San Francisco 49ers: Super Bowl Contenders + Week 7 Preview (2019)

San Francisco is the top seed in the NFC in our 2020 NFL Playoff Predictions

Nick Bosa has made a big impact for the 49ers in 2019 (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

The San Francisco 49ers made the biggest splash in the NFL on Sunday, going to Los Angeles and handing the Rams a third straight defeat. That result has the 49ers squarely in the discussion as the NFC favorite to get to the Super Bowl, and has the Rams in serious trouble when it comes to a playoff return.

San Francisco Has Had a Dominant Seven Days

Over a seven-day span, the San Francisco 49ers throttled the Cleveland Browns at home 31-3 and then went on the road and beat up on the Los Angeles Rams 20-7. Those scores do not even capture how thoroughly the 49ers defense frustrated the opposing offenses. San Francisco had 777 yards of offense, while giving up only 337 yards, combined, in the two games. The 49ers held the Browns and Rams to 126 net passing yards, combined.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff had only one passing first down in the game, and rarely had time in the pocket to get to his third read. That’s only the 18th time in the last 20 years that a team has held an opponent to one or fewer passing first downs in a game. Goff’s 24 pass attempts were the most of any team to register that few passing first downs in the last 20 years.

The Rams had the fewest net passing yards (48) in any single game this year, and the Browns tied for the fourth-lowest amount this year (78 yards) so far in their game against San Francisco. The only other games so far in 2019 where a team was held to 75 or fewer net passing yards were the two games started by f0rmer Jets’ third-string quarterback Luke Falk. The 49ers did it against Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff.

The margin on Sunday could have been even more extreme, but 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo badly under-threw a fade for a goal line interception, and another potential San Francisco touchdown went off running back Tevin Coleman’s hands on a third-and-goal play, resulting in a field goal instead.

Super Bowl Favorite for the NFC

The 49ers already made a jump in our predictive ratings after the win over the Browns, and had taken over as the favorite in the NFC West coming into Week 6 in our 2019 NFL standings projections. With the latest win, San Francisco jumps to No. 2 in the predictive NFL ratings at +8.0 points, 2.4 points above No. 3 Minnesota. We now project them for 12.9 wins this season, over two wins more than any other NFC team.

NFC West rival Seattle, who sits right behind San Francisco at 5-1, have gone 4-1 in one-score games and are only +19 in point differential on the season, which is why they are at No. 13 in our predictive rankings and are projected behind San Francisco. The New Orleans Saints, who are 5-0 in close games, have won Teddy Bridgewater’s four starts by a combined 22 points. The Green Bay Packers also have one loss entering Monday Night Football, but none of those teams has started as impressively as San Francisco.

Our projections now have San Francisco with a 57% chance of claiming the top seed in the NFC. That’s right, we are giving them a greater chance than the rest of the field combined, even though three other NFC teams currently have only one loss. No other team in the NFC is given more than an 11% chance of getting the top seed for the playoffs.

Cautionary Tale: How Long Do Preseason Expectations Matter?

The preseason ratings for a team continue to matter in our future predictive ratings, even as the season goes on. So San Francisco’s preseason rating of No. 20 (and +0.1 points better than an average team) are still playing a role in where their current predictive rating is. (Put another way, if they came in with preseason expectations of being the Super Bowl favorites like New England, and started like they have, their predictive rating would be higher than +8.0).

The reason we do this is because including preseason expectations generally helps improve predictiveness. As one example, let’s talk about the 5-0 teams.

Over the last thirty seasons, there have been 55 teams start 5-0 (before New England and San Francisco). We can look at how those teams did over the final 11 games of the regular season and compare it to a variety of measures. In this case, each of the 5-0 teams were compared by points scored, points allowed, point differential, passing yard differential, rushing yard differential, total yards differential, and turnover margin. In addition, each team’s preseason betting market win total projection was included.

And you know what has the highest correlation with winning percentage over the last 11 games?

Here are the correlation coefficients for the winning percentage over the last 11 games with each of those categories.

CategoryCorrelation with Future Wins
Preseason Win Total (Betting Market)+0.39
Point Differential+0.31
Points For+0.31
Passing Yard Margin+0.12
Total Yard Margin+0.08
Points Allowed+0.06
Rush Yard Margin-0.06
Turnover Margin-0.16

San Francisco’s preseason win total was at 8.0 wins. That puts them tied for 8th-lowest among the teams to start 5-0 since 1989. The 26 teams that had a preseason win total of between 7 and 9 who started 5-0 finished the season with 11.5 wins on average. In other words, they averaged 6.5 wins and 4.5 losses over their final 11 games.

The good news is that point differential also matters, and the 49ers have the third-highest point differential out of that group of teams that were projected to win between 7 and 9 games, but started 5-0. The only two that had a higher point differential were the 2006 Bears (13 wins, reached Super Bowl) and 2009 Saints (13 wins, won Super Bowl). The 49ers relatively higher point differential, then, does make it a little more likely that they are “for real” even though they were not expected to be a Super Bowl contender before the season.

Other Key News Heading Into NFL Week 7

  • Could the Marcus Mariota era be over in Tennessee? Marcus Mariota is playing out his last year under the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, and has not received a long-term deal from the Titans. On Sunday, he was pulled from the game in favor of Ryan Tannehill after throwing two interceptions and with the offense grinding to a halt. The Titans were ultimately shut out for the game. Mariota’s numbers may look okay on the surface, but he is taking sacks at a high rate for the second year in a row, and the Titans have averaged 11 points scored over his last five starts.
  • Jameis Winston, who was the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft just ahead of Mariota, also had a no good, very bad day. Winston threw five interceptions and lost a fumble in Tampa Bay’s loss to Carolina. He became only the second player ever to throw 5 interceptions and fumble twice in the same game. That gives him 10 interceptions this year, and last year he had 14 interceptions in nine starts. Winston, like Mariota, has also not received a longterm contract extension beyond this season.
  • Amari Cooper left the Cowboys’ loss to the Jets with a thigh bruise and did not return. That compounded Dallas’ offensive issues, as the Cowboys were already playing without left tackle Tyron Smith.
  • Speaking of the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys game, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold made a big difference in his return from missing three games with mononucleosis. The team had managed only one offensive touchdowns in the three games he missed, but he helped propel them to 21 points in the first half, enough to secure the upset. Next up: New England.
  • Oakland and Indianapolis, who were both on a bye, are tied for the final wildcard spot in the AFC after six weeks, and now have a game-and-a-half lead on any other AFC playoff hopefuls after the Week 6 results. Six AFC teams now sit at exactly 2-4. Nine wins may be enough to get to the playoffs in the AFC this year, and an 8-8 team getting in as a wildcard is not even out of the question. Our current projections have the Colts at 8.5 wins as the most likely final wildcard team.
  • Philadelphia Eagles’ left tackle Jason Peters suffered a knee injury and left the game against Minnesota. Head coach Doug Pederson has initially classified it as “day-to-day” heading into the matchup with Dallas.

Early Look-Ahead to Week 7 Key Matchups

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

The Sunday Night Football game this week will be a big NFC East rivalry game between the Eagles and Cowboys. Both come in off a loss (Dallas has lost three straight), and both teams are currently at 3-3. Of course, in the NFC East that is good enough to be tied for first place.

The Cowboys have missed OT Tyron Smith the last two games, after he suffered a high ankle sprain against New Orleans in Week 4. You will want to keep an eye out for his status.

This matchup decided the NFC East last year when the Cowboys were able to win both games, and it looks like it will be a pivotal game in who wins the division in 2019.

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

Houston-Indianapolis is another key division game between the top two teams in the AFC South. Last year, these teams played two closely contested and notable regular season games, with the road team winning both. The Colts won a third matchup on the road in the wildcard round of the playoffs.

Both teams enter this week’s game after beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead, with Indianapolis getting a bye week in heading into this matchup.

Expect plenty of action in this one, as these teams have been involved in almost nothing but close games so far in 2019. Five of the Texans’ six games have been decided by one score, while every single one of the Colts games has come down to the end.

Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks

Baltimore and Seattle will battle for bird supremacy and see who has the biggest wingspan in Week 7. Seattle has gone 3-0 against the other teams from the AFC North, winning by a combined 7 points, and can complete the straight if they win by exactly a field goal. If you need a reason to tune in for this one, it features two of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL in Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson. Jackson rushed for 152 yards on Sunday against Cincinnati, while Wilson has already accounted for 17 total touchdowns.

New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears

This feels like a huge game for Chicago coming off the bye week after the loss to Oakland in Week 5. The Bears will have a difficult time making the playoffs if they fall to 3-3 in what looks like the deepest division in football, the NFC North. Bears’ quarterback Mitch Trubisky returned to practice after missing the last game with a shoulder injury, and will be a question mark to return this week.

The Saints, meanwhile, are playing with house money after a 4-0 stretch with Drew Brees out. This is the final game before their bye week, and it’s possible that Brees could return soon after that. If they can get to the bye at 6-1 it would be an amazing accomplishment, considering how they looked after their loss to the Rams and the thumb injury to Brees back in Week 2.

Until Next Week…

Enjoy NFL Week 7, and if you’re in an NFL pool or planning on betting some of the Week 7 games, please check out our NFL Survivor PicksFootball Pick’em Picks, and NFL Betting Picks.