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49ers vs. Washington predictions: It’ll be ugly, but Shanahan isn’t losing to the WFT

It’s do-or-die for San Francisco if it wants to hang to its fading playoff hopes.

Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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: We all figured last week would be closer to a shootout. The Niners failed to hold up their end of the bargain. This week, it 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. After that debacle on Monday Night, it’s time for them to do it again. It’s not going to be easy, and probably won’t be fun to watch, but I think Robbie Gould kicks multiple field goals in this one, and the 49ers do just enough on both sides of the ball to eke out a victory.

Rob’s prediction: SF wins, 16-13

Jas Kang: I anticipate this will be a low-scoring, tight affair that goes down to the wire. Washington’s stout defensive line will cause problems for the 49ers’ offensive line, which has had its share of problems this season. 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