Even though they have more man-games lost to injury than any other NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers are very-much in the hunt for a playoff spot. The Niners got a massive 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams last week and could improve to 6-6 if they beat the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football.
Not many expected the 49ers to be in this position after losing the likes of Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Jimmy Garoppolo, Richard Sherman, and Raheem Mostert for an extended period, but here we are.
San Francisco will get even more reinforcements back this week with the return of receiver Brandon Aiyuk and defensive lineman D.J. Jones, who were both activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Nick Mullens will get the start at quarterback again for the Niners. Even though he struggled throughout much of the win over the Rams, Mullens was clutch on the final two drives, which led to a pair of field goals.
Here are the predictions for Week 13 from Niners Nation contributors:
Kyle Posey: The 49ers are 15-5 when Deebo Samuel plays, and the two losses this season had come when the Niners played their fifth and sixth string cornerbacks. Samuel was still out of shape and was hardly a part of the gameplan against Miami and Philadelphia. The offense is different when Deebo is on the field. We know Kyle Shanahan prefers to run the ball, and those quick passes and carries Samuel gets serve as body blows. Those soften the defense and opens everything else up on offense.
We haven’t seen that version of Samuel on the field with this version of Brandon Aiyuk, who has morphed into a legitimate threat on the perimeter. Those two, plus Jordan Reed, paired with Kendrick Bourne, make me believe Nick Mullens will have success against Buffalo. The Bills have been gashed on the ground as a defense. Buffalo is 27th in rushing EPA and dead last in rushing success rate. For the first time in what feels like forever, the Niners should have success on the ground.
San Francisco will need all the points they can get against a Bills offense that’s top-5 in EPA/play, success rate, and sixth in passing DVOA. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs are going to move the ball. Only the Chiefs are better on third downs than Buffalo. The second-level players on defense must be prepared for Allen’s scrambling ability. The goal for the defense should be to limit the Bills to 40% in the red zone. On the season, Buffalo scores a touchdown 63% of the time when they’re inside the 20-yard line, which is 13th in the NFL.
Or, you could do the thing where you don’t let Buffalo move the ball. Robert Saleh has cemented himself as a head coaching candidate because he’s taken away what opposing offenses do well. I cannot wait to see what he has in store for the Bills. Buffalo scores, but San Francisco scores more in what should be one of the season’s most entertaining games.
Kyle’s prediction: 49ers 27, Bills 26
Rob Guerrera: This could be the game the 49ers’ ground game gets back on track. As I learned in this week’s Shanaplan Podcast, the Bills have allowed the fourth-most explosive run plays this season, and they’ve missed the fifth-most tackles in the NFL. That is a huge weakness against a team loaded with guys who excel with the ball in their hands. If Big Pick Nick can simply avoid the crushing mistakes, San Francisco should be able to move the ball. Success on the ground will also help negate some dangerous playmakers on Buffalo’s defense. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs will make some plays, but as long as the Bills aren’t given too many short fields, Robert Saleh’s defense should be able to do enough for the 49ers to go 3-0 against the state of New York this season.
Rob’s prediction: SF wins, 24-21
Jas Kang: Even though he has his flaws, Kyle Shanahan deserves a ton of credit for keeping his team in the hunt despite all of the injuries. The good news is that the 49ers will have their best two receivers on the field for Monday’s game, with both Samuel and Aiyuk expected to play. I think the offense will look better than it did last week, and with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh having his unit firing on all cylinders, this is a good matchup for San Francisco. The Niners should be able to rush the ball effectively against the Bills’ defense, which ranks 22nd against the run, and Shanahan should be able to setup plenty of YAC opportunities for his speedy receivers. Sherman and the secondary will hold up against Stefon Diggs and the rest of Buffalo’s weapons. Josh Allen will cause some problems for a 49ers’ defense that has struggled against mobile quarterbacks, but I don’t think the Bills have enough around him to pile up points. The Niners continue their march to the playoffs with another close win.
Jas’ prediction: SF wins, 27-23