The San Francisco 49ers are officially playing out the string after being eliminated from playoff contention following their Week 15 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The Niners will play the penultimate game of their 2020 regular season against the Arizona Cardinals.
Nick Mullens suffered an elbow injury against the Cowboys, meaning C.J. Beathard will start at quarterback for the first time since 2018. The 2017 third-round pick is 1-9 in his last 10 starts and will have the recently-signed Josh Rosen backing him up.
Tight end George Kittle is expected to return to the lineup, which will give a big boost to the struggling Niners’ offense.
Arizona holds the final playoff spot in the NFC and controls its destiny going into the last two weeks. The Cardinals have won back-to-back contests to improve to 8-6 and hold a one-game lead over the Chicago Bears.
San Francisco lost its season-opener against Arizona, dropping a 24-20 decision. With everything that has gone on in 2020 for the 49ers, the defeat feels like it happened years ago.
Here are the predictions for Week 16 from Niners Nation contributors:
Kyle Posey: For the first time all season, it feels like I have no idea what to expect. George Kittle is going to play, but nobody knows how much and how effective Kittle would be. San Francisco has lost six of their last seven games by just over 11 points per game. Nick Mullens is out, and C.J. Beathard is in. Beathard said he’s going to play loose and rip it. That could be very good or very bad for a Niners offense that hasn’t found their stride all season thanks to injuries.
Turnovers have plagued a 49ers offense that has outgained the Saints, Rams, Cowboys, and Washington’s football team by a combined 1,428 yards to 1,029. Yes, some of those yards have come by way of garbage time, but the 49ers haven’t struggled to move the ball. They’ve struggled to hold onto the ball.
While the Cardinals have won two in a row, they did so against an Eagles secondary full of backups and a Giants team that didn’t have a fully healthy Daniel Jones. Something feels off when you watch Arizona. They don’t feel like a playoff team. I can’t pick the 49ers to win because there is still a backup quarterback, and with injuries, it’ll make the margin for error thin as always, but this will be a one-possession game.
Kyle’s prediction: 24-20, Cardinals
Rob Guerrera: The 49ers couldn’t beat the Cardinals when almost everyone was healthy, so why in the world would they be able to beat them now with half the roster injured and CJ Beathard at quarterback? I hope to have a guy under center that can actually throw will at least allow Kyle Shanahan to dial up some deep passes, but I am not expecting much of a fight from the 49ers. 2020 has taken its toll on them, and I think this one gets out of hand early. The only real victory would be George Kittle avoiding injury in a game he should never have been playing.
Rob’s prediction: ARI wins, 31-14
Jas Kang: I was surprised to see the betting line open up with the Cardinals being just two-point favorites. The 49ers are 1-6 over their last seven and miss a ton of guys going into their final two games of this awful 2020 season. It should indicate how terrible this season has been that I am legitimately looking forward to seeing Beathard play quarterback. Seeing Mullens falter week-after-week became tiresome, so at least we get something fresh this week along with the return of Kittle. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray has bounced back the last couple of weeks and has gotten All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins going once again. I think this game will be tight until the Cardinals pull-away in the third quarter.
Jas’ prediction: AZ wins, 27-17