New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers: 2018 Week 10 NFL Pick

New York Giants (1-7) at San Francisco 49ers (2-7)

This is a tough game to predict because I’m still not sure what to make of new 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens, a 2017 undrafted free agent who completed 16 of 22 for 262 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first NFL start last week. If he continues to play at least decent, the 49ers should cover this game as 3-point home favorites over the lowly Giants. The 49ers actually have a solid offensive supporting cast around the quarterback and rank 13th in first down rate at 37.70%, despite quarterback turmoil.

Turnovers have been a huge problem for them, as they’ve turned it over 18 times and have a -13 turnover margin (2nd worst in the NFL), but turnover margin tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Mullens didn’t turn the ball over at all last week (after CJ Beathard committed 10 turnovers in 5 starts) and if he keeps playing at least decently their turnover margin could easily stabilize for the rest of the season.

Those are big ifs with Mullens though. The track record of undrafted quarterbacks in the NFL is pretty weak and, as good as he looked in his debut, it was one start against a team that had no tape on him and wasn’t expecting him to play. He also happened to be playing a Raiders defense that can make a lot of quarterbacks look good. I’m taking the 49ers in this one for pick ‘em purposes, but there’s far too much uncertainty for them to be bettable this week.

San Francisco 49ers 24 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -3

Confidence: None

Oakland Raiders at San Francisco 49ers: 2018 Week 9 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (1-6) at San Francisco 49ers (1-7)

Things have gone from bad to worse for the 49ers. Already without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the season with a torn ACL, now backup CJ Beathard is dealing with a hand and wrist injury on his throwing arm. Beathard is still expected to play, but he barely practiced on a short week and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be anywhere near 100% or if could get pulled mid-game for backup Nick Mullens, a second year undrafted free agent who has never thrown a pass in a regular season game. The 49ers will also be without key defensive players Reuben Foster and Jaquiski Tartt, who were very much missed as the 49ers blew a two score 4th quarter lead to the Cardinals last week.

The Raiders are not in good shape either, with a mediocre roster and all sorts of reported issues in their locker room, in their first year under new head coach Jon Gruden. They’re a little bit better of a team though and they have by far the better quarterback situation, which is important on a short week. It’s also worth noting that this is basically a home game for the Raiders too, as they play about an hour from the 49ers, so the 49ers shouldn’t get more than a point if anything for homefield advantage, even on a short week. I have this line calculated at about even. We’re not getting many points with the Raiders as 2.5 point underdogs though, so this is a pretty low confidence pick. It’s hard to get excited about backing either side in this one anyway, as this is two terrible teams playing on a short week.

Update: Beathard is active for this game, but Mullen will start as they feel he’s a better option than a less than 100% Beathard. That may be true, but the odds are heavily against Mullen performing well in this one. He’s just the 5th undrafted free agent in the past 30 years under the age of 24 to start at quarterback for a team. The previous 4 (Doug Johnson, Matt Moore, Jeff Tuel and Connor Shaw) had a combined 60.0 QB rating with a 2-5 record in 7 starts. It’ll be even more challenging for Mullen making his debut on a short week with limited first team reps. The Raiders still are not an appealing bet, even if the line movement from +2.5 to -1.5 is largely insignificant, but they are the safer bet for pick ’em purposes.

Oakland Raiders 23 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: Oakland -1.5

Confidence: None

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: 2018 Week 8 NFL Pick

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

Outside of the Bills, who are starting street free agent Derek Anderson right now, the Cardinals are easily the worst team in the NFL, ranking 31st in first down rate differential at -9.97% and in point differential at -92. Even in their one win, against these 49ers in San Francisco, they lost the first down rate battle by 12.60% and only were able to win because of a +5 turnover margin and a return touchdown, which is not sustainable week-to-week. They managed just 10 first downs to 33 for the 49ers in that game.

This time around, even though this game is in Arizona, I expect a different result. Despite also being 1-6 and starting backup quarterback CJ Beathard, the 49ers haven’t been terrible this season and actually rank around middle of the pack in first down rate differential on the season at +0.71%. Beathard has completed 62.4% of his passes for an average of 7.53 YPA and the offense has picked up first downs at a 37.12% rate in his 4 starts, not much below their rate in Garoppolo’s 3 starts, 41.30%.

The 49ers have been killed by the turnover margin, but turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For example, the 49ers lost the turnover battle by 4 last week against the Rams, but teams with a turnover margin of -4, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week. Even in games in which the 49ers have lost the turnover margin by 1 and 3 respectively, the 49ers hung within 2 points of the Chargers and 3 points of the Packers on the road, so if the 49ers’ -15 turnover margin stays steady, the result of that will be very noticeable on the scoreboard.

At the very least, it’s highly unlikely they keep up their current turnover pace, which would put them at -34 at the end of the season, the worst in recent memory. Even the winless Browns were just -28 last season and that was the highest mark since 2000. Facing a weak opponent this week, the 49ers could easily play turnover neutral football and get a relatively easy win on the road. As long as this line is under 3, which means the 49ers basically just have to win to cover, I like the 49ers a lot this week.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -1

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: 2018 Week 7 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (6-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-5)

Last week, the 49ers played on Monday Night Football in Green Bay. I picked the Packers for a high confidence pick as 9.5 point home favorites, as they were going into a bye and seemed like the significantly better team. However, the 49ers surprised a lot of people and made it a game, losing by just 3 points, 33-30, in a game in which 49ers backup quarterback CJ Beathard matched Aaron Rodgers point for point until the very end, when Rodgers pulled off a game winning drive.

Many, including myself, completely wrote the 49ers off when they lost Jimmy Garoppolo for the season, but, while they’re not going to contend for anything at 1-5 with a backup quarterback, their offense has actually played pretty well since turning to Beathard, as they’ve had a first down rate of at least 38% in all 3 of Beathard’s starts and still rank 9th in the NFL on the season in first down rate at 40.26% even without Garoppolo. Their defense hasn’t been great, ranking 24th in first down rate allowed at 37.94%, but they still rank 10th in first down rate differential at +2.32%.

Their record won’t show they’ve played well, but none of their losses have come by more than 11 points, so they aren’t getting blown out, and they’ve played both the Chargers and Packers within a field goal on the road with Beathard under center. That’s all despite the fact that they are dead last with a -11 turnover margin on the season. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week and basis, as teams, on average, tend to have a turnover margin of about +0.0 per game, regardless of what their turnover margin was in the previous game.

Even if the 49ers don’t play turnover neutral football the rest of the way, they’re highly unlikely to continue losing the turnover margin by close to 2 turnovers per game. At their current rate, they are on pace for a turnover margin of -29 on the season, which would be the worst turnover margin in recent memory, even worse than the -28 mark the winless Browns finished with last season (the 2000 Chargers also had a -28 turnover margin in a 1-15 season). Beathard has had issues with turnovers, but he’s also shown a lot of arm talent, completing 64.0% of his passes for an average of 7.83 YPA.

Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Beathard has played well. After all, he was a 3rd round pick last year, hand selected by new head coach Kyle Shanahan, who saw him as the potential future of this franchise before the opportunity to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo presented itself. Beathard is a great fit in Shanahan’s scheme and his supporting cast is also playing at a high level, thanks in large part to Shanahan’s coaching.

Unfortunately, it seems I’m not the only one who has been impressed by Beathard so far, as this line shifted from Rams -12.5 on the early line last week to -9.5 this week, undoubtedly as a result of the 49ers’ near win in Green Bay on national television. At +12.5, the 49ers would have been a no brainer, but we’ve lost a lot of line value at +9.5, as I have this line calculated at 7.5. The 49ers have a good chance to keep this one relatively close at home, especially since the Rams’ defense has not been as good since losing cornerback Aqib Talib to injury a few weeks ago, but I’d need at least 10 points to bet money on the 49ers. If this line moves back up closer to gametime, I will reconsider.

Los Angeles Rams 31 San Francisco 49ers 24

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +9.5

Confidence: Low

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers: 2018 Week 5 NFL Pick

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

A week ago, this line favored the 49ers at home by 2.5, but the line shifted to 4 this week. That might not look like much, but only 4% of games are decided by 2 points or fewer, as opposed to 24% of games decided by 4 points or fewer. That line movement is likely because the 49ers did not look as bad as expected in their first game with backup quarterback CJ Beathard in the lineup, losing by 2 in Los Angeles to the Chargers as 10.5 point underdogs. I think that’s an overreaction. The Chargers’ defense has been terrible this season without Joey Bosa, so that’s not really that impressive and the Cardinals easily could have won their first game of the season against the Seahawks last week if they hadn’t missed two makeable field goals.

Without Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers have arguably the weakest roster in the NFL and Garoppolo isn’t their only injury, with left tackle Joe Staley and top cornerback Richard Sherman both looking like gametime decisions. The Cardinals aren’t much better, but they have more upside with rookie quarterback Josh Rosen making his 2nd career start and this line suggests that the 49ers are better. I have this line calculated at San Francisco -1, so we’re getting significant line value with the visitors. They’re worth a bet.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Arizona Cardinals 23

Pick against the spread: Arizona +4

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Chargers: 2018 Week 4 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-2)

The 49ers were dealt a crippling blow late in their loss last week in Kansas City, with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tearing his ACL trying to extend a play in the 4th quarter. Already 2.5 games back in the division at 1-2 in a loaded NFC, with a mediocre roster around the quarterback, the 49ers now will have to turn to 2017 3rd round pick CJ Beathard, who was a backup caliber quarterback as a rookie. It’s possible he has a leap in his level of play in his 2nd year in the league, but he’s obviously a major downgrade from Garoppolo and he won’t get a ton of help from the rest of the roster.

Garoppolo is not the only injury the 49ers have suffered so far this season, thinning an already thin roster. Planned feature back Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL on the final play of training camp. Top cornerback Richard Sherman got hurt last week too and will miss a few games with a leg injury. Safety Jaquiski Tartt will likely miss his 2nd straight game with a shoulder injury. Running back Matt Breida and safety Adrian Colbert are expected to be gametime decisions. This is arguably the worst team in the NFL right now.

The Chargers are a significantly better team and they’re in a good spot with a home game against the winless Raiders on deck. Favorites of 6 or more are 78-48 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6 or more again. I’m not betting them for a couple reasons though. For one, they have almost no homefield advantage in Los Angeles, as a result of how few fans they have. I would expect the crowd to be mostly 49er fans, even with Garoppolo injured.

On top of that, the Chargers have a major injury of their own with top edge rusher Joey Bosa out for the 4th straight week. Without him, the Chargers’ defense hasn’t been nearly the same. The Chargers should be able to win by double digits, but if the 49ers are down 16 or 17 points late I don’t trust the Chargers’ defense not to give up a backdoor touchdown. The Chargers should be the right side, but we’re not getting enough line value with them as 10.5 point favorites for them to be worth a bet.

Los Angeles Chargers 33 San Francisco 49ers 19

Pick against the spread: Los Angeles -10.5

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2018 Week 3 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (2-0)

The Chiefs’ offense has been incredible through 2 games, scoring a league high 10 touchdowns and picking up first downs at a 48.62% rate. Despite that, they still have a negative first down rate differential, as their defense has incredibly allowed opponents to pick up first downs or touchdowns on 50% of their snaps. They have given up 33 first downs each to the Chargers and Steelers in their first 2 games.

They still won the first down rate differential last week because of a ridiculous 55.56% first down rate by their offense, but they lost the first down rate differential in Los Angeles against the Chargers, winning that game as a result of a +2 turnover margin and several big plays (including a long punt return). That’s not the most sustainable way to win games. Their defense will be better when Eric Berry returns from his achilles tear, but it remains to be seen when that will be and their defense will have to be better if the Chiefs are going to keep winning.

Making the Chiefs’ offensive start even more impressive is the fact that their first two games were both on the road, as this game against the 49ers is their home opener. It could be a let down game for them though, as teams are 26-51 ATS over the past 30 years in week 3 home openers. The Chiefs have done well as underdogs on the road thus far this season, but being favored by 6 at home is a different dynamic. They could take their foot off the gas a little at 2-0, at home, against a non-conference opponent and at the very least allow the 49ers to hang around in a shootout.

All that being said, I would need a couple more points to take the 49ers with confidence this week. I have this line calculated right at -6, so we’re not getting any line value with the 49ers, who remain a little bit of an overrated team, as they lack a strong supporting cast around Jimmy Garoppolo, who has shown growing pains in his 2nd season as a starter. They struggled against a good team in Minnesota week 1 and then beat a mediocre Lions team in their home opener. The Chiefs have already beaten a pair of potential playoff teams and the 49ers are probably the easiest opponent they’ve had thus far. Getting Reuben Foster back from suspension helps, but not enough for me to bet on the 49ers this week.

Kansas City Chiefs 31 San Francisco 49ers 27

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +6

Confidence: Low