San Francisco (10) @ Cincinnati (20)
-49ers WR Deebo Samuel is questionable. He suffered a groin injury week 12 and missed last week. His practice sessions went DNP/DNP/LP with reports that he's a true game time decision. Samuel is the best 49ers receiver, as well as a dynamic playmaker who can help in the run game. The offense takes a hit without him. If he plays, he'll likely be limited or on some sort of snap count.
-49ers RB Eli Mitchell suffered a concussion last week and is out this week. Jeff Wilson and JaMycal Hasty will step in. The 49ers have proven time and time again that they can get a solid running game going with essentially any running back.
-49ers CB Emmanuel Moseley suffered an ankle injury last week and is out. Mosley is an average to above average corner. Rookie 5th rounder Deommodore Lenoir will step into the #3 corner spot and represents a step down for the cornerback room.
-Bengals WR Tee Higgins (ankle) is listed as questionable, but he got in two limited sessions and is expected to play.
-Bengals RB Joe Mixon (illness) did not practice this week and is questionable, but he is expected to play.
-Bengals RT Riley Reiff (ankle) will return after missing last week. Reiff got in limited sessions Wednesday/Thursday before practicing in full on Friday.
-Bengals LB Logan Wilson (shoulder) was ruled out. Wilson is a below average linebacker. The Bengals defense will be fine without him.
-Bengals CB Chidobe Awuzie suffered a foot injury last week. He's listed as questionable after going DNP/DNP/LP. The limited session is a good sign. Awuzie is a solid corner, and the Bengals secondary will take a hit if he can't go.
When San Francisco has the ball:
The 49ers offense is enjoying an efficient season, ranking 4th in DVOA and 9th in EPA/play. Jimmy Garoppolo is 19th in PFF passing grades (71.4) while completing 66.8% of his passes (0.7% above expectation) and gaining 8.5 yards per attempt. Garoppolo was off to a relatively poor start, but since week 8 is PFF's highest graded QB. He does have a relatively high turnover worthy play percentage (4.0%, 9th highest in the league) with a low big time throw rate (2.0%, 3rd lowest). He lives off the intermediate passes (10-20 yards) -- he throws balls in that range more often than any QB, while he ranks 30th in dropback percentage on throws that travel more than 20 yards. He plays behind a solid offensive line and gets rid of the ball in 2.54 seconds on average (7th fastest in the league) and as a result is rarely under pressure, ranking 8th in pressure rate. This is a solid strategy by the 49ers as Garoppolo is PFF's lowest graded QB when pressured, however, it is not as if you can blitz him -- he has the 13th best grade when blitzed. Back to the offensive line -- LT Trent Williams is having perhaps the best season of any left tackle ever, he has an overall grade of 98.4 from PFF, which is the best in the league at any position. He's particularly dominant as a run blocker, pancaking defenders left and right and creating massive space for backs. If you're watching this game, keep an eye on Williams, it's a true pleasure to watch him work. The rest of the line is solid -- RT Tom Compton has done a commemorable job filling in for Mike McGlinchey. The top receivers by projected targets: TE George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Sherfield, and RB Jeff Wilson. As mentioned above, Deebo Samuel could potentially be worked in if he's healthy enough to play. Kittle is now PFF's highest graded tight end after having a monstrous Samuel-less game last week, where he caught 9 passes for 181 yards and 2 TDs. Aiyuk had a track-wreck start to the season, but has turned things around in the latter part, becoming a legit weapon for the 49ers offense. With Mitchell out, the backfield will roll with Jeff Wilson handling most of the carries with JaMycal Hasty chipping in. The 49ers are equally efficient throwing the ball (4th in DVOA) and running (6th). On the other side of the ball, the Bengals defense is 15th in DVOA and 7th in EPA/play. They have a solid pass pressure -- despite blitizng just 20.7% of the time (27th highest rate in the league), they generate pressure 25.9% of the time (13th highest). They pass rush is led by Trey Hendrickson (57 pressures) and Sam Hubbard (38) on the outside and Larry Ogunjobi (28) and DJ Reader (20) on the inside. Reader is also a solid run defender and is perhaps Cincy's best all around defender. Hendrickson is the unfortunate defender who lines up most frequently at right defensive end, making him Trent Williams's next victim. The linebacking core is the weak part of the defense. The safety tandem of Von Bell and Jessie Bates is strong on paper, though Bates is having a down year (in a contract year as well) and has just a 49.6 PFF grade. Chidobe Awuzie (outside) and Mike Hinton (slot) are both solid corners, but Eli Apple (outside) is generous to opposing receivers. Some matchup stats that play into our favor: the Bengals defense is poor in the red zone, ranking 26th in DVOA while the 49ers offense ranks 2nd. The Bengals are also poor at covering tight ends (hint: bad linebackers and safeties), ranking 24th in DVOA against receivers.
When the Bengals have the ball:
The Bengals have an offense that is far less efficient than it looks on paper, ranking 23rd in DVOA and 20th in EPA/play. The QB is not the issue -- Joe Burrow ranks 4th in PFF passing grades (85.7) while completing 68.3% of his passes (5% above expectation) while gaining 8.3 yards per attempt. He's hit Patrick Mahomes levels of un-blitzable (technical term), his 91.3 passing grade when blitzed is highest in the NFL. He throws from 0-10 yards more often than any QB in the league, but he takes his shots down field too, evident by his aDOT of 8.9. The offensive line is far improved over previous iterations, but still has holes. They're solid on the left side (LT Jonah Williams and LG Quinton Spain) and at RT (Riley Reiff), but have weaknesses at C (Trey Hopkins) and RG (Hakeem Adeniji). They have a solid trio of receivers between rookie Ja'Marr Chase (outside), Tee Higgins (outside), and Tyler Boyd (slot). Burrow does an excellent job distributing the ball equally between the 3, with Boyd and Higgins running the deeper routes (14.2 and 12.2 aDOT) and Boyd handling the work underneath (7.6 aDOT). Joe Mixon is the workhorse back who will handle almost all of the RB carries and will chip in occasionally as a receiver, averaging 2.5 targets per game. They're about equally efficient passing vs running, ranking 24th and 20th in DVOA, respectively. On the other side, the 49ers defense is 9th in DVOA and 16th in EPA/play (6th hardest schedule makes their DVOA better). Nick Bosa on the outside (50 pressures) and Arik Armstead on the inside (32) are passing rushing animals, but the 49ers lack options behind them, and as a result rank just 24th in pressure rate (22.6%). Their blitz rate also sits at 24th in the NFL, a good sign that they won't try to do something stupid like blitz Joe Burrow. They're average virtually everywhere else, except for safety Jimmie Ward, who is solid both in coverage and against the run. Their collection of corners, particularly without Emmanuel Moseley, is poor -- they're trotting out the corpse of Josh Norman on a regular bass. They'll need Ward to help out in coverage against the Bengals receivers. They're significantly better against the run (3rd in DVOA) than the pass (27th).