The undefeated 49ers made themselves known Monday night. They look like real contenders after blowing out the Browns, 31-3, on the strength of a 275-yard rushing performance and a breakout night from budding star Nick Bosa.
The defense is the team’s unquestioned strength while the offense is suddenly in tatters. San Francisco survived the past two games with sixth-round pick Justin Skule replacing the injured Joe Staley. But now they have the same issue on the other side of the offensive line, with right tackle Mike McGlinchey out six to eight weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday.
And the team is without its versatile fullback Kyle Juszczyk for six to eight weeks after spraining his MCL. Suddenly the NFL’s top rushing outfit is dealing with some serious adversity heading into its first divisional game against the Los Angeles Rams.
That forces Kyle Shanahan to reach deeper into his bag of offensive tricks. The 49ers will have to utilize their tight ends to replace Juszczyk, and perhaps rely on a relatively unproductive receiving corps to pick up the slack. The success the team’s enjoyed on the ground simply might not be there against the Rams.
The stakes? They’re pretty high. The 49ers (4-0) and Rams (3-2) are squaring off with better-than-.500 records for the first time since 2001. A win for San Francisco would be a massive confidence-booster, given their injury situations, while a third straight loss for L.A. would likely doom its chances at a third straight NFC West title.
Let’s get to our fantasy and betting advice for Sunday’s game at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum coming straight from a beat writer.
49ers fantasy advice: Start these three
TE George Kittle: The last time Kittle played in L.A. he set the single-season record for receiving yards at his position. The Rams had their playoff standing mostly locked up and didn’t have to play with a ton of urgency to stop the talented tight end, but that doesn’t matter in the fantasy realm. Kittle had nine catches for 149 yards, the second-highest yardage total he had all season. The Rams defense ranks 16th against the pass and has allowed nine touchdowns through the air in five games. The 49ers will want to get the ball out of Jimmy Garoppolo’s hands quickly, which likely means a slew of short passes to Kittle to let him get yards after the catch. Whether the 49ers’ blocking holds up or not, Kittle should be San Francisco’s most targeted pass catcher on Sunday.
RB Tevin Coleman: High ankle sprains can sometimes he tough to come back from. But that wasn’t the case Monday for Coleman. He rushed for 97 yards on 16 carries, where were the most attempts by a 49ers’ running back. Yes, Matt Breida leads the NFL averaging 6.54 yards per carry, but the Rams’ defense led by Wade Phillips is disciplined and will do all it can to prevent Breida from making explosive gains, like he did on the opening run from scrimmage when he toasted the Browns for an 83-yard touchdown. Coleman will is more likely to be the short-yardage and goal line option, which makes him a safer play this week now that he’s fully healthy.
49ers defense: Last week I advised to bench the 49ers defense because I didn’t think it would play at the same level without starting cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon against Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb. That wasn’t a good call. San Francisco’s D was actually the second-highest fantasy scoring defense of the week. Shame on me for not having faith in Emmanuel Moseley. This week the defense knows it has to carry the water and against the Rams’ fifth-ranked offense. The defensive front should hold firm against L.A.’s lackluster offensive line. Even worse for the home team, Todd Gurley might not be available, which would force Jared Goff to win with his arm, which can be difficult in the face of pressure the 49ers will bring.
49ers fantasy advice: Sit these two
49ers receivers: San Francisco’s top three receivers — Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin and Deebo Samuel —combined to make five catches against the Browns while the team ran the ball 40 times. That shouldn’t change Sunday as the 49ers will hope to protect their backup tackles by keeping the ball on the ground. Both Pettis and Samuel had drops. Shanahan’s passing attack is currently 22nd in the NFL while the 49ers lead the league in rushing attempts each week. They’ve thrown more than 30 times just once in four games. Until that happens more often, it’s hard to trust these receivers to put up the numbers needed to help your fantasy team.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: He’s the 23rd-ranked quarterback in the NFL from a fantasy perspective, and he’ll be without his two starting tackles throwing to an unproven receiving corps against the defending NFC champs. Unless you play multiple quarterbacks or you’re in a league with at least 23 teams, it would be wise to start someone else in a more favorable situation this week.
49ers-Rams prediction against the spread
The Rams are just 3-point favorites, which indicates the odds-makers believe these teams would be evenly matched on a neutral site.
But there are a ton of things favoring L.A. this week. First, the Rams last played on a Thursday night, meaning they’ve had 10 days to stew on their back-to-back losses to the Buccaneers and Seahawks. San Francisco is coming off a big win and is traveling (albeit a one-hour plane ride) on a short week following their Monday night blowout.
Did we mention the 49ers are without their only fullback and two starting tackles?
The Rams’ defense allowed 893 yards the last two games after yielding just 514 in the previous two. And if you’ve been following San Francisco’s offensive patter this season, it’s looked like this:
Week 1: not sharp against Tampa Bay
Week 2: sharp against Cincinnati
Week 3: not sharp against Pittsburgh
Week 4: sharp against Cleveland
If that pattern holds, the 49ers are due for a not-so-sharp performance against the Rams. Being sharp would be particularly difficult with a tackle combo of Skule and Daniel Brunskill replacing former first-round draftees Staley and McGlinchey.
The good news for San Francisco, a loss Sunday wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. They’ll be 4-1 with a chance to go 5-1 the following week with a trip to play the professional football team in Washington that just replaced its head coach following an 0-5 start.
The pick here is the Rams, minus-3, because there’s simply too much working against the 49ers this week. Plus the Rams should be too good to lose three games in a row. Final score: 20-10.
Record this year (against the spread): 2-2