San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams: 2021 NFC Championship

San Francisco 49ers (12-7) at Los Angeles Rams (14-5)

It’s well known that the 49ers have dominated this matchup recently, winning six straight meetings, including two this season. However, it’s unclear how much that really matters. Historically, teams that have won six straight matchups against their opponent do win that seventh game at a 60.1% clip, but that is usually because the team is better in general and not because they happen to “have their number.” When we look at underdogs, like the 49ers are this week, that winning percentage drops to 34.5% and they only even cover the spread at a 50.2% clip. That alone isn’t a reason to take the Rams, but the Rams are also the healthier and more talented team at home. 

One of the least injury affected teams in the league this season, the Rams actually did have some late season absences, but, aside from safety Jordan Fuller, all have since returned, with center Brian Allen, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, tight end Tyler Higbee, and right tackle Rob Havenstein all missing time returned in recent weeks and safety Taylor Rapp and left tackle Andrew Whitworth set to join them this week. The 49ers, meanwhile, have had many more injury issues this season and, while they may be healthier now than they have been, they will still have their quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and their stud left tackle Trent Williams playing at less than 100% with injuries that could be reaggravated and cause them to be knocked out of the game. 

There isn’t a big gap between these two teams, with the Rams ranking just 1.5 points better in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, but my roster rankings have the Rams about 2.5 points better with injuries factored in and, with the Rams having at least some homefield advantage, this line of 3.5 might be a little low, especially since the margin of victory in conference championship games is actually higher than in the regular season. If this was the regular season, this would be a no confidence pick, but I like the Rams a little bit more because this is a post-season game.

Los Angeles Rams 27 San Francisco 49ers 23

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3.5

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers: 2021 NFC Divisional Round Pick

San Francisco 49ers (11-7) at Green Bay Packers (13-4)

The Packers finished tied for the best record in the NFL and earned the NFC’s #1 seed on tiebreakers, giving them a first round bye and homefield advantage through to the Super Bowl, but they were not necessarily the most impressive team in the league week-to-week, with many of their wins coming in close fashion. In fact, their +79 point differential ranks just 10th in the NFL and is barely ahead of their opponents this week, as the 49ers are at +62 on the season (+68 if you include the first round of the post-season).

The Packers did not have Aaron Rodgers for a game and a half, while another half Rodgers did play was a meaningless game against the Lions, so it’s probably not fair to hold that against their point differential and you could make the argument that their week one blowout loss in New Orleans was a complete fluke that should be disregarded as well, but even if you do that, they still only have the 5th best point differential in the NFL at +127. That’s a more significant edge over the 49ers’ point differential, but the 49ers are better in efficiency metrics, which are based on yards per play and first down rate, more predictive metrics than point differential. In terms of overall schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the 49ers rank 7th, about 4.5 points ahead of the 14th ranked Packers.

Schedule adjusted mixed efficiency intentionally minimizes the impact of turnover margin, which is typically not predictive week-to-week, and that may not be appropriate for a team like Green Bay, who has one of the least turnover prone quarterbacks of all time and more consistently wins the turnover battle than other teams as a result (+13 this season). However, it is appropriate for the 49ers, who were able to have the point differential that they had this season despite a -4 turnover margin and are clearly closer to the Packers than these two teams’ records show. 

Despite these two teams being closer than their records show in the regular season, the Packers are 6-point home favorites in this game. There are two reasons for that, but I’m not sure if either reason is legitimate enough to justify the line being this high. For one, the Packers are a dominant home team with Aaron Rodgers under center, going 50-23 ATS at home in games Rodgers starts and finishes in front of crowds with fans, with Rodgers recording a QB rating that is about 10 points higher at home than on the road and in his career. That was especially true this season, as the Packers won all eight games they won at home with six multi-score wins, while losing four of their nine road games and winning just once by multiple scores.

However, if we look at just the post-season, the Packers’ record drops to 4-4 ATS at home with just two wins by 6 or more points in eight games and, beyond the wild card round, that drops even further to 2-3 ATS with one win by more than 6 points in 5 tries, so I am not as worried about going against the Packers in Green Bay as I would be in the regular season, especially with a 6-point cushion and a high level opponent coming to town (just one of the Packers’ home games this season came against a team with double digit wins).

The other reason the Packers are favored by this many is that they are getting several key players back who have been missing for all or most of the season, with left tackle David Bakhtiari only making his season debut in last week’s meaningless game against the Lions after missing all of the season, cornerback Jaire Alexander expected to play for the first time since week 3, and edge defender Za’Darius Smith expected to play for the first time all season. 

All three of those players were among the best in the league at their respective positions in 2020, and, with them back in the lineup, the Packers much more closely resemble last year’s team, which ranked 3rd in the NFL in point differential, so their return is definitely a boost to this team, but all three have been out of real action for so long and were limited in practice this week, so it’s fair to question if any of the three will be at their top form. If they are not, it’s really hard to justify this line being this high.

The 49ers, meanwhile, have been healthier for weeks and it’s shown in their play on the field, as they have won 8 of their last 10 games since a 3-5 start when they were more injury plagued. Over that 10-game stretch, the 49ers have gone 4-1 against playoff qualifiers, including last week’s win in Dallas, and have only lost by margins of 3 points and 7 points, in games in which the 49ers won the yards per play and first down rate battles. They have a very good chance of keeping this game close in Green Bay and even of pulling the straight-up upset, so I am very confident getting 6 points with them. I would still take the 49ers at +5.5, but I would strongly prefer 6 because of the overtime rules.

Green Bay Packers 26 San Francisco 49ers 24

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +6

Confidence: High

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys: 2021 NFC Wild Card Round Pick

San Francisco 49ers (10-7) at Dallas Cowboys (12-5)

The Cowboys enter the post-season in great shape, ranking 2nd in point differential on the season at +188, while ranking 4th, 12th, 6th, and 4th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, despite having several key players miss time on both sides of the ball. Left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin, right tackle La’El Collins, edge defenders DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, linebacker Micah Parsons, wide receivers Amari Cooper, Ceedee Lamb, and Michael Gallup, and quarterback Dak Prescott all missed at least some time with injury this season and never made it through a full game together and won’t, with Gallup now on injured reserve with a torn ACL, but, aside from Gallup, the Cowboys will have ten of those aforementioned eleven players available for this game, which is better shape than they’ve been in for most of the season.

The Cowboys do draw a tough matchup though, as the 49ers also enter the post-season in good shape. They’re just 10-7 and have to go on the road as a wild card, but they were much better than their record suggested this season, as they faced a tough schedule and finished with a -5 turnover metric, which is not a predictive metric, while ranking 8th, 6th, 26th, and 7th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency which are much more predictive metrics based on yards per play and first down rate. The 49ers have also been a lot better in the second half of the season than the first, propelling them into the post-season with a 7-2 stretch after a 3-5 start, with their only two losses during that stretch coming by just one score in games in which they won the first down rate and yards per play battle.

The biggest reason for the 49ers’ second half improvement is that they have been healthier in the second half of the season than the first. The 49ers are still not 100% and have several key players who won’t return, but quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running back Elijah Mitchell, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, tight end George Kittle, left tackle Trent Williams, linebacker Fred Warner, safety Jimmie Ward, cornerback Emmanuel Mosley, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, cornerback K’Waun Williams, and safety Jaquiski Tartt all missed at least some action this season and have since returned, like the Cowboys, so the 49ers are also in better shape than they have been in for most of the season right now.

The public seems to understand the 49ers are healthier and better than their record though, while the Cowboys could actually be a little underrated, only favored by a field goal at home, suggesting they are better than the 49ers, but not my much, even though the Cowboys are arguably one of the best teams in the league, given their balance in all three phases. My calculated line has the gap between these two teams a little bigger and favors the Cowboys by 5 points. There isn’t enough here for the Cowboys to be worth betting, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Dallas Cowboys 31 San Francisco 49ers 26

Pick against the spread: Dallas -3

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (9-7) at Los Angeles Rams (12-4)

The Rams are arguably the top team in the league and, even if they aren’t quite, there are a few reasons why I think highly of them. For one, they are probably the most balanced team in the league, ranking 9th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, 8th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, 6th on special teams, and 5th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, making them the only team in the league to rank in the top-10 in schedule adjusted efficiency in all three phases. 

On top of that, the Rams are one of the relatively healthiest teams in the league. That hasn’t always been the case, especially in recent weeks, as they were missing center Brian Allen and cornerback Jalen Ramsey against the Cardinals, safety Jordan Fuller, right tackle Rob Havenstein, and tight end Tyler Higbee against the Seahawks, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth against the Vikings, but the Rams still managed to win those games and all of those players have since returned. 

The Rams did lose Robert Woods to a mid-season injury, but they replaced him somewhat with Odell Beckham and that has been the Rams only big injury loss this season, meaning that, when you include the addition of Von Miller on defense in a mid-season trade, the Rams are a rare team that actually has become more talented as the season goes on, with most of the league losing talent as the season goes on. As a result, they rank 8.5 points above average in my roster rankings.

The 49ers, on the other hand, have had a lot of key personnel absences this season. They had been getting healthier in recent weeks, but they will either be starting raw backup Trey Lance or injured veteran Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback in this game, while stud left tackle Trent Williams, talented safety Jimmie Ward, and impressive slot cornerback K’Waun Williams are key players could all miss this week’s game after playing last week. Given that, it is pretty strange that this line shifted from favoring the Rams by 6.5 points on the early line last week to just 4 points this week.

The 49ers could get starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw, rotational interior defense Maurice Hurst, and starting cornerback Emmnauel Moseley back from extended absences this week, but they are questionable at best like the aforementioned players and, even in the 49ers’ best case injury scenario, I have the Rams 4 points better than them and calculated as 5.5-point home favorites in this matchup. In the worst case scenario for the 49ers, I have the Rams calculated as 11 point favorites.

Given that we’re getting significant line value either way, I want to lock this pick in while the line is still only four. In fact, without another good choice, I am going to make this my Pick of the Week, as it seems very likely the 49ers will at least be without Williams in this matchup, a huge loss as he’s been arguably the best offensive lineman in the NFL this season. Assuming Williams is out, the best I could have the 49ers at is 7.5-point underdogs, even if all the other aforementioned players play, as he’s that important to the 49ers’ offense.

Los Angeles Rams 24 San Francisco 49ers 16

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -4

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (4-11) at San Francisco 49ers (8-7)

The Texans have won four games, but are still arguably the worst team in the league. In three of their four wins, they have lost the first down rate battle and in two they have lost the yards per play battle, with the only game in which they won both being their week 1 win over the terrible Jaguars, back when the Texans had a much healthier offensive line. In their second win over the Jaguars a couple weeks ago, Texans lost the first down rate battle by 8.02%, only winning the game because they overperformed on third down (10/18 vs. 3/14), which is not as predictive as early downs.

In their upset wins over the Titans and the Chargers, the Texans won the turnover battle by 5 and 3 respectively, which is not predictive, but lost the first down rate and yards per play battle by 9.47% and 2.25 against the Titans and 2.86% and 0.49 against the Chargers, which are more predictive. Meanwhile, in the Texans’ losses, they are getting outscored by 18.55 points per game. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on first down rate and yards per play, the Texans still rank 32nd on offense, 30th on defense, and dead last in mixed efficiency, about 3.5 points behind the second worst team, the Jaguars. 

The 49ers, meanwhile, rank 5th, 12th, 25th, and 8th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, significantly better than their 8-7 record, as they have faced a tough schedule, have lost some close games (+43 point differential), and have had some issues with the turnover margin (-4 on the season). They’ll be without quarterback Jimmy Garopppolo in this one, but backup Trey Lance was the 3rd overall pick in this past draft and, while he didn’t play that well in his only career start in week five, he has reportedly made a lot of progress in practice in recent weeks. 

Lance will also have his most important offensive teammates, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, tight end George Kittle, and left tackle Trent Williams, who have all missed some time this season, including Kittle missing Lance’s first start, while the 49ers’ defense has their key players as well, with edge defender Nick Bosa, interior defender Arik Armstead, safety Jimmie Ward, and linebacker Fred Warner all healthy and in the lineup. This line is pretty high, favoring the 49ers by 12, but it’s a significant shift from a week ago, when the 49ers were favored by 15. 

Garoppolo’s injury is part of that, but I also think that line movement is an overreaction to the Texans somewhat fluky win over the Chargers last week. Teams tend to struggle after upset victories like that anyway, covering at a 41.2% rate all-time after pulling off a double digit upset, as an upset win like that tends to trigger a line movement that more often than not proves to be an overreaction. My calculated line is still 15.5 and, if there are no major changes to either team’s COVID lists before gametime, I will strongly consider a bet on the 49ers around 12.

Update: I have decided I want to leave this as low confidence.

San Francisco 49ers 31 Houston Texans 16

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -12

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Tennessee Titans: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (8-6) at Tennessee Titans (9-5)

The Titans have a better record than the 49ers, but more predictive metrics like yards per play and first down rate show the 49ers to be a significantly better team, especially when you take into account that they have faced a tougher schedule than the Titans. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, the 49ers rank 8th, 10th, 24th, and 7th respectively in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, while the Titans rank 21st, 12th, 22nd, and 21st respectively.

The 49ers are also in a better injury situation than the Titans. They’re still far from 100%, missing their two best cornerbacks, their three best running backs, and several other contributors, including defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and right tackle Mike McGlinchey. However, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, tight end George Kittle, left tackle Trent Williams, linebacker Fred Warner, and safety Jimmie Ward are all among their most important players and they have all some missed time and since returned, which has allowed this team to play some of their best football in recent weeks. 

The Titans, on the other hand, have not been playing their best football in recent weeks, primarily on offense, in large part due to injuries. After averaging 5.49 yards per play through the first eight games of the season (most equivalent to 17th in the NFL), the Titans have seen that average drop to 4.51 yards per play (most equivalent to 31st in the NFL) over the past six games, a stretch in which feature back Derrick Henry has missed every game, talented wide receivers AJ Brown and Julio Jones have missed three games each, and starting left guard Rodger Saffold has missed 1 game. 

Brown and Jones will play this week, with the former returning from his 3-game absence for the first time, but Saffold and Henry remain out, while talented left tackle Taylor Lewan will join them, meaning they will still be down their most important offensive player and a pair of talented offensive linemen for this matchup. Unfortunately, we’ve lost all line value with the 49ers in the past week, with this line shifting from even on the early line last week to now favoring the 49ers by 3.5 points, a significant swing given that about 1 in 4 games are decided by three points or fewer. 

The weird part is there isn’t an obvious factor that caused that shift. The 49ers won big over the Falcons last week, but the Falcons are one of the worst teams in the league, while the Titans’ loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh likely would have gone the other way had the Titans not lost the turnover battle by 4 in a 6-point loss. Turnover margins are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so it’s very likely the Titans will have a better turnover margin in this matchup. On top of that, none of the injuries that have occured in the past week for these two teams are significant enough for this line to shift like this.

Most likely, this line shift is the result of the public and odds makers catching up to how good the 49ers are, after a stretch in which they were regularly underrated and, as a result, covered in five of their past six games. My calculated line is exactly where this line is at San Francisco -3.5, so we’re not getting any value with either side as a result of that massive line movement. I am still taking the 49ers for pick ‘em purposes, but this could easily be a field goal win by the 49ers, so I can’t be confident in them.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Tennessee Titans 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -3.5

Confidence: None

Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (6-7) at San Francisco 49ers (7-6)

The Falcons are 6-7 and theoretically right in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC, but they have not been impressive, as all six of their wins have come by one score against teams with a losing record, while five of their seven losses have come by double digits, including four losses by 23 points or more, leading to them having a point differential of -108 that ranks 5th worst in the NFL. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Falcons rank 22nd, 27th, and 30th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and just 29th in mixed efficiency.

The 49ers, on the other hand, rank 9th, 14th, 21st, and 10th in offensive, defensive, special teams and mixed efficiency and they are much more in line with the teams who have blown the Falcons out than the teams the Falcons have beaten or played close. My calculated line has the 49ers favored by 11 points, so we’re getting some line value with them as 8.5-point home favorites. Unfortunately, this is a tough spot for the 49ers, who play a tougher game next week against the Titans and they do so on Thursday Night Football. Overall just 40.7% of favorites cover the week before a Thursday Night Football game, so I am hesitant to bet on the 49ers, even though I would still recommend them for pick ‘em purposes.

San Francisco 49ers 27 Atlanta Falcons 16

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -8.5

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (6-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)

I have thought the 49ers are underrated for weeks, as their 6-6 record is not reflective of how they have performed in more predictive metrics, ranking 7th, 8th, 22nd, and 7th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency. However, it seems like the general public has become aware that the 49ers are better than their record and now is ignoring some key injury absences, including some new ones just in the past week.

The 49ers will get top linebacker Fred Warner back from injury this week, but they will now be without top cornerback Emmanuel Mosley, after already losing their previous top cornerback Jason Verrett for the season, as well as feature back Elijah Mitchell, after already losing their previous feature back Raheem Mostert for the season. On top of that, top wide receiver Deebo Samuel could miss his second straight game, right tackle Mike McGlinchey remains out, and would-be key contributors on defense like Javon Kinlaw, Dre Greenlaw, and Maurice Hurst remain out as well. 

Despite that, the 49ers are 1.5-point favorites in Cincinnati. For comparison, the Chargers were 3-point underdogs last week. The Chargers did win that game convincingly, but the Bengals were also without a pair of starting offensive linemen, right tackle Riley Reiff and center Trey Hopkins, who will both be back this week. I can’t bet the Bengals confidently, because the 49ers are still better than their 6-6 record, while the Bengals are likely worse than their 7-5 record, as they have faced an easy schedule, but the Bengals are in the better spot and should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes, as teams in their third straight home game like the Bengals cover the spread at a 55.2% rate. If Samuel plays, I would likely drop all confidence, but this is a low confidence pick of the Bengals for now.

Update: It sounds like Deebo Samuel is playing, so this is going to be a no confidence pick.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Cincinnati Bengals 23

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +1.5

Confidence: None

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (6-5) at Seattle Seahawks (3-8)

Typically, I like to fade significant week-to-week line movement, as it tends to be an overreaction to a single week of play. This game features one, with the 49ers going from 1-point favorites last week on the early line to 3.5-point favorites this week, a huge swing, considering about 1 in 4 games are decided by three points or fewer and 1 in 6 by exactly three. Normally I can at least understand why a significant swing happens, but, in this case, it’s hard to figure it out, as the 49ers won by 8 last week as 3-point favorites and the Seahawks lost by 2 as 1-point underdogs, two results that were well within the reasonable range of their point spread.

I have thought the 49ers are underrated for weeks and their efficiency ratings still show them to be a much better team than their 6-5 record suggests, as they rank 8th, 7th, 20th, and 7th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, but if anything, the line should have gone the other direction, as the 49ers have lost two key contributors to injury in the past week with both their top wide receiver Deebo Samuel and their top linebacker Fred Warner, two of the best in the league at their respective positions, going down with injuries last week. 

The Seahawks, meanwhile, should get something closer to 100% from Russell Wilson than they have gotten in his first three games since returning from injury, as he nears the original time frame for his injury recovery. They are just 3-8, but their defense ranks 16th in schedule adjusted efficiency, while their special teams rank 6th, so if they can get something decent from their offense, they could definitely pull the upset against a banged up 49ers team. 

The Seahawks are still missing top running back Chris Carson and starting left guard Damien Lewis, so even if Wilson is healthier, they are still not 100% on offense, but Wilson returning to form would be very significant and, even with Wilson factored in at slightly less than 100%, we are still getting line value with the Seahawks, as my calculated line is still where the early line was last week, favoring the 49ers by 1. This isn’t a big play and I still think the 49ers will win, but there is enough value with the Seahawks to bet them.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Seattle Seahawks 23

Pick against the spread: Seattle +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (5-5) at San Francisco 49ers (5-5)

The 49ers are just 5-5, but they have a point differential that is better than their record at +24, despite dealing with a significant amount of injury absences, many of whom have since returned, and despite a -5 turnover margin, 5th worst in the NFL. Turnover margin is highly non-predictive on a week-to-week basis and the 49ers rank 7th, 6th, 7th, and 4th in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, when adjusted for schedule, which are based on more predictive metrics like first down rate and yards per play, showing them to statistically be one of the best and most well-balanced teams in the league, despite all of the players who missed time earlier this season.

The 49ers have covered by a wide margin in back-to-back games and have overall covered three of their last four games, but they still remain underrated, favored by just 3 points at home against the Vikings. Part of that may be the Vikings being overrated, as the general public sees they have been competitive in all their games and could easily have a few more wins if a few things went their way. They also remember them handing the Packers their second loss of the season with Aaron Rodgers last week.

That analysis leaves out a lot of things though. For one, the Vikings could also just as easily have a few more losses, as just one of their wins has come by more than one score. The Vikings also needed pick sixes in two of their losses to make those games closer than they otherwise would have been and, if not for those, they could easily have a couple multiscore losses. On top of that, their win over the Packers isn’t as impressive as it seems, as the Packers are an overrated team with a lot of injury issues, and the Vikings will be more short-handed than they were a week ago, particularly on the defensive line. 

Already without interior defender Michael Pierce and edge defender Danielle Hunter for an extended period of time, the Vikings will add fellow interior defender Dalvin Tomlinson and fellow edge defender Everson Griffen to their list of absences this week, leaving them without their two best players at both positions, which is a big liability for a defense that already ranks just 24th in schedule adjusted efficiency. Their offense and special teams are better, but not good enough to make up for their issues on defense, with their offense ranking 15th in efficiency and their special teams ranking 13th. They should be underdogs of a lot more than three points in San Francisco against a still underrated 49ers team. My calculated line favors the 49ers by 8, so the 49ers are an obvious choice against the spread and my top pick this week.

San Francisco 49ers 31 Minnesota Vikings 23

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -3

Confidence: Pick of the Week