San Francisco 49ers (0-0, 0-0 ATS) at Detroit Lions (0-0, 0-0), 1 p.m.
Implied Team Totals: 49ers 26.5, Lions 18.5
Spread/Total Movements: 7 to 8, 46 to 45
49ers Injuries to Watch: WR Brandon Aiyuk (hamstring, probable), QB Trey Lance (finger, probable)
Lions Injuries to Watch: RB D’Andre Swift (groin, probable)
Brolley’s 49ers Stats and Trends
The 49ers have played under the total in seven straight season openers.
San Francisco has lost five straight games outright as a favorite.
Kyle Shanahan is 1-7-1 ATS as a favorite of 7+ points.
Raheem Mostert and Trey Sermon are set to see the most work in the 49ers backfield committee. Mostert was limited to eight games last season because of a high-ankle sprain, but he posted 104/521/2 rushing (5.0 YPC) and 16/156/1 receiving on 19 targets in eight contests. Sermon, a third-round pick in May, busted out in a big way late last season, averaging 7.5 YPC for the season while totaling 636/4 rushing in his final three full games against Ohio State’s toughest competition. This a prime spot for Mostert and Sermon as 7.5-point road favorites against a defense that allowed the most FPG (32.5) to RBs last season.
Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to get the nod in San Francisco’s season opener after rookie Trey Lance recently sat out with an injury to his throwing hand. Lance was expected to be given packages in his pro debut but that could change if he’s limited at all because of his injury. Jimmy G played in just 9-of-32 games in 2018 (ACL) and 2020 (high-ankle) and he finished as the QB21 with 15.5 FPG in his only full season in 2019. The Lions allowed a league-high 24.5 FPG to QBs last season.
George Kittle dealt with a litany of injuries (foot fracture, MCL sprain) last season and he still managed 15.6 FPG in the eight games he suited up. He’s now ranked third, tied for first, and third in FPG among tight ends over the last three seasons. The Lions allowed the fourth-most receiving touchdowns per game (.6) to TEs last season.
Brandon Aiyuk finished as WR18 with 15.4 FPG while impressively offering seven games of more than 17.5 FP and four games with 10+ targets as a rookie. He’ll be the top downfield option in this passing attack this season after his aDOT sat at 9.4 yards. The Lions allowed a generous 13.8 YPR to WRs last season and the second-most receiving yards per game (206.3).
Deebo Samuel leads all WRs with more than 50 receptions in yards after the catch (9.83) and avoided tackles (0.31) per reception over the last two seasons. He ranks tied for second among WRs in screens and carries per game (2.7) in that same span, and his aDOT sat at just 2.2 yards last season. Detroit gave up the fourth-most receptions per game (15.0) and the third-most FPG (44.2) to WRs last season.
Brolley’s Lions Stats and Trends
The Lions are 7-3 toward overs in their last 10 games.
D’Andre Swift is expected to lead this backfield in the season opener after a groin injury sidelined him for much of August, but free-agent signee Jamaal Williams will factor in behind him. The Lions handed Swift the reins to the backfield in Week 6 last season, and he averaged 16.7 FGP (RB10 in that span). Swift ran 20.7 routes per game from Week 6 on, which would have ranked 11th-most at the position. San Francisco gave up the fifth-fewest FPG (20.4) to RBs last season.
Jared Goff is set to take over as Detroit’s starting quarterback after 12 seasons with Matthew Stafford at the helm. Over the last two seasons, Stafford tied for 10th in passer rating (99.8) and eighth in YPA (8.1) while Goff ranked 24th in passer rating (88.1) and 20th in YPA (7.3) in that span. Goff also ranked a lowly 27th in on-target passes (50%) on throws that traveled 15+ yards downfield. The 49ers allowed the fourth-fewest passing yards per game (219.6) to QBs last season.
T.J. Hockenson exploded for 67/723/6 receiving on 101 targets for 11.0 FPG (TE5) in 2020 after posting just 32/367/2 receiving for 6.7 FPG in 12 games as a rookie. Hockenson was remarkably consistent with a run of 4+ catches and/or a touchdown in 12 of his first 13 games before his quarterback situation went to hell in the final three weeks. Fred Warner and company limited TEs to the fewest FPG (8.2) last season.
Tyrell Williams is looking to get his career back on track after injuries derailed his time with the Raiders in 2019-20. He followed his former coach, Anthony Lynn, to Detroit this off-season on a one-year, prove-it-deal to do just that. Williams had 40+ catches, 650+ yards, and 4+ TDs in each of the last four seasons when he’s been on the field — he also averaged 15.9 YPR in 2016-19. San Francisco gave up the ninth-most receiving touchdowns per game (1.1) to WRs last season.
Amon-Ra St. Brown landed in the ideal location to potentially make some early noise since the Lions have the most available targets (360) from last season. He ran 79% of his routes from the slot in the preseason, and he had a strong season playing out of the slot at USC in 2019, posting a career-best 77/1042/6 receiving (13.5 YPR) as a sophomore. The 49ers allowed the 13th-most receptions per game (13.3) to WRs last season.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
49ers (2020 season)
Pace (seconds in between plays): 29.4 (30th)
Plays per game: 64.9 (12th)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 53.8% (25th) | Run: 46.2% (8th)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 49.5% (18th) | Run: 50.5% (15th)
When the team is behind — Pass: 69.6% (7th) | Run: 30.4% (26th)
Lions (2020 season)
Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.5 (5th)
Plays per game: 61.6 (26th)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 58.1% (16th) | Run: 41.9% (17th)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 53.7% (10th) | Run: 46.3% (23rd)
When the team is behind — Pass: 67.9% (11th) | Run: 32.1% (22nd)
The 49ers were a bottom-3 team in pace last year and OC Anthony Lynn doesn’t seem like a coach who would prioritize playing fast, so this game is appropriately one of the lowest totaled games on the Week 1 slate (45 over/under). The 49ers have massive advantages on both sides of the ball and should have no issues cruising to victory with even their B-game on offense. Lynn and the Lions will try to run the ball though, that is for sure. In his 21-year NFL career, Lynn has only called plays over a stretch of 14 games in 2016 when Greg Roman was fired after Week 2 and Lynn was named interim OC to close out the season. And, boy, did Lynn love to run the ball. Over the Bills final 14 games of the 2016 season, Lynn called a run on 51% of their plays when the game was within a score (2nd-highest rate), they were 55% run-heavy when ahead (3rd-highest), and they were 44% run-heavy when trailing (highest rate). The Lions had a sub-par run defense last year — they allowed 96.9 YPG on the ground to RBs (fifth-most) — and are relying on former-Ram Michael Brockers and rookie NT Alim McNeil to bolster their defensive line this season. We should see a very run-heavy game-plan from the 49ers and HC Kyle Shanahan and the Lions will try to establish the ground game (while the affair is still competitive).
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
This isn’t a game where I anticipate a whole lot going on with Detroit’s defense — it’s likely to be a vanilla matchup that should play to the strengths of Jimmy Garoppolo. That said, the question is just how much the 49ers are going to have to throw to win this game, and that will impact Brandon Aiyuk (who also has a hamstring injury), Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle.
While the Lions have a weak run defense that should benefit Raheem Mostert and Trey Sermon, it should be noted that their LBs are good in the passing game. Jamie Collins was actually quite good in coverage last year, and the Lions added one of last season’s top-five off-the-ball ILBs — from a coverage perspective — in free agency, Alex Anzalone. As long as we limit our passing game expectations, Mostert and Sermon should find little resistance running through, around, and over the Lions’ run defense.
As for Detroit, it’s a pretty bad matchup across the board. One might come to the conclusion that, if the Lions do fall behind, D’Andre Swift might come into some value through the air as Detroit abandons the run. Just realize that Fred Warner, perhaps the top coverage LB in the NFL, will have a say in that scenario.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
Let me start with San Francisco’s running game. If you drafted Raheem Mostert, this is precisely the kind of game you drafted him for — in Week 1, he’s as healthy as he’ll be all season, and the 49ers are 8-point favorites. While I do expect San Fran will work Trey Sermon into the game to get his feet wet, this is probably as good a spot as you’ll have for Mostert all season long. He’s an RB2 for me.
The Niner passing game is potentially hurt by the fact that they’re 8-point favorites, but you obviously drafted George Kittle as a top-3 TE, so he’s in there for you. Brandon Aiyuk, who has a hamstring injury, might not get pushed too much in this tilt, so I actually prefer Deebo Samuel as a WR2 over Aiyuk. Again, workload might be an issue late.
There’s also the elephant in the room — Jimmy Garoppolo is starting, but will the 49ers put together a Taysom Hill style package for rookie QB Trey Lance (that is, of course, if Lance can play with his finger injury). Lance is going to take this job eventually, but until he does, will he be a goal-line vulture of sorts? It’ll be fascinating to watch. We might not get a look at it this week with the injury, which is a bummer.
For the Lions, the only player I’m putting in my season-long lineups from the passing game is TE TJ Hockenson who is maybe the best bet this side of Darren Waller to lead his team in targets at the TE position, even more so than his counterpart in this game (Kittle) or Travis Kelce. I am expecting Jared Goff — who is not a fantasy option — to target Hockenson early and often. All the Detroit WRs are off my season-long radar until we get usage and target distribution data to break down.
The other issue for Detroit is in the backfield. D’Andre Swift is one of the most naturally gifted backs in the NFL, but will his coaches use him as such, especially since he missed much of August with a groin injury. This coaching staff apparently loves Jamaal Williams, who does all the things coaches love from RBs — he grinds, he blocks, and he catches. We have Swift as a low-end RB2 in PPR formats and Williams as a viable FLEX, and how this split will go is anyone’s guess. Both guys are viable, but both are risky.