Broncos' playoff push continues in the Bay Area against the lowly 49ers
The Broncos play their third road game in the last four weeks as they travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers. The last time these two teams played each other was back in 2014 when the Broncos smashed the Niners 42-17 at home. That game saw Peyton Manning throw four touchdowns to match his four incompletions. The 49ers have won three of their last four at home in this series, which is played for the most part every four years.
Denver (6-6) has won three straight games including two on the road at the Chargers and Bengals. This team is rolling defensively, holding Los Angeles and Pittsburgh to just 39 combined points over a two-week span in late November. It's been the run game that has done a lot of the work for an offense that isn't turning the ball over a ton. Defensively, the Broncos have found their legs against opponents' run games. Cincinnati put up 111 yards on the ground, and that was the most since the giving up 270 rushing yards to the Rams back in Week 6.
The 49ers (2-10) are experiencing another lost season and have dropped three in a row. The offense isn't getting much traction with quarterback Nick Mullens, and the defense just isn't stopping anyone either. Over the last three games, San Francisco has allowed 27 points or more to the lowly Giants, Buccaneers as well as 43 to the Seahawks. Injuries to most of the skill position players on both sides of the ball have taken a toll on a team that may be already looking forward to the offseason.
Denver at San Francisco
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 9 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Broncos -5.5
Three Things to Watch
As mentioned above, Denver is playing its third road game over the last four weeks. If we go back a little further, it's the fifth road game since Oct. 18. That's something to consider. The team comes home to play the Browns next Saturday, so other than playing one day earlier, there's nothing there either in terms of a look-ahead factor. For the 49ers, this game is the first of three in a row at home, where the team has earned both of its wins. When you are this bad, there are really no look-ahead factors. Seattle is up next opponent, a team that just thumped San Francisco 43-16 last Sunday.
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Over the past few weeks, the 49ers have lost Matt Breida, Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon as offensive weapons for various periods of time. Goodwin is expected to be back while Garcon is questionable. Because of that, we are starting to see why Nick Mullens was a third-string quarterback. Mullens looked great against the Raiders at the start of November, but since then he's thrown four touchdowns compared to five interceptions. He did throw for 414 yards against the Seahawks, but a lot of those yards came in garbage time. Jeff Wilson Jr., an undrafted rookie from North Texas, takes over in the backfield. Wilson ran for 61 yards on 15 carries last week while adding eight receptions for 73 more yards.
Denver's front line should be salivating over this matchup with the likes of Bradley Chubb and Von Miller wreaking havoc. Chubb has 44 tackles and 10 sacks as well as a fumble recovery as a rookie. Miller has made 40 tackles to go with 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Mullens has been sacked seven times in 141 dropbacks so far this season. The big question will be if Denver can overcome the loss of Chris Harris Jr. at cornerback. Bradley Roby has been torched a bunch this season and is not playing up to his potential.
3. Phillip Lindsay
The Broncos have committed to Lindsay, and it's paid off big time. The undrafted running back out of Colorado has had 267 rushing yards the last two weeks including 110 against the stout Steelers. Lindsay needs to get a little bit more involved in the passing game as he's posted just 10 catches over the last five games. The tandem of Lindsay and Royce Freeman takes a little pressure off Case Keenum, who can be a bit erratic. San Francisco's run defense sits in the middle of the league rankings at 108.2 rushing yards per game allowed. The problem is that it has sprung some leaks as of late. Seattle had 168 rushing yards last week. This seems like a massive edge to the road team, especially with the 49ers banged up on defense.
Denver is on a roll, and a game against the lowly 49ers shouldn't stop the Broncos. Phillip Lindsay will pile up another 100 yards on the ground while the San Francisco offense will continue to sputter. Bradley Chubb and Von Miller will have several meetings in the backfield in an easy win for Denver.
Prediction: Broncos 24, 49ers 6
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.