San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Matchups, prediction for game with huge playoff implications

    The San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals has massive playoff implications for both teams. Can Joe Burrow overcome his injuries?

    The San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals game has immense NFL playoff implications. The Bengals have Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Denver all eyeing their spot in the AFC Wild Card hunt. Meanwhile, San Francisco is clinging to the final Wild Card spot in the NFC. The NFC isn’t as contested, with only Washington and Minnesota squarely in the mix and Philadelphia having an outside shot. The 49ers should punch their ticket if they handle business against the Falcons, Texans, and an injury-riddled Titans team.

    San Francisco 49ers offense vs. Cincinnati Bengals defense

    The 49ers’ offense has been excellent recently, but without Deebo Samuel in Week 13, we saw the side of Jimmy Garoppolo that we only get a few times a year. We got the Garoppolo that forgets linebackers exist and throws wildly egregious interceptions while seemingly losing his mind.

    Overall, the 49ers’ offense is loved by the analytics community. They’re top-10 in EPA (expected points added) per play for the season, ranking in the top 10 in both rushing and passing efficiency. Football Outsiders’ DVOA is even more kind, ranking them as the fourth-best offense in the NFL from an efficiency standpoint. That’s interesting, given they’re only the 11th-best team in series success rate. In layman’s terms, that means how often a team converts a first down or touchdown when given a new set of downs.

    Conversely, the Bengals have a top-10 defense when looking at their advanced metrics. They did a fantastic job in the offseason acquiring veteran pieces to help improve defensively, and they hit on a few risky free agent moves.

    The winner of this battle likely decides the outcome of the game.

    Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Bengals defense

    Garoppolo on his own isn’t a game-changer. He won’t elevate a team to new or greater heights. Frankly, he’s mediocre. But in this offense, he can be efficient enough to allow his playmakers to make plays and the scheme to do its job.

    Garoppolo’s not bad, just average. There’s a reason why — despite the fact that he took the 49ers to a Super Bowl just a few short seasons ago — his team aimed to replace him. He’s not asked to go out and necessarily win games for the 49ers, which makes this matchup a bit of a side story.

    Losing Logan Wilson could be a massive blow to the Bengals’ defense against Garoppolo. Jimmy G. loves throwing to linebackers, and Wilson has 4 INTs on the season. Cincinnati doesn’t seem optimistic about his status.

    Advantage: Push

    49ers skill position players vs. Bengals secondary

    This matchup is ultimately dependant upon whether Samuel can play on Sunday. If he can, a group of Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Trent Sherfield is more than enough to press the Bengals secondary.

    Elijah Mitchell is out for this game after sustaining an ugly concussion last week. This could seriously hamper the 49ers’ rushing attack. No back has had nearly the same success as Mitchell for San Francisco in 2021.

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    The Bengals secondary doesn’t look menacing by name, but they’ve played well in 2021. They’ve had their lapses, especially on deep contested plays (Jessie Bates), but they are talented.

    Bates might be reproducing the season he had last year where he looked like the best coverage safety in the NFL. Chidobe Awuzie has played well, and Mike Hilton has made a few massive plays from the slot this season.

    Advantage: Push

    49ers offensive line vs. Bengals defensive front

    The 49ers probably have the best football player in the NFL starting at left tackle. Trent Williams is playing some of his best football in Year 11 of his illustrious career. In fact, since taking a year away from the dumpster fire that was the Washington situation in 2019, he’s played like a future Hall of Famer.

    Laken Tomlinson has flourished between the established veteran unit of Williams and Alex Mack. The right side of the offensive line is where the struggles begin, but both Daniel Brunskill and Tom Compton are surviving.

    Trey Hendrickson was a home run for the Bengals. It still doesn’t all make sense to me when I watch the tape, but the results speak for themselves. Sam Hubbard and B.J. Hill have played some great football this season, and Larry Ogunjobi still flashes as a pass rusher. D.J. Reader is a monster in the middle, and I expect a fantastic battle of the beasts when he’s fighting off double teams from Mack and Tomlinson. Losing Wilson is a tough blow at the second level, however. It gives the 49ers an advantage.

    Advantage: 49ers

    Cincinnati Bengals offense vs. San Francisco 49ers defense

    The Bengals’ offense oozes with talent, but they haven’t found very much success in terms of efficiency. They rank 20th in EPA/play and 23rd in DVOA. However, that probably has more to do with Joe Burrow’s INTs than their inability to move the football. They rank 12th in points per drive, which is right about where I’d expect a young team with this kind of talent.

    There are a lot of mistakes that young offenses tend to make. Burrow is sacked at a horrible rate, which is on him, the scheme, and the line. They also have the third-worst INT rate in the NFL on offense. Those two things are drive killers.

    When they get to the red zone, they convert. They rank third in the league in converting in the red zone, which is why their points-per-drive numbers are good. They’re a talented offense that handcuffs themselves.

    Meanwhile, despite starting Josh Norman at cornerback, the 49ers’ defense has found success in 2021. They’re 15th in EPA/play and ninth in success rate on defense. DVOA likes them even more, ranking them as the ninth-most efficient defense in the NFL.

    Joe Burrow vs. 49ers defense

    Burrow has the talent to be a darned good NFL quarterback, but mistakes have cost his team dearly in 2021. Now, he’s banged up. Last week, Burrow battled through a pinky finger injury on his throwing hand, and his knee was also listed on the Wednesday injury report.

    He’s a warrior, but despite lacking name recognition, the 49ers’ defense has played admirably in 2021. I expect this to be a tightly contested matchup.

    Advantage: Push

    Bengals skill position players vs. 49ers secondary

    From a talent perspective, there is no contest here. The Bengals have Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd.

    Once again, JOSH NORMAN is a starting cornerback for the 49ers. Nothing else needs to be said, but I’ll force more words into your eyeballs regardless. Getting Jaquiski Tartt back in Week 11 was massive for San Francisco. He and Jimmie Ward make for one of the most symbiotic safety tandems in the NFL. They’ll work overtime against Cincinnati because Emmanuel Moseley isn’t necessarily Jalen Ramsey, either.

    Advantage: Bengals

    Bengals offensive line vs. 49ers defensive front

    There is a stark contrast in advantages for the Bengals’ offense vs. the 49ers’ defense. The Bengals’ left side of the offensive line is strong, not unlike the 49ers. Jonah Williams and Quinton Spain have played well this season.

    The rest of it is terrible. Isaiah Prince survived Week 13 at right tackle, but he didn’t have to face Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. They’ll have to send help to the right side for the entire game.

    Advantage: 49ers

    Betting odds and game prediction

    • Spread: 49ers -1 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
    • Moneyline: 49ers -115, Bengals -105
    • Total: 49

    Las Vegas knows a few things, and that’s evident in how they made the odds for this game. Even after looking at all the matchups, it’s an incredibly tough decision to decide who holds the overall advantage. I think the game will eventually come down to whether Samuel can play or not, and how effective Burrow can be through his injuries.

    49ers vs. Bengals Prediction: 49ers 24, Bengals 23

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