The San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans square off in a matchup of two strong defenses and two offenses that have some question marks surrounding them. Both offenses are capable of huge performances, but with some inconsistencies, this could turn into a relatively low-scoring defensive affair.
If that does happen, field position and special teams could be the difference-maker. Football Outsiders' Danny Tuccitto (and friend of the site!) raised an interesting point in his recent Q&A with the Houston Chronicle:
San Francisco's averaging +2.8 expected points added via punts, while Houston's averaging -3.4 on punt returns. In other words, the 49ers will have about a touchdown advantage when they punt on Sunday night. In a normal game, that might not mean much, but in a likely defensive struggle like this one, field position is at a premium.
Ideally the 49ers will not be doing a whole lot of punting on Sunday. That being said, if it does occur, they are in an ideal position to take advantage. We can expect a rather lovely evening at the Stick, with temperatures in the high 60s, and winds at no more than seven or eight miles per hour. While that does benefit punt returners, it also means Andy Lee won't have to deal with the notorious swirling winds of Candlestick Park. The Death Star will be able to launch punts with abandon.
On the other side of things, the Texans punt coverage units have struggled. Shane Lechler is seventh in the NFL in gross yardage, but he is all the way down at No. 27 in net yardage. The 49ers are No. 27 in punt return average, although it is worth noting, Kyle Williams has only returned five punts thus far. Part of that has been limited opportunities, but he has also taken his fair share of fair catches with 11 thus far. We'll see which side takes the advantage in this matchup.