With the regular season underway, that means it’s prediction time. The Niners Nation staff will give our predictions each Friday. So, without further ado, here’s what we think happens when the 49ers travel to Detroit this Sunday.
Kyle Posey: 49ers win, 31-13
I recorded a 49er versus Lions preview podcast with Rob Lowder and three Lions writers. With straight faces, two of them selected Detroit to win. I don’t see this version of the 49ers losing to Jared Goff.
He’s without weapons, and some reports from training camp made it sound like Goff looked like the Goff we all know. That, plus the lack of team speed on Detroit, makes me think this game has a chance to get ugly.
The Lions added some quality draft picks, but they’re rookies. This is a defense that was bottom-four in rushing and passing success rate and EPA. Kyle Shanahan will take advantage of a secondary prone to mistakes, while DeMeco Ryans couldn’t find a better matchup in his first game as a play-caller.
It’ll be a big day for Jimmy G and Raheem Mostert. On the other side, I think Jimmie Ward catches a pass from Goff. The Niners win comfortably.
Jordan Elliott: 49ers 34 - Lions 16
The 49ers enter week one with a bit more clarity at the starting quarterback position, as Jimmy Garoppolo has all but confirmed he would be the starter when the team kicks off the season in Detroit. Thankfully for the 49ers, it really should not matter who is under center as they should be able to dominate this game by controlling the clock with a calculated effort on the ground against what was one of the worst rushing defenses in the league last year.
Detroit finished the 2020 season ranked last in the league in scoring and total defense while finishing 28th and 30th respectively in rushing and passing defense. I expect Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers to take advantage of the holes Detroit has in its front seven and the ball with relative ease without being forced to move the chains through the air very often.
The 49ers stacked defensive line should have plenty of opportunities to tee off on quarterback Jared Goff, as Detroit likely will be trailing early and often, leading them to abandon the run sooner than they’d like to. The Lions offensive line has some solid players on it, but outside of T.J. Hockenson, there likely isn’t a skill position player who strikes fear in the hearts of DeMeco Ryans or anyone on the 49ers' defense.
All in all, the games have to be played, and anything can happen on a given Sunday, but this game should not be close on paper. The 49ers boast a very good roster from top to bottom, whereas the Lions just look like a bad team in the first year of a rebuild under an unproven coaching staff. So I don’t think this game ends up being close, 49ers by double digits.
Xavier Dixon: 49ers 27, Lions 7
The saying “any given Sunday” has truth to it, but it shouldn’t mean anything to the 49ers. Detroit has been underwhelming for the last decade. I don't see Dan Campbell motivating the Lions enough to compete with San Francisco Sunday.
Detroit has a bottom-of-the-barrel defense, and the secondary should be exploited. Of the six cornerbacks, Amani Oruwariye (25) is the only CB over the age of 23. Kyle Shanahan should pick on them all game. The offense has the opportunity to show the NFL how explosive they can be this season.
DeMeco Ryans should put on a clinic with the Lions having limited playmakers on offense. I expect more aggressive blitzes and for the defensive line to have a monster day. The secondary shouldn't be challenged with the lack of talent, so I expect an interception or two.
With that being, San Francisco should dominate in all three phases (offense, defense, and special teams.) Again, starting the season with an inferior opponent should set the tone of dominance throughout the season.
Rob Guerrera: 49ers 24, Lions 10
The simple truth is that the 49ers have the advantage in every single aspect of football in this one. Even at their thinnest positions, the 49ers are vastly superior to the Lions. So this isn’t just a game San Francisco should win. It’s a game they should dominate from the second the ball is kicked off.
The only way Detroit has a chance is if the 49ers screw it up. Turnovers or special teams gaffes (like we saw with the blocked punt in Week 1 last year) are the only real path to victory for Dan Campbell’s squad. Even if Jimmy Garoppolo starts slowly, I just don’t see how Jared Goff is going to lead that offense all the way down the field more than one time against Nick Bosa and company.
Kyle Shanahan couldn’t have asked for a softer landing for his team to start the year. But, if the 49ers truly are going to be the contender in the NFC that so many of us expect them to be, they need to handle their business in this one and make it a laugher by halftime.
Yinon Raviv: 49ers 24 Lions 6
It begins and ends with Jared Goff for me. Dan Campbell might put together a great game plan, and the Lions players might show us something we haven’t seen before. But even if the 49ers start flat and play terribly for three quarters, I don’t think Jared Goff can hold the lead with our D-Line roaring in his face.
That man can’t beat Nick Mullens and a depleted 2020 Niners defense… even with a full arsenal of weapons, a loaded defense, and Sean McVay calling plays. Goff now has worse weapons, a worse defense, and Dan Campbell shouting in his ear. Since he last faced the 49ers…. we now have two healthy and viable quarterbacks, a much healthier and more robust defensive line, and a massive chip on our shoulder.
To quote one of the great sports and political commentators of our time...“call the fight.”
Tyler Austin: 49ers 34, Lions 13
As it stands, the 49ers own a 4 game winning streak against Jared Goff, and I don’t see a world in which that doesn’t click over to 5, considering how dramatically his circumstances have changed since he last squared off against San Francisco.
He was unceremoniously shipped out from a team that featured Sean McVay at the helm, a bevy of offensive weapons, and the number one overall scoring defense in 2020. Instead, he’s now in an organization under Dan Campbell, the knee-biter with one decent wide receiver and had the worst defense in the league last year.
This is where I’d expect the Niners to really separate themselves on Sunday. This Lions' putrid defense against the run should have Shanahan and the offense rub their hands together in excitement. As a mini-prediction within my prediction, I’ll say the 49ers’ ball carriers will comfortably exceed 200 yards when everything is said and done. That should mean an easy W.
Marc Delucchi: 49ers win, 31-10
After early offseason skepticism around the Dan Campbell hiring in Detroit, I was impressed by the coaching staff he built, and the moves general manager Brad Holmes made in his first offseason at the helm. However, while I think the Lions are following a solid long-term vision, the odds of it bringing 2021 success are fairly low.
I don’t think I’m alone in wondering how the Lions could contain the 49ers' elite defensive line. Detroit has the makings of an average offense, with running back D’Andre Swift, tight end T.J. Hockenson, and wide receiver Tyrell Williams forming a solid trio of weapons. However, without any exceptional talents, quarterback Jared Goff is going to be flashing back to his worst games with the Rams, which often came against the Niners. In addition, there are legitimate concerns about the 49ers' depth at corner, especially given Emmanuel Moseley’s injury, but I don’t think Detroit has the talent to capitalize on that weakness.
Defensively, the Lions are even more unproven. They have some solid talent on their defensive line, but primarily on the edge where the Niners' O-Line is strongest. The Lion's linebacker corp and secondary are laden with unproven or fringe NFL talent, and Shanahan should have no problem scheming wide-open throws for Jimmy Garoppolo.
Detroit’s only real path to victory comes through Garoppolo, who has been a turnover machine at times. When the 49ers faced off against a lifeless Pittsburgh Steelers offense led by Mason Rudolph back in Week 3 of 2019, Garoppolo threw two interceptions, fumbled twice, and made what should have been an easy blowout a tight 24-20 49ers win. This game shouldn't be close if the 49ers don’t turn the ball over more than once.
Rich Madrid: 49ers 42 - Lions 10
The last time the 49ers had a roster this good on paper with nearly everyone healthy was week one in 2019. The 49ers as a collective unit scored 31 points on a very good Buccaneers defense while also having two offensive touchdowns nullified. Unfortunately, this Lions team isn’t very good, and they’re being led by Dan Campbell, a guy who probably shouldn’t have been hired as a head coach.
The Lions left tackle is out and in his place is rookie Penei Sewell, who I was not personally a fan of during the draft and who did not have a good preseason. However, in his defense, he played right tackle in the preseason, so that could have something to do with it. Nonetheless, the 49ers' defensive front should have no problems generating pressure on Jared Goff as he operates behind an inferior offensive line.
That brings me to Jared Goff, the other “JG” in this game and one who’s second most QBwinz since 2017 and eerily similar stats to Garoppolo over their last 32 game stretch could not convince the Rams to keep him. Goff and Garoppolo are about as exciting as watching paint dry and, in many ways, has the potential to be a complete 180 of the Brady vs. Dak season opener this past week. Both Goff and Garoppolo are baseline average quarterbacks, unlike Brady and Prescott.
Neither Goff nor Garoppolo is capable of singlehandedly winning you many games unless everything around them is perfect. Goff hasn’t beaten the 49ers since the Rams made their Super Bowl run in 2018 due in large part to the number of times he’s under pressure from a very good defensive line (50 pressures in the last four games per Pro Football Focus). Unfortunately, Goff, like Garoppolo, is also mistake-prone.
The difference, however, is that Garoppolo has Shanahan calling his plays, and Goff no longer has McVay in his ear telling him where to throw the ball before the earpiece cuts off. As a result, Garoppolo will undoubtedly be throwing mostly short passes to move the offense with the occasional wide-open receiver downfield or on a deep shot and lull fans into forgetting why they drafted Lance in the first place.
Speaking of Lance, the Lions are going to potentially have their hands full with the 49ers running game when Lance comes in if they do even a third of the stuff they did against the Raiders in the last preseason game, and this game has a chance to be a blowout by halftime. I kind of like the 49ers in this one to win convincingly.