all last season and is now going into his age 32 season, so he comes with some uncertainty, especially since he seemed to be declining in his most recent season in 2018, but for him declining means finishing 20th among offensive tackles on PFF after 7 straight seasons in the top-14, including 4 finishes in the top-6. Even if he continues to decline in 2020, he should still be an above average starter. He’s a comparable starter to Joe Staley and not a downgrade, especially since he’s likely to play more than Staley was able to last season.

The 49ers also need a new right guard as 14-game starter Mike Person also retired this off-season. He wasn’t bad last season, earning an average grade from PFF overall, but the 49ers have some decent options to replace him. 2017 undrafted free agent Daniel Brunskill and 2019 6th round pick Justin Skule both showed promise at tackle as injury fill-ins last season, playing 474 snaps and 545 snaps respectively in the first action of either of their careers, and they could be options at right guard. Brunskill has a much better chance of winning the starting right guard job though, as he was better than Skule last season at left tackle and also saw a pair of starts in place of an injured Mike Person down the stretch. Brunskill is still relatively unproven, but has the potential to develop into a consistently solid starting right guard, while Skule will likely back up Williams at left tackle.

The 49ers also added veteran Tom Compton to the mix this off-season, signing him to a 1-year, 2.75 million contract that suggests he’ll get a chance to win the starting job. Compton has only made 34 starts in 8 seasons in the league, but he’s generally been a capable spot starter, even earning an average grade from PFF on 837 snaps (14 starts) in 2018. However, he fell to 75th out of 88 qualifying guards last season on 363 snaps and is now going into his age 31 season. He could start in a pinch, but he’s an underwhelming option who is probably best as a reserve. 

Ben Garland, their top interior reserve last season, is also an option, as he’s flashed in 10 starts over the past 3 seasons. He played center for the 49ers down the stretch last season, but has experience at guard as well. He got a late start to his career and is already in his age 32 season though, so he may also be an underwhelming option. Brunskill, Garland, and Compton all have a legitimate chance to start at right guard and it’s possible whoever wins the job can be a capable starter, but that’s not a guarantee.

Garland could also potentially have to open the season as the starter at center, as regular center Weston Richburg suffered a torn patellar tendon down the stretch last season and is questionable for the start of the year. Patellar tendon tears are arguably the toughest injury to come back from, even for an offensive lineman who isn’t as reliant on athleticism, and Richburg was already struggling before the injury, finishing 32nd out of 39 qualifying centers on PFF in 2018 and 23rd out of 36 qualifying in 2019. Richburg is still only going into his age 29 season and he finished 1st among centers on PFF in 2015 and 8th in 2016, but he’s been pretty banged up in his career, so his best days are almost definitely behind him. Even if he is ready for the start of the season, he may be a below average option.

Left guard Laken Tomlinson and right tackle Mike McGlinchey return and are locked into their spots. McGlinchey was a first round pick by the 49ers in 2018, 9th overall. His career got off to a great start, as he finished 23rd among offensive tackles on PFF, but he had a bit of a sophomore slump in his 2nd season, slipping to 39th among offensive tackles. He still has a bright future though and part of his struggles last season were likely due to an early season knee injury, as he played better down the stretch. He could easily have a bounce back year in 2020 and long-term could develop into consistently one of the better right tackles in the league.

Tomlinson, meanwhile, is also a former first round pick, selected 28th overall in 2015, but he was largely a bust in two seasons with his original team the Detroit Lions, struggling in 24 starts and getting traded to the 49ers for a 5th round pick prior to the 2017 season. Tomlinson was able to prove the Lions gave up on him too early, however, making 47 starts in 3 seasons with the 49ers and grading out as a solid starter in all 3 seasons. Still only in his age 28 season, he should remain a solid starter for years to come. This isn’t quite the same line as last season, but they also could be healthier and all of the players they lost this off-season were adequately replaced, so this should still be a solid unit.

Grade: B+

Receiving Corps

Along with the two starting offensive lineman they lost, the 3rd offensive starter they lost this off-season is wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who joined the team in week 8 via trade and averaged a 58/803/5 slash line per 16 games across 10 regular season games with the team, while ranking as Pro Football Focus’ 34th ranked wide receiver over that stretch. In the regular season, their first down rate split between games Sanders played and games he didn’t play was 40.03%/35.61%. 

That being said, losing him didn’t seem to be a big deal because the 49ers used the #25 overall pick on wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and they have promising young talent Deebo Samuel going into his second season in the league, after he averaged 2.04 yards per route run as a rookie and totaled 35 catches for 575 yards and 2 touchdowns in his final 8 regular season games (70/1150/4 slash line over 16 games), also largely coinciding with the 49ers offensive improvement down the stretch. However, Samuel broke his foot in an off-season workout and not only seems unlikely to be ready for the start of the season, but also could possibly begin the season on the reserve/PUP list, costing him the first 6 games of the season.

Without Samuel, the 49ers’ wide receiver depth will be tested. They have some intriguing reserve options, but no sure things, leaving the rookie Aiyuk as their #1 option to open the season, even though he’s never played a down of professional football. The 49ers have another couple recent high draft picks at this position, taking Dante Pettis in the 2nd round in 2018 and Jalen Hurd in the 3rd round in 2019, both of whom have upside, but Hurd missed his whole rookie year with injury, while Pettis hasn’t shown much consistency on 766 career snaps and spent most of last season in the doghouse after a promising finish to his rookie campaign.

Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor are also options, but they’re better fits on the slot than on the outside and the 49ers don’t use a lot of 3 wide receiver sets. Bourne isn’t a bad player, totalling a 42/487/4 slash line on a 57.2% snap share in 2018 and a 30/358/5 slash line on a 43.7% snap shart in 2019, but the 2017 undrafted free agent doesn’t have a huge ceiling and shouldn’t be much more than #3/#4 receiver. Taylor, meanwhile, flashed with a 43/430/2 slash line as a 5th round rookie in 2017, but was limited to 26/215/1 in 2018 and missed all of 2019 with injury. Physically limited on the outside, he’s a slot only option and could easily play behind Bourne.

The reason the 49ers don’t use a lot of 3 wide receiver sets is because they like to run two tight end sets and two back sets. Ross Dwelley played 359 snaps as the #2 tight end last season, while fullback Kyle Juszczyk led all fullbacks with 388 snaps played, despite missing 4 games with injury. These aren’t just running formations either. Dwelley struggled both as a pass catcher and a blocker last season, but Juszczyk caught 20 passes in 12 games and has a 32/293/1 slash line over the past 5 seasons, while also being a good run blocker, and of course top tight end George Kittle can be just as productive as any wide receiver in the passing game.

A 5th round pick in 2017, Kittle was average as a rookie, but has quickly broken out as the best all-around tight end in the NFL over the past 2 seasons, taking that title from Rob Gronkowski, a player he compares favorably to. Kittle had a 88/1337/5 slash line in 2018 and, though that fell to 85/1035/5 in 2019, that was primarily due to the 49ers being more run heavy and Kittle missing some time due to injury, as his yards per route run actually improved from 2.82 to 3.12, both of which were position leading marks in the respective year. In addition to being a high level pass catcher, Kittle is also one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL and has finished #1 among overall tight ends on PFF in each of the past two seasons. He’s arguably the most dominant offensive player in the league regardless of position.

Still only in his age 27 season, Kittle has a lot of high level football ahead of him if he can stay healthy, something that hasn’t been a significant concern for him thus far in his career. The 49ers didn’t upgrade on Ross Dwelley as the #2 tight end, even though the 2018 undrafted free agent showed very little on 359 snaps in the first significant action of his career in 2019, but Kittle and Juszczyk will allow them to continue getting big passing plays out of non passing formations, which will mask some of their depth problems at wide receiver. Deebo Samuel’s injury hurts this group, but when he’s back they should be an above average group again if he can continue developing, especially with George Kittle elevating this group by himself.

Grade: B+

Running Backs

This will remain a run heavy team, after a 498/478 run/pass split in 2020, making them one of three teams in the league (Ravens, Vikings) to have more rush attempts than pass attempts last season. This season, they’ll perhaps be even more run heavy at the beginning of the year, with top wide receiver Samuel likely to be sidelined. The 49ers traded away running back Matt Brieda after he averaged 5.07 YPC on 123 carries last season, but they still have a deep running back group, with holdovers Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman in the mix and long-injured running back Jerick McKinnon looking likely to be healthy for 2020.

McKinnon is the biggest unknown of the group, given that he was expected to play a big role for the 49ers two off-seasons ago when they signed him to a 4-year, 30 million dollar contract in free agency, but he has yet to play a snap for the team, missing all of 2018 with a torn ACL and all of 2019 after suffering another knee injury during his rehab. McKinnon averaged just 4.05 yards per carry on 474 carries in 4 seasons with the Vikings, but a lot of that was due to a poor offensive line (2.40 yards per carry after contact) and his primary value is as a receiver. 

In his final season in Minnesota, he caught 51 passes in a part-time role and averaged 2.63 yards per carry after contact, and the 49ers clearly had big plans for him when they brought him in, given the contract they signed him to. He had to take a pay cut down to 1.16 million for 2020 and he’ll likely be limited to primarily passing down work, assuming he can even stay healthy, but this offense had three backs with more than 123 carries last season, so McKinnon will have an opportunity to earn some carries as well.

With McKinnon likely to be the primary passing down back, Mostert and Coleman are expected to split early down work. How they split the work is up in the air though. Mostert was a breakout star down the stretch last season, taking over as the lead back in week 13 and starting the final 5 regular season games and their three playoff games, in which he rushed for a combined 715 yards and 11 touchdowns on 117 carries (6.11 YPC). All in all, Mostert averaged 5.64 YPC on 137 carries in the regular season and 6.34 YPC on 53 carries in the post-season and could easily continue in the lead back role in 2020.

Whether or not he can continue running as well is up for debate though. As impressive as his 8-game stretch was, he’s still highly unproven, with just 114 career carries outside of those 8 games, even though he’s already in his age 28 season. He certainly wouldn’t be the first obscure running back to ever break out in a Shanahan blocking scheme and he’s shown promise throughout his 3 seasons in San Francisco, with a 6.01 YPC average. Even if he is able to translate to a larger role over a 16-game season, he’s highly unlikely to hit that mark, but he could easily keep having success in this offense.

Coleman has also spent most of his career in the Shanahan blocking scheme, playing for now 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta where Shanahan was the offensive coordinator, before eventually following him to San Francisco. Coleman has had some success throughout his 5-year career, rushing for 4.34 YPC and 24 touchdowns on 665 carries, so he’s not a bad lead back option, but Mostert will likely be given the first chance after how he finished last season. Neither Mostert nor Coleman are much of a receiver, but the 49ers are hoping the return of Jerick McKinnon can add that new dimension to their offense. This is a good group overall.

Grade: B+

Edge Defenders

The position where the 49ers were most improved from 2018 to 2019 was the edge defender spot. It was predictable they’d get better play at the position, using the #2 overall pick on Nick Bosa and trading a 2nd round pick to the Chiefs for Dee Ford, who they extended on a 5-year, 85.5 million dollar deal. Ford was limited to 226 snaps by injury, but just about everything else went well. Ford played at a high level when on the field, particularly as a pass rusher, with 6.5 sacks and a 14.4% pressure rate, while Bosa exceeded most expectations by finishing as Pro Football Focus’ 11th edge defender and earning Defensive Rookie of the Year. In addition to playing at a high level against the run, Bosa had 9 sacks, 19 hits, and a 16.3% pressure rate and he has the upside to become even better in the future. 

In addition, the 49ers got a somewhat surprising breakout year from Arik Armstead, who played a little on the interior, but saw the vast majority of his snaps on the edge in place of Ford. Armstead finished 3rd among edge defenders on PFF, playing the run at a high level and totalling 10 sacks, 9 hits, and a 12.5% pressure rate. Armstead had just 9 sacks in 4 seasons prior to last season, but he is a former first round pick and he had shown signs of being a consistently above average player prior to last season, despite the low sack total. Injuries were part of the problem, as he was limited to 46 out of 64 games over those 4 seasons, but he still added 15 hits and a 12.3% pressure rate and was an above average run defender. He’s a one-year wonder, but not as much as it seems, so he could easily remain an above average starter if he can stay healthy.

It’s likely Armstead sees more action inside this season, as Ford seems to be healthy. Durability has been a concern for him in recent years, as he was also limited to 316 snaps in 6 games in another injury plagued season in 2017, but in between he finished 10th among edge defenders on PFF in 2018, which is why the 49ers gave up a premium pick in order to acquire him, even though he needed a big extension. Ford is still only going into his age 29 season and he’s shown he can play at a high level when on the field, so he has obvious bounce back potential if he can stay healthy, but that’s not quite a guarantee.

The 49ers also get reserve edge defender Ronald Blair back from injury, after he went down with a torn ACL in week 10. A 5th round pick in 2016, Blair played 981 nondescript snaps in his first 3 seasons in the league, but seemed to be on his way to a strong season as a reserve before getting hurt last season. He was limited to 199 snaps total in 9 games, so he’s still very unproven, and the injury complicates his outlook, but he could return as a talented reserve again.

Solomon Thomas is also in the mix for a reserve role on the edge. Like Armstead, Thomas played some on the interior last season, but primarily played on the edge. He wasn’t particularly good on 425 snaps total though, earning a below average grade from PFF. Thomas was the 3rd overall pick in 2017, but he’s been a massive bust thus far, earning middling at best grades in 3 seasons in the league, on an average of 38.4 snaps per game in 46 games. Still only in his age 25 season, he may have some late breakout potential, but it’s hard to expect much from him. He could be used on the interior more this season, as this is a deep and talented edge group.

Grade: A

Interior Defenders

Part of the reason why the 49ers will likely play Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas on the interior more often this season is that they lost top defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who played 811 snaps and finished as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked interior defender last season. The 49ers couldn’t afford to keep Buckner long-term and they used the first round pick they got for trading Buckner to the Colts on a replacement in Javon Kinlaw, who is much cheaper and has a huge upside long-term, but he’s unlikely to be as good as a rookie and could be a significant dropoff even if he doesn’t have a bad season.

The 49ers also lost reserve Sheldon Day, but he was underwhelming on 325 snaps last season. They still have DJ Jones, who was better on 304 snaps last season than Day was, especially against the run. A 2017 6th round pick, Jones didn’t show much on 304 snaps in the first two seasons of his career before showing improvement last season and he doesn’t have a huge upside, but he could remain a capable reserve. He’ll play a role along with Kinlaw, Armstead, and Thomas, at a position group that lost its best player from last season.

Grade: B

Linebackers

The 49ers were also improved in the linebacking corps last season. This wasn’t really a surprise, as the 49ers signed Kwon Alexander to a 4-year, 54 million dollar deal in free agency, but Alexander was actually limited to 357 middling snaps in the regular season by injury. Instead, this group took a step forward because Fred Warner stepped up in his 2nd year in the league and 5th round rookie Dre Greenlaw proved to be a steal, holding his own in an every down role in Alexander’s absence and finishing 38th among off ball linebackers on Pro Football Focus on 725 snaps.


Warner is likely locked into an every down role again in 2020, after playing in that capacity in each of his first two seasons in the league and improving from his rookie year to his 2nd season, in which he finished as PFF’s 28th ranked off ball linebacker. A former 3rd round pick only in his age 24 season, Warner has the ability to keep getting better. Alexander and Greenlaw, meanwhile, will compete for the other every down role, with the loser likely to play in a pure base package role when the 49ers play with 3 off ball linebackers. 

Greenlaw is still pretty unproven and Alexander’s contract and coverage ability suggests he’s the favorite, but Alexander has never played as well as he’s being paid, topping out at 33rd among off ball linebackers (2016) in 5 seasons in the league and consistently struggling against the run and as a tackler (86 missed tackles in 54 career games), so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Greenlaw outplayed him in training camp and the pre-season and won the job. Alexander has also had each of his last three seasons impacted by significant injuries (26 games played out of 48 possible), so there’s a good chance Greenlaw ends up in an every down role at some point one way or another. This is a deep and talented group, even if it lacks an elite player.

Grade: B+

Secondary

The 49ers were also better in the secondary last season than 2018 and, unlike the other defensive position groups where they were better, they didn’t make any major additions to the secondary. Instead, they just got much better play from pretty much everyone across the board. No player was more important than #1 cornerback Richard Sherman, as the multi-time All-Pro turned back the clock in 2019 and finished #2 among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus.

Sherman seemed to be on the decline going into 2019, tearing his Achilles midway through the 2017 season, falling to 49th among cornerbacks on PFF upon his return in 2018, and now on the wrong side of 30, but last season he showed himself to be every bit of the cornerback who finished in the top-10 among cornerbacks on PFF in 5 straight seasons from 2011-2015. Sherman’s age is still a concern, but in his age 32 season it’s reasonable to expect he could continue playing at a high level for another couple seasons even if he declines, especially since he’s much more reliant on intelligence than athleticism. I wouldn’t expect him to be quite as good in 2020 as he was in 2019, but Sherman could easily decline gracefully over the next few years if he can avoid further injury.

Slot cornerback K’Waun Williams also made a big jump from 2018 to 2019, ranking 58th among cornerbacks in 2018 before jumping to 10th in a 2019 season in which he also ranked 17th in yards per route run allowed among slot cornerbacks (0.99). Last year was the best year of Williams’ career, but he’s not a one-year wonder, finishing in the top-34 among cornerbacks on PFF in 4 of 5 healthy seasons in the league and allowing 0.98 yards per route run on the slot in his career. Still in his age 29 season, he should remain one of the better slot cornerbacks in the league even if he isn’t as good as he was last season.

Sherman and Williams are locked in, but the other outside cornerback spot opposite Sherman is up for grabs. Ahkello Witherspoon opened last season as the starter and played at a high level in the first 3 weeks of the season, but then he got injured, missed 6 games, struggled upon his return, and then eventually was benched. Witherspoon has been up and down throughout his 3 seasons in the NFL, but he’s still a former 3rd round pick who is only going into his age 25 season, so it’s possible he could have a mini-breakout year in 2020 if he can stay healthy, but, given how inconsistent he’s been in the past, he’s not guaranteed to even win his old job back.


Emmanuel Mosley started in Witherspoon’s absence last season and eventually took his job down the stretch. Undrafted in 2018, Mosley wasn’t bad in the first 577 snaps of his career last season (9 starts). It’s still worth noting that every team including the 49ers let him fall out of the draft, given that he still has very little NFL experience, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he beat the undrafted rookie odds and developed into a consistently capable starter long-term. Neither him nor Witherspoon are sure things to be solid starters in 2020, but both have upside.

At safety, the 49ers got a big improvement between 2018 and 2019 from Jimmie Ward, who finished below average on PFF on 388 snaps in an injury plagued season in 2018, but then jumped to 7th among safeties in 2019. Ward still missed 3 games with injury and injuries have plagued him throughout his career, costing him 32 of a possible 96 games since the 49ers took him in the 1st round in 2014. 

Ward is also a one-year wonder in terms of being the kind of player he was last season, so even if he does stay relatively healthy, he’s unlikely to play as well. He’s definitely shown potential in the past when healthy though and is a good fit in his role as the deep safety in this defense, after moving around both safety spots and the slot cornerback spot early in his career. Still only in his age 29 season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him have another above average year, but I wouldn’t expect him to be as good and he’s an obvious injury risk.

Fellow safety Jaquiski Tartt didn’t improve from 2018 to 2019, but he remained a solid starter and played more games, playing in 12 after being limited to 8 the previous season. Injuries have been a problem for him throughout his 5-year career, as he’s never played all 16 games in a season and has missed a total of 19 games over the past 3 seasons, but he’s generally been an above average starter when healthy. He’ll probably miss time at some point again, but should continue playing around the same level when on the field. 

With two injury prone starting safeties, depth will be important for the 49ers at the safety position, but they will be in reasonably good hands if either of their starters goes down, as 2018 3rd round pick Tavarius Moore showed some promise on 234 snaps last season and could easily be an above average reserve in his 3rd season in the league in 2019. The 49ers might not be quite as good in the secondary in 2020, but this is still a well above average group.

Grade: A-

Conclusion

It’s typically tough for teams to be as good as the 49ers were last season in back-to-back years, but the typical risk factors for regression aren’t really present here. The 49ers didn’t benefit from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+4). They didn’t win an unsustainably high amount of close games (5-3 in games decided by 7 points or fewer). They didn’t stay unsustainably healthy, actually having the 6th most adjusted games lost to injury of any team in the league last season. They also mostly avoided the significant personnel losses that high level teams often have, ranking 4th in the NFL in snaps returned from last season and generally doing a good job of replacing the few key players they lost. They also bring back all key members of their coaching staff. None of this ensures the 49ers will win the Super Bowl this year or even make it back, but they should be considered one of the top few contenders. I will have an official prediction closer to the start of the season.

Final Update: The 49ers have some injuries in the receiving corps to start the season, but overall look in good shape for another deep playoff run.

Projection: 12-4 (1st in NFC West)

San Francisco 49ers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Super Bowl LIV Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (14-4) vs. San Francisco 49ers (15-3) in Super Bowl LIV

The more hyped matchup in this game is the matchup between the Chiefs’ offense and the 49ers’ defense and rightfully so, as they are the top offense and defense in the league in my opinion. Neither unit finished the regular season first in the league in first down rate (or first down rate allowed), but regular season injuries played a big part in that. The Chiefs managed to finish in 2nd in first down rate at 40.53%, despite 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes missing two and a half games with injury and playing at less than 100% in several others. They also had injuries on their offensive line, most notably left tackle Eric Fisher (8 games), and they were without top wide receiver Tyreek Hill for a big chunk of the first half of the season. 

The Chiefs’ offense was able to tread water when Mahomes was out, but they’ve unsurprisingly been much better with Mahomes in the lineup, even playing at less than 100%. With backup Matt Moore in the lineup, the Chiefs had a 32.47% first down rate, as opposed to 43.86% with Mahomes, which would have led the NFL by a pretty wide margin over the Ravens (41.73%). The Chiefs’ offense has been especially good down the stretch with Mahomes getting closer to full strength, with a 45.39% rate in their past 7 games. It might seem like that’s an unsustainable high rate, but they had a 45.18% first down rate last season across 16 games with Mahomes healthy.

They’ve been even better offensively in two post-season games, as the first round bye seems to have done Mahomes a world of good. They’ve picked up 56 first downs and scored 12 offensive touchdowns on 121 snaps, a ridiculous 56.20% rate, including a 63.16% first down rate in their win over the Texans, the highest single game mark in the league this season. For comparison, the Chargers had the best single game mark in the regular season with a 56.90% first down rate in a 45-10 week 14 win in Jacksonville. The Chiefs have maintained that level of play for two weeks in the playoffs.

Mahomes didn’t quite have the same regular season in 2019 as he did in 2018, but he did cut down his giveaways significantly (1.0% interception rate vs. 2.1% in 2018), despite playing banged up, and now fully healthy, he’s arguably playing the best football he’s ever played, still somehow only in his 36th professional start. With another week off before the Super Bowl, expect a nearly unstoppable level of play from Mahomes.

I say nearly unstoppable because if any defense can at least slow him down and keep the Chiefs to a manageable point total it’s this 49ers defense. They finished “just” 6th in the NFL with a 32.95% first down rate allowed in the regular season, but like the Chiefs’ offense not finishing first in first down rate, that was largely due to injuries. Through the first 7 games of the season, the 49ers had a ridiculous 24.67% first down rate allowed. By comparison, the Patriots led the NFL with a 29.64% first down rate on the season and no other team was below 32.43%. Unfortunately, top linebacker Kwon Alexander went down in the 49ers 8th game of the season in week 9 and missed the rest of the regular season, while dominant edge rusher Ford played just 73 snaps after week 9. 

The 49ers faced a relatively easily schedule during those first 7 games, but still allowed a first down rate that was more than 10% below what would have been expected based on competition. With Ford and Alexander back for the 49ers’ two playoff games, the 49ers have held the Vikings and Packers to a combined 31.07% first down rate, though there was a pretty drastic difference between the Vikings’ 7 first down performance and the Packers’ 21 first down performance, even if most of the Packers success came with the game out of hand. Ford and Alexander haven’t even been at full strength or played a full snap count and should be closer to 100% after the extra week off before the Super Bowl. With those two back, the 49ers are dominant in all 3 levels of the defense and lack an obvious weakness for the Chiefs to exploit. 

As exciting as it will be to see the Chiefs’ offense square off against the 49ers’ defense, the matchup that may end up deciding this game is the matchup between the 49ers’ offense and the Chiefs’ defense. The 49ers’ aren’t known for their offense the way the Chiefs are, but they still finished the regular season with a 9th ranked 38.24% first down rate and that rate is even higher since acquiring Emmanuel Sanders during week 8, as they have a 39.94% first down rate since then, which would have been 3rd in the NFL this season. With Sanders coming in and rookie Debbo Samuels coming on in the second half of the season, the 49ers have a lot more aerial firepower now than they did at the start of the season and they also have offensive tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey healthy after they missed time in the regular season.

The Chiefs’ defense, meanwhile, is probably more known for negative things than positive things, but that hasn’t been the case in recent weeks, as they have a 33.77% first down rate allowed since week 7. However, that comes after a 40.91% first down rate allowed in the first 6 games of the season and a league worst 42.20% first down rate allowed last season. Overall, the Chiefs finished just 19th with a 36.34% first down rate allowed this season. The question that I think will decide this game is which version of the Chiefs’ defense is for real, the strong unit they’ve been in recent weeks, the weak unit they were for all of last season and early this season, or somewhere in between. 

On paper, they seem more similar to the unit that struggled early in the season, as outside of obvious stars like Chris Jones, Frank Clark, and Tyrann Mathieu, this is a pretty underwhelming unit, especially with talented rookie safety Juan Thornhill out for the season. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has gotten them to play much better than the sum of their parts in recent weeks, but even a little regression to their early season habits from the Chiefs’ defense could lose them the game, with the 49ers being strong on both sides of the ball. 

In particular, the Chiefs could have trouble with the 49ers’ run heavy offense because their run defense is significantly worse than their pass defense. They were able to handle the run heavy Titans in the AFC Championship, but that was largely because they were able to get a lead and force the Titans out of their gameplan. The 49ers are a more complete team and this should be a close game either way, so I wouldn’t expect them to be forced out of their game plan at any point in this game.

Ultimately, this seems like a matchup between a team with a better quarterback and a team with a better overall roster, which is often the case in Super Bowls. Mahomes is the kind of quarterback who can take over a game by himself because he can make plays other guys can’t, but historically speaking the team with the better regular season quarterback actually loses the Super Bowl more often than not. All-time, the quarterback with a higher regular season adjusted YPA wins just 37.7% of the time, including an 0-9 record in the past 9 Super Bowls.

That alone isn’t a reason to pick the 49ers, but it suggests that historically a better team will beat a team with a better quarterback. Mahomes is historically on a different level than most quarterbacks, even among quarterbacks appearing in the Super Bowl, and the Chiefs’ defense could continue to perform at a high level within Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme, so I wouldn’t bet on the 49ers if this was a random week 9 game, but they’re worth at least a small bet in the final game of the season.

San Francisco 49ers 26 Kansas City Chiefs 24 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +1.5

Confidence: Medium

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 NFC Championship Pick

Green Bay Packers (14-3) at San Francisco 49ers (14-3)

Like the Chiefs/Titans matchup in the AFC Championship, this NFC Championship matchup between the 49ers and the Packers is a rematch of a regular season game. Unlike the first Chiefs/Titans matchup, which few would have predicted would be an AFC Championship preview, the first 49ers/Packers matchup was an obvious potential NFC Championship preview, with the 49ers entering at 9-1 and the Packers entering at 8-2 in a game that wound up deciding the #1 seed in the NFC. 

Despite both teams having strong records, the first matchup was not close at all, with the 49ers winning at home by a final score of 37-8 in a game in which they won the first down rate battle by 15.87%. Favored by just a field goal the first time around, the 49ers are now 7.5-point home favorites in the rematch, as bettors remember the week 12 blowout well. History suggests that these rematches don’t always go the same way, however, and in fact in non-divisional same-site post-season rematches, the team that lost the first time is actually 33-20 ATS over the past 30 seasons. 

That being said, I think there is good reason to expect that the 49ers should win fairly easily again. Even though these teams have the same record, the 49ers had a much stronger season, holding the edge in the regular season in first down rate differential at +5.29% to +1.15% and in point differential at +169 to +63. The Packers’ point differential was the worst ever by a team that finished with 13 wins or more and ranked just 9th in the NFL, compared to 3rd for the 49ers. In first down rate differential, the difference was even more pronounced, with the 49ers ranking 2nd and the Packers ranking 14th. While the Packers are 9-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer, the 49ers are just 5-3 in games decided by 8 points or fewer, winning 9 of their 14 games by more than 8 points, as opposed to just 5 for the Packers. 

That’s despite the fact that the 49ers were missing their top edge rusher Dee Ford and their top linebacker Kwon Alexander for most of the second half of the season. Alexander went down in the 49ers 8th game of the season in week 9 and missed the rest of the regular season, while Ford played just 73 snaps after week 9 and was inactive for the Packers game. Neither one is at 100% this week, but having both back in the lineup is significant. The 49ers allowed just a 24.67% first down rate in their first 7 games of the season with Alexander and Ford healthy, which would have been easily the best in the NFL if they kept it up all season. 

The 49ers had a relatively easy schedule over that stretch, but their strength of schedule suggested they should have allowed a 34.56% first down rate over those 7 games, so they performed significantly better than average. Last week, with Ford and Alexander back, the 49ers held a Vikings offense that finished 11th in the NFL in first down rate (higher than the Packers who finished 16th) to just 7 first downs and a 17.78% first down rate. This is the healthiest the 49ers have been since their dominant start and they are playing like it. 

The Packers are basically at full strength as well, but that’s been the case for most of the season. Meanwhile, in addition to the 49ers having Ford and Alexander back, the 49ers will also have tight end George Kittle and wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel at full strength, which they didn’t have in the first matchup and, while they’re missing center Weston Richburg, they will have left tackle Joe Staley this time around, which is more important, especially since backup center Ben Garland has filled in well for Richburg. I’m hoping this line will fall to a touchdown before gametime, but I like the 49ers for a smaller bet even if it stays at 7.5.

San Francisco 49ers 27 Green Bay Packers 16

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -7.5

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Minnesota Vikings (11-6) at San Francisco 49ers (13-3)

The 49ers got a bye in the first round of the playoffs and it came at a perfect time, as the 49ers had several key players dealing with injuries at the end of the season. They’re not at full strength, but no one is at this point in the season and a trio of key 49ers are expected to return this week, defensive end Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander, and safety Jacquiski Tartt. Alexander has been out since week 8, Ford has played just 4 snaps since week 11, and Tartt has missed the past 4 games, so the 49ers are healthier now than they were at any point in the second half of the season, even with players like Ronald Blair and Weston Richburg out for the season. 

What works against the 49ers, however, is the lack of post-season experience from quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo, who is making his first career playoff start this week. The track record of quarterbacks making their first career post-season start against a more playoff experienced quarterback isn’t good, as they are 15-34-1 ATS since 2002, including 5-16 ATS and just 8-13 straight up as home favorites. Last week, first time starting quarterbacks went 1-2 ATS, with the only win being Ryan Tannehill, who barely had to do anything because of a run heavy game plan. The 49ers are a good running team, but will need a balanced attack to cover this 7-point spread against a solid Vikings team. In fact, even with the 49ers being healthier than they’ve been in months, I have this line calculated at just San Francisco -5.5, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Vikings as well.

That being said, I wouldn’t recommend betting on the Vikings. The common narrative is that Kirk Cousins destroyed the old common narrative that he couldn’t win against tough opponents by getting his first career post-season victory last week, but I think the old common narrative is still closer to the truth. It was never that Cousins couldn’t win against tough opponents, as last week’s win was his 8th victory over a team that entered with a winning record since 2015, but that’s compared to 21 losses, including a 4-10 record (4-9-1 ATS) since joining the Vikings before last season. 

One win shouldn’t change the narrative much when you look at years of data, especially since Cousins overall had a pretty average game last week and the Vikings offense was not the primary reason why they won, picking up first downs at a below average 33.78% rate. In fact, if the Saints had won the coin toss in overtime, the Vikings easily could have lost, in which case we’d still be hearing about how Cousins can’t win big games. The Vikings could definitely keep this game close, but it would surprise me if they were able to pull the upset for the second straight week.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Minnesota Vikings 19

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +7

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (12-3) at Seattle Seahawks (11-4)

The Seahawks have been overrated for most of the season, as 10 of their 11 wins have come by 8 points or fewer. Last week, they got embarrassed at home in a 27-13 loss to the last place Cardinals, pushing their record on the season in games decided by more than a score down to 1-3 and their point differential down to +12, worst ever for a 11-4 team. Last week’s loss might have swung them to underrated a little bit, however, as this line has shifted significantly in the past week, going from even on the early line last week to San Francisco -3.5 this week, a huge swing considering 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer. 

The Seahawks played badly last week, but that was their worst game of the season and the absences of left tackle Duane Brown, cornerback Shaq Griffin, cornerback Quandre Diggs, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney were a huge part of the reason why they struggled. Brown is their top left tackle, Griffin and Diggs are their top defensive backs, and Clowney is their best defensive lineman, so those were huge absences. 

Brown and Diggs remain out and running back Chris Carson joins them, but Clowney and Griffin return, giving the Seahawks a big defensive boost and the Seahawks signed free agent Marshawn Lynch, who is a solid replacement for Carson. Casual bettors might not pay attention injuries or may underestimate their impact, so just like the Seahawks were overrated last week, they may be underrated this week. Even if they are not underrated, they’ve historically bounced back really well off of losses in the Russell Wilson era, going 27-11 ATS, including 7-3 ATS with 6 straight up wins in 10 games as underdogs.

The 49ers also have their own injury problems, missing defensive end Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive end Ronald Blair, center Weston Richburg, safety Jacquiski Tartt, among other less important players. They haven’t been quite the same since their win in New Orleans, largely due to injury absences, and yet they’re favored by 3.5 points in this matchup. I don’t think there’s quite enough here for the Seahawks to be worth betting, but I like their chances of bouncing back and at least keeping this one close.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Seattle Seahawks 23

Pick against the spread: Seattle +3.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (8-6) at San Francisco 49ers (11-3)

The 49ers lost their 3rd game of the season last week, at home to the Falcons. Like their first two losses, this loss was decided on the last meaningful play of the game, but, even though the Falcons have played better than their 5-9 suggests, the Falcons are clearly different than the first two teams against whom the 49ers lost, the Ravens and Seahawks, who are a combined 23-5 on the season.

While I didn’t expect the 49ers to lose outright last week, it’s not all that surprising that the 49ers had trouble against the Falcons. Not only were the Falcons an underrated team that is better than their record, but the 49ers were in a tough spot after an emotional win over the Saints and missing several key players, like cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams and defensive end Dee Ford. 

Ford remains out, but Sherman and Williams are not listed on the injury report, which is a big boost for them ahead of their matchup with the Rams this week. The Rams lost badly last week in Dallas by score of 44-21, but the Cowboys are an underrated team, so I don’t hold that loss against them that much. Even with that bad loss included, the Rams rank 10th in first down rate differential at +2.55% and have been even better since acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey before week 7, ranking 9th in first down rate differential over that stretch at +3.30%, led by a defense that ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over that stretch at 31.73%. The Rams won’t be an easy matchup for the 49ers.

The Rams are also in a slightly better spot. I don’t expect the 49ers to be flat, coming off of a loss and needing a win to keep pace with the Seahawks in the division before next week’s rematch in Seattle, but the 49ers already beat the Rams once this season in Los Angeles, while the Rams are fighting for their playoff lives and are playing their final difficult game of the season, with a home game against the Cardinals to finish out the regular season on deck. Road underdogs are 79-54 ATS since 2002 in a regular season rematch against an opponent that they previously lost to as home favorites. On top of that, underdogs of 6+ are 82-69 ATS since 2002 before being favorites of 6+ and the early line has the Rams favored by 7 next week against the Cardinals. There’s not quite enough here for the Rams to be worth betting, but they should be the right side.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Los Angeles Rams 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +6.5

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-9) at San Francisco 49ers (11-2)

The 49ers got a huge win last week in New Orleans in arguably the game of the year in the NFL thus far. With head-to-head wins over the Packers and Saints, the 49ers are in the driver’s seat for the #1 seed in the NFC if they can hold off the Seahawks for the division. Unfortunately, that game did not come without losses for the 49ers, as they will be without cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams, defensive end Dee Ford, defensive tackle DJ Jones, and center Weston Richburg for at least this week, some of them for an extended period of time. They join safety Jaquiski Tartt, defensive end Ronald Blair, and linebacker Kwon Alexander on the sidelines. 

The 49ers have dealt with key injuries pretty much all season, but this is the most banged up they’ve been at once and, as a result, they enter this game just 7th in my roster rankings. They also might not bring their best effort this week, playing a 4-win Falcons team in between a huge win against the Saints and a divisional matchup with the Rams. The Falcons have been better since their bye, but the 49ers probably won’t take them as seriously as some of their recent opponents like the Ravens and Saints.

With that in mind, I like the Falcons a good amount this week. The Falcons are dealing with some key injuries as well, losing wide receiver Calvin Ridley and cornerback Desmond Trufant for the season last week, but they’re in much better shape injury wise than the 49ers and they’re better than their 4-9 record suggests. On the season, they rank 18th in first down rate differential, but have been held back by a -7 turnover margin, which tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. 

During their week 9 bye, the Falcons were just 1-7 with a -12 turnover margin, but a -0.29% first down rate differential. Since that bye, their first down rate differential is largely unchanged at -0.18%, but they’re +4 in turnover margin and, as a result, have won 3 out of 5 games. It’ll obviously still be tough for the Falcons to win straight up on the road against the 49ers, even with the 49ers at much less than full strength, but we’re getting 11 points of cushion with them, so they definitely don’t have to win to cover. My calculated line is 7.5, so we’re getting enough value with the visitors for them to be worth a bet.

San Francisco 49ers 27 Atlanta Falcons 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +11

Confidence: Medium

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