It’s do-or-die for San Francisco if it wants to hang to its fading playoff hopes.
The San Francisco 49ers take on Alex Smith and the Washington Football Team in Week 14 of the 2020 NFL regular season. The 5-7 Niners have lost four out of their last five and desperately need a win if they want to stay in the hunt for one of the seven NFC playoff spots.
Washington has turned its season around after a 2-7. The WFT has won three games in a row and sits in a tie for first place with the New York Giants for first place in the NFC East.
San Francisco’s secondary — which struggled last week in the loss to the Buffalo Bills — will get some help with the return of cornerback K’Waun Williams. Washington is expected to be without rookie running back Antonio Gibson, who exited the Week 13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers after suffering a toe injury.
Here are the predictions for Week 14 from Niners Nation contributors:
Kyle Posey: [I]t feels like the first team to score 17 points wins. I’m expecting an ugly, low-scoring, slop fest. Teams that beat the Niners have perimeter threats and a quarterback that can hurt you with their legs and arms at each level. Terry McLaurin fits the bill, but nobody is confusing Alex Smith for Josh Allen any time soon.
San Francisco isn’t a defense that you can sustain drives against. You need chunk plays to score consistently. Washington has done that, to Smith’s credit. Since Alex took over as the starter in Week 10, Washington has the eighth-most explosive passing plays and the third-most explosive running plays. For comparison, San Francisco has the third-fewest explosive rushing offense. Perhaps more evidence that there’s value in a quarterback who can move.
Defensively, Washington is as good as it gets. Per RBSDM, Washington is fifth in the EPA/play and success rate, fourth in dropback EPA, and third in dropback success rate. As much as we talk about their defensive line, San Francisco has a higher pressure rate and QB knockdown percentage than Washington. The difference between the two teams is that when Washington gets pressure, they bring the quarterback down. They’re fourth in adjusted sack rate, and their number almost matched the 49ers in 2019.
Both teams struggle to score, but Kyle Shanahan isn’t losing to Washington. Not with their history.
Kyle’s prediction: 49ers 20, Washington 14.
Rob Guerrera: I could base my prediction on the fact that Washington’s defensive line is going to eat Mike McGlinchey and Colton McKivitz alive or on the fact that Nick Mullens struggles with pressure and is guaranteed to throw multiple interceptions. Instead, I’ll base it on this very unscientific reasoning: every time I get down on this year’s team, they surprise me with a win.
Rob’s prediction: SF wins, 16-13
Quarterback Nick Mullens needs to take care of the ball and avoid costly turnovers for San Francisco to get a much-needed win. The good news for the Niners is that Washington’s offense is among the worst in the NFL. The unit ranks 26th in total yards per game and has given up the league’s sixth-most sacks. This bodes well for a San Francisco pass rush that wasn’t very good in Buffalo’s loss. I think this game will come down to which team takes care of the football. There isn’t much separating the two teams, so whichever squad makes fewer mistakes will come out the winner.
Jas’ prediction: WFT wins, 23-20
Niners Nation (via the Washinton Post)
There’s 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan, the son of Mike Shanahan, to whom Snyder bestowed all football power in 2010. The former Washington offensive coordinator’s Super Bowl run last year was a constant reminder of the young, bright offensive assistants — including the Rams’ Sean McVay and Packers’ Matt LaFleur — who left the team only to win big as head coaches elsewhere.
There’s Trent Williams, the star left tackle and one of the faces of Washington’s franchise in the 2010s whose refusal to play after a botched cancer diagnosis enveloped the team in a fog of gloom for all of last year.
There’s Jordan Reed, the gifted tight end whose brilliance was squelched by constant injuries — symbolic of a team that ended the previous three seasons with more than 20 players on injured reserve.
All of them are unwitting but glowing tokens of what Washington football had become in the second decade of Snyder’s ownership. But their arrival now is a milepost that shows just how far the team has moved away from the disaster of the past.
[Alex] Smith ought to be the runaway winner, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the other contenders who have fought their way back onto the field [like Trent Williams].
It’s easy to forget that Williams missed the 2019 season after dealing with a cancerous growth on his head. Williams — and everyone else — was reminded of his 2019 ordeal last month when he contracted COVID-19. Given his cancer history and the fact that he’s asthmatic, Williams acknowledged he became deeply worried about developing serious complications from the virus. Williams called it “the toughest thing I ever had to do in my career.”
Losing out promises a better draft pick, which gives you a better chance at adding talent. Not just in the first round, but throughout the NFL Draft. That line of thinking ignores Justin Jefferson, Chase Claypool, and Brandon Aiyuk being drafted after Henry Ruggs. It ignores Antoine Winfield Jr. being the fourth safety drafted. We see it every year in the NFL Draft. There is talent all over. It’s on you to find it.
It also ignores how aggressive this front office has been since John Lynch has taken over. There have been countless trades. Lynch has shown that he’s going to make a trade if he feels like it will improve the 49ers.
Finally, if the 49ers made the playoffs this season, after everything this team has gone through, that’d positively impact the psyche of the team, and I imagine it’d give them even more confidence. “If we can make the playoffs with half our roster, then the expectation should be that the success of 2019 is our goal every year.” The players and coaches are going to do any and everything it takes to win. That’s how they’re wired. Making the playoffs only benefits San Francisco.
[Note from BiB: I’m completely in favor of the 49ers losing out to improve draft position; don’t forget, Washington holds the Niners’ 3rd round draft pick as part of the Trent Williams trade.]
Can San Francisco rebound from a disappointing effort against the Buffalo Bills?
San Francisco has only covered once in its last four outings and is 5-7 ATS this season. The 43.5 total is tied with the Dallas Cowboys/Cincinnati Bengals matchup for the lowest amongst all games on the Week 14 schedule.
Washington is 5-1-1 ATS over its previous seven contests, and the under has hit in six out of the team’s 12 games this season.
This Sunday’s matchup with be the 34th meeting between the two franchises, with the 49ers holding a 21-11-1 record against Washington. San Francisco has beaten the WFT five times in their last six games, including a 9-0 shutout last season that was played in sloppy conditions in the Nation’s Capital.
Washington beat San Francisco in a nail-biter in Week 6 of the 2017 season, edging the Niners 26-24. That game is memorable because quarterback C.J. Beathard came in for the struggling Brian Hoyer. The then-rookie went 19-of-36 for 245 yards, a touchdown and an interception, almost leading the 49ers to a comeback win.
During his weekly press conference, Kyle Shanahan was asked whether he looks at quarterbacks any differently now that he’s a head coach. Here’s what Kyle said.
“How I evaluate everything is always changing. Things change, people change. You start to see you can win football games with any type of quarterback as long as they are good enough and you can be good enough in hundreds of different ways. So, I evaluate quarterbacks in terms of trying to find people who can have a chance to be one of those elite-type guys and there’s lots of different ways to do it. You can see now there’s plenty of different ways, so I don’t think that’ll ever change. I don’t think you have one certain thing you’re looking for. You’re just trying to find a guy who is better than about 98-percent of the people on this planet or in this country and when you find that, you get him and you adjust to him.”
When I hear that, it makes me think Kyle has shifted his thinking when it comes to quarterbacks. Kyle’s history with QBs clearly indicates he preferred pocket passers. The same year his team was forced to draft RG3 second overall, they also took Kirk Cousins in the fourth round. He’s admitted in the past that he didn’t scout Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson as well as he should have. But now, after years of seeing Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson up close and personal, I believe his thinking has evolved.
Earlier this year he spoke about how the athleticism of a lot of mobile guys hindered their development as pocket passers. He finished his thought, however, by saying that many college systems now incorporate things that have solved that issue, which you can see when you look at quarterbacks around the league.
That comment combined with the quote yesterday all point to one conclusion for me. Jimmy Garoppolo should not buy any green bananas, because his days in red and gold are numbered.
The San Francisco 49ers today announced they had promoted OL Tony Bergstrom to the active roster from the team’s practice squad. The team also announced they had signed CB Briean (BREE-in) Boddy-Calhoun and TE Daniel Helm to the practice squad.
We walked through a few playoff scenarios where the 49ers could make it. There’s a couple of different ways for the Niners to sneak in at 8-8
There are several scenarios where the Niners could make the playoffs, including one that involves the team being 8-8. They’ll need plenty of help along the way, though.
The most straightforward scenario for the 49ers to make the playoffs is them winning out, the Vikings losing to the Saints Week 16, and one Lions loss against one of the Packers, Titans, Buccaneers, or Vikings. The latter two seem plausible, but San Francisco has to beat Arizona and Seattle without overlooking Washington and Dallas.
The 49ers sneaking in at 8-8 is a lot more realistic than you think, believe it or not. They could lose to Seattle Week 17 and still get in if the Niners beat the Cardinals Week 16, and Arizona loses to the Rams Week 17. Los Angeles could be playing for the No. 1 seed or the NFC West title, so they’ll have something to play for. For this to happen, Minnesota would need to lose to Tampa Bay this coming Sunday and the Saints in Week 16. San Francisco would also have to beat Washington and Dallas.