Last week’s decisive victory over the defending conference champion Rams opened some eyes.
It legitimized a 49ers defense that had been dominating lesser opponents the weeks prior. San Francisco held Los Angeles to a paltry 157 total yards, which was the fewest since Sean McVay was hired in 2017. The Rams came into the game with one of the league’s top passing attacks and left the L.A. Coliseum with a third-straight loss. The 49ers, meanwhile, boast the league’s second-ranked defense in both yardage and scoring while resembling its contending teams from earlier this decade.
Last week’s game could mark a changing of the guard in the NFC West. The Rams had won the last two division crowns. Now it looks like the division will go through San Francisco or Seattle, who have both notched wins over McVay the past two weeks.
The undefeated 49ers (5-0) shift their focus to another cross-country trip to Washington (1-5), which is coming off its first win of the season over the lowly Miami Dolphins. Veteran Case Keenum remains the starting quarterback over first-round draft pick Dwayne Haskins. The team is already on its second coach of the year after firing Jay Gruden earlier this month. Offensive line coach Bill Calahan has been named the interim replacement.
Will it be a trap game for Kyle Shanahan’s team? Human nature might say so.
But that’s also why Shanahan held a team meeting Wednesday and went through all his team’s bad plays from the Rams game. “If you relax in this league, you will be humbled as quickly as you can imagine,” Shanahan said.
Plus, San Francisco remains without its two starting tackles, Joe Staley and Mike McGglinchey, in addition to fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Those absences should reinforce the idea that Sunday will be another tough NFL game despite Washington’s appearance as an inferior opponent.
Let’s dive into our weekly fantasy and betting advice for Sunday’s game.
49ers fantasy advice: Start these four
RB Tevin Coleman: The former Atlanta Falcon should have scored a pair of touchdowns last weekend. He had just one, while another was missed when he couldn’t haul in a third-down pass at the goal line from Jimmy Garoppolo despite being all alone in the flat. Coleman appeared to lose his footing, though Garoppolo might have led him too much toward the end zone. Regardless, Coleman should have plenty of scoring opportunities against Washington, which is allowing 4.6 yards per carry and gave up touchdown runs in five of six games this season. Coleman is looking for a rushing touchdown in his third straight contest.
TE George Kittle: It doesn’t take extensive research to figure out why Kittle should remain in your starting lineup every week. He’s arguably the NFL’s best tight and one of the best fantasy options despite his numbers being down from his absurd record-breaking campaign in 2018. Still, Kittle’s production has increased in the past three games. Garoppolo connected with him on all eight of his targets in L.A. and he logged a season-high 103 yards – though he didn’t get into the end zone. Washington’s defense, meanwhile, has allowed 14 passing touchdowns, the third most in the NFL. Don’t be surprised if Kittle gets at least one Sunday.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Washington is allowing touchdown passes on 6.5 percent of opponents’ attempts, which is tied for fourth worst in the league, and they’ve yielded a passer rating of 101.2, which is 10th worst. Sunday could look like Week 2 in Cincinnati when Garopppolo had his most efficient game of the season, particularly with backup tackles Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill getting more comfortable as with more playing time under their belts.
49ers defense: Washington’s eight interceptions are tied for fourth most in the league. Washington ranks 28th in total offense and 30th in scoring. And the weather could slow things down. There’s a strong chance of rain Sunday, which could lead to sloppy conditions on the notoriously lousy playing surface at FedEx field. Yes, the second-ranked fantasy defense this season is a smart play against Washington. You’re welcome.
Sit these two
RB Raheem Mostert: Mostert missed practice this week with a knee sprain and has fallen to third on the pecking order since Coleman returned from his ankle sprain three games ago. Mostert had been a decent option, with 230 total yards in Weeks 2 and 3 combined. However, he’s tallied just 47 yards in his last two games. Until he’s healthy, and perhaps there’s another injury to either Coleman or Matt Breida, Mostert won’t be a viable fantasy option.
WR Dante Pettis: It wouldn’t be crazy to project Sunday’s game as Pettis’ breakout performance of 2019. But Washington has a decent set of corners in Josh Norman and Quinton Dunbar. And Pettis is averaging fewer than two receptions per game. The smart play is to wait on starting Pettis until he shows week-to-week consistency.
49ers-Washington prediction against the spread
San Francisco is a 10-point favorite on the road. Shanahan’s team is 4-1 against the spread this season, which points to the smart money being on the 49ers. Washington has been a mess for most of the year. Beating the winless Dolphins, who appear to be tanking, is hardly a feather to stick in their cap.
Sure, this could be a letdown game. But that’s not the feeling you get from inside San Francisco’s locker room.
The 49ers understand they haven’t accomplished anything yet even while they remain one of two undefeated teams in the NFL. Plus, there’s the added motivation of sticking it to Shanahan’s former employer, which orchestrated a pretty nasty smear campaign as Shanahan and his father, Mike, were fired in 2014. Shanahan made his feelings about that organization pretty clear this week.
I’m taking the 49ers this week because they’ve been good against the spread all year and I’m still licking my wounds after going against them the last two weeks. I clearly overrated the Browns and Rams – and perhaps underrated San Francisco’s ability to dominate bad teams. Washington deserves to be grouped into that category.
Final score: 49ers 34, Washington 13
Record this season (against the spread): 2-3