(Richard Sherman photo courtesy Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)
This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.
Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.
When and Where: Monday, Oct. 7, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., 8:20 p.m. EDT.
Week 5 of the NFL season concludes with an intriguing clash of up-and-coming quarterbacks as Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns look to improve to 3-0 on the road and deal Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers their first loss on Monday night.
Mayfield and the Browns regrouped from a tough Week 3 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams by putting together a balanced offensive performance in racing past the Baltimore Ravens 40-25 last Sunday. The run-pass balance that eluded the Browns in the loss to Los Angeles was on full display as the offense rolled up a season-high 530 yards.
Mayfield threw for 342 yards and a touchdown, while Nick Chubb had a season-high 165 rushing yards and sealed the victory with an 88-yard burst to paydirt with 9:35 to play.
The 49ers are seeking their first 4-0 start since Joe Montana was under center in 1990, when they opened the season with 10 consecutive victories. San Francisco had its bye week early this season and has been idle since rallying past the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-20 on Sept. 21.
San Francisco’s defense held Pittsburgh to 239 yards, bailing out an offense that committed five turnovers. It also gave Garoppolo a short field to work with for the game-winning touchdown drive as he needed to go just 24 yards late in the fourth quarter, with his 5-yard scoring toss to Dante Pettis with 1:15 to play providing the winning points.
Browns in Review
The Browns (2-2) made sure the Ravens could not run and hide in the AFC North, moving into a first-place tie at the quarter mark of the season — with both teams one game ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cleveland has not opened a season 3-0 on the road since returning to the NFL in 1999 — one has to go back to 1994 when Vinny Testaverde was under center — and not had three road wins in a season since 2014. The Browns also have not won three consecutive road games since a five-game run from Oct. 27-Dec. 22, 2002.
Mayfield showed a certain amount of growth in terms of his progressions, making better decisions and not trying to force the ball into Odell Beckham Jr. while he was being double-covered. That led to Beckham’s counterpart Jarvis Landry having his best game of the season with eight catches for 167 yards.
The defense did arguably as well as it could without starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams as well as safety Morgan Burnett, limiting Baltimore to 222 passing yards while sacking Lamar Jackson four times.
49ers in Review
The 49ers yielded an average of 283.3 yards in their first three games and had seven takeaways to help offset some of Garoppolo’s early struggles. After missing most of last season with a torn ACL, the former Patriots quarterback has thrown for 739 yards and five touchdowns but also has been picked off four times.
While most of the scrutiny goes with Garoppolo’s return and whether he is indeed the 49ers franchise quarterback, San Francisco’s defense has quietly pieced together a solid early-season resume.
The seven takeaways have already matched their total for all of last season and been converted into 31 points. The run defense has tightened significantly after yielding 121 yards in the win over Tampa Bay, limiting opponents to 104 yards and 2.54 yards per carry in the last two games.
Browns run offense vs 49ers run defense
It may have taken four games and some brow-beating, but offensive coordinator Todd Monken is finally realizing that good things happen when you give Nick Chubb consistent carries.
Chubb is fourth in the league with 398 yards, but equally important is he has moved up to a tie for second with 19.5 carries per game. He has toted the rock 43 times in Cleveland’s last two games and done some of his best work after the 16th carry, with last week’s lengthy scoring run contributing to a 6.9 average on 18 rushes on his 16th carry and beyond.
“Nick came in during rookie minicamp, and he was ready to go. He has been that way,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. “He has been that way ever since he left high school. Nick Chubb is not changing. He is always going to have that pursuit of being great. You saw it. You saw it initially. You saw it how he worked. You saw it how he finished runs during a practice, and we are only talking about a rookie minicamp. He has always been that way.”
Three of Chubb’s five 100-yard games have come on the road, but there is also more trust in the red zone in his abilities. Nine of his 12 touchdowns have come outside of Cleveland, but there is still some feast or famine to his game — Chubb has 20 runs of 10 or more yards but also has been dumped for a loss 25 times on his 145 carries on the road.
After giving up 121 rushing yards in their season-opening win over Tampa Bay, the 49ers have clamped down on the run game and conceded just 104 combined in their wins over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Whether there is an AFC North-wide scheme that presents a favorable matchup or otherwise, it is safe to say Chubb will be the best running back San Francisco has seen to this point. But inside linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner have been instrumental in a run defense that has yielded nearly 40 yards less than 2018 (113.4).
“Did you see us when we were out there on the field? It doesn’t matter. No, that’s our mindset. Wherever we’re at on the field, we’re going to do our thing. It doesn’t matter if we’re on the two-yard line, or if the ball’s put on the two-yard line. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to go out there and just play hard and finish the game.”
Browns pass offense vs 49ers pass defense
Every young quarterback at some point learns the rite of process known as “taking what the defense gives you.” It takes on various forms — from something as simple as a check-down pass to the running back five yards away to trusting reads and progressions to even throwing the ball away.
Mayfield exhibited signs of growth in the middle area last week, perhaps cognizant of being called out about it by ESPN analyst Rex Ryan. The Browns are never going to be happy when Beckham catches just two passes for 20 yards and gets targeted only seven times, but when Landry has eight catches for 167 yards on the other side, it means Mayfield realizes something is working and knew to come back to it.
“I played better. Made it easier on (Kitchens),” Mayfield told The Athletic. “When the quarterback sucks, it’s got to be pretty hard to call plays.”
An interesting wrinkle last week was involving tight end Ricky Seals-Jones in the passing game, with not much expected of him with starter David Nwoku on the injured list. Seals-Jones had a 59-yard receptions and finished with three catches for 82 yards and a touchdown, giving the 49ers someone else to at least think about besides Beckham and Landry.
The game plan, however, gets muddled if Landry is unable to play since he was still in the league’s concussion protocol as of Thursday. Antonio Callaway, who was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policies, is eligible to return for this game.
Callaway had 43 catches for 586 yards and five TDs as a rookie last season, serving as a competent No. 2 to Landry before Beckham’s arrival.
“I am assuming that he has been doing his part in getting in shape and getting ready to go,” Kitchens said. “I expect nothing else out of Antonio.
“He has to prove that he knows what to do, knows how to do it and knows when to do it,” Kitchens said. “Other than that, Antonio has played. He knows how to play the game. I am glad he is back.”
He may be 31 years old, and he may have lost a half-step of quickness on certain patterns, but there is still plenty of risk throwing in Sherman’s direction. Still one of the best thinkers in the game in addition to being one of the more physically imposing cornerbacks at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Sherman gets the job done.
With Sherman lined up exclusively on the right side, that means he likely will have Landry as his primary assignment. That puts the bullseye squarely on Emmanuel Mosley, who is expected to get his first career start opposite Sherman with Ahkello Witherspoon sidelined due to a foot sprain.
Mosley has been on the field for 23.3 percent of San Francisco’s defensive snaps and been targeted just twice — giving up completions on both passes for 13 yards — but will undoubtedly see plenty of action lined up across Beckham.
Jason Verret and Jimmie Ward are also likely to see time in nickel and dime packages, and given the quality of both Beckham and Landry, it is one of those instances where “it will take a village” to keep the Browns tandem in check.
49ers run offense vs Browns run defense
The 49ers backfield will be more crowded for this game as Tevin Coleman returns to the rotation after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury suffered in the season-opening win over Tampa Bay.
He rejoins a balanced rushing attack that has seen both Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert find consistent success. Both players are averaging better than five yards per carry, and San Francisco has pounded opponents via the run, averaging 175 yards while averaging 38 carries.
The 49ers offensive line has been superb in the early going, creating running lanes for whoever is running the ball. They have recorded 18 runs of 10 or more yards and are fifth in the NFL with 50 percent of their run plays getting at least four yards.
After doing well to limit Todd Gurley in their Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the Browns took a step back against the run versus Baltimore in giving up a season-high 173 rushing yards. Some of that can be attributed to the Ravens having a distinct style in using both quarterback Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram in RPO action, but Ingram getting nearly six yards per carry is a concern.
While the 49ers have gotten four or more yards on half their running plays, the Browns rank 30th in terms of giving up four or more yards on running plays, doing so 51.4 percent of the time. The pressure is on Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi to at least hold the blocks of the 49ers offensive linemen to allow Joe Schobert and Jermaine Whitehead clear lanes to make tackles.
49ers pass offense vs Browns pass defense
Garoppolo continues to impress in his return under center from a torn ACL, showing a willingness to stand in the pocket and take a hit while delivering the ball.
Garoppolo’s top target is tight end George Kittle, who has 17 catches for 165 yards. Kittle does his damage in action over the middle — he has 101 yards after the catch, which accounts for 61.2 percent of his total.
Garoppolo has also spread the offense in terms of direction, there is no obvious lean to where he throws as receivers Marquise Goodwin and rookie Deebo Samuel are still establishing themselves. The return of Coleman gives him another pass-catching option out of the backfield along with Mostert and Breida.
The 49ers passing game is a strength in numbers outfit, though Garoppolo’s decision-making needs to improve with four interceptions in just 84 attempts.
While everyone knows what Garrett can do at left end, if Vernon can follow up his strong Week 4 performance against Baltimore, Cleveland’s pass rush has the potential to go from difficult to face to dominant.
The play of Garrett has also overshadowed the performance of a surprisingly deep Browns secondary that put together a yeoman effort last week down its two starting cornerbacks. Jermaine Whitehead factored on all three turnovers versus the Ravens, as the Browns allowed only two passing plays of 25 or more yards.
“We all know what the next person is doing and we could all play multiple positions. In the end, it makes you more valuable but it also makes the defense better as a whole,” defensive back Eric Murray told Cleveland.com. “What is unique about our defense is you have multiple people playing multiple different positions. Just the sheer number of people we got doing that is unique.”
That versatility has overcome the lack of continuity, which may need to take place again with both Williams and Ward day-to-day according to Kitchens on Thursday.
Update (10/7/19): Ward and Williams are expected to miss their third straight games due to hamstring injuries. Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie should start in place of them.
“There’s a lot of trust in the individuals who are out there, No. 1,” defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said Friday. “I think the guys truly believe in the system and what we’re doing. I think it’s a great job by the coaches getting these guys prepared and ready to play.
“When you look at TJ and you look at Terrance Mitchell, I’ve talked about how those guys have played a lot in this league before, so I wasn’t really surprised with how they performed and how they’re playing right now.”
Special teams and other things
For one week at least, Kitchens had the world eating out of his hand after eating crow regarding his play selection. The job now is to have a solid encore act, which is a big step for a young team finding its way and learning how to deal with success.
The kicking game continues to be a plus for Cleveland. Austin Seibert has made all seven of his field goals and all but one of his nine PATs. Rookie punter Jamie Gillan was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month and has put 11 of his 20 punts inside the opposing 20 while helping the Browns yield just 19 yards on punt returns.
Kitchens is still sending Landry out there for punt returns, but that may not happen Monday night given Landry is in concussion protocol. That could open the door for Dontrell Hilliard to serve that role.
The watchword for the 49ers has been chemistry in the early going as players have stepped up and filled in for injured teammates. That will be the case again Monday when Mosley starts at left corner and Coleman returns to the running back platoon.
San Francisco’s specialists are solid, with kicker Robbie Gould 6 of 8 on field goals and a perfect 10 of 10 on PATs. In his limited opportunities, Mitch Wishnowsky has helped flip the field, putting three of his seven punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line and recording touchbacks on 10 of his 19 kickoffs.
ONTO THE PICKS!
Though there is nothing very flashy about the 49ers, they are finding ways to win without their “A” game — winning despite committing five turnovers is a hard feat to accomplish in the NFL.
The Browns may have the better playmakers of the two teams, but there is still the gnawing distrust in the play-calling and tempestuousness of youth when it comes to Mayfield at the helm. He has to walk a line in this game between getting Landry and/or Callaway involved against Sherman and not gunslinging against the veteran corner, and no one knows if that maturity level is there for a second straight week.
San Francisco is a much better ball-hawking team than last year, and getting those turnovers in addition to controlling the game on the ground through Brieda, Mostert, and Coleman should see it through to its first 4-0 start in 29 years with a seven-point win as the under delivers narrowly.
UNDER 48 points
This line has ticked higher during the week, but this total feels just out of reach for both teams. The 49ers are giving up just 18 per game and the Browns 16 per contest in the last three after that disastrous fourth quarter in their season-opening loss. If both teams make the effort to commit to the running game — and they have the talent in the backfield to do it — this game could see fewer possessions if they value the ball.
49ers UNDER 26 points
There is more confidence in the 49ers failing to hit this number than there is the Browns to score less than 21 points. One issue for San Francisco despite its 3-0 start has been an inability to finish drives with touchdowns. The 49ers have averaged 3.86 points in their 14 trips inside the red zone, which ranks 29th, but also concerning is they have come up empty on four occasions. Finding a fourth touchdown feels like too big an ask here.
Two yardage prop plays to consider:
Odell Beckham Jr. OVER 73.5 receiving yards (-143)
Nick Chubb UNDER 85.5 rushing yards (-114)
In the case of Beckham, this is about the matchups he will face. Sherman plays exclusively at left corner, which means Sherman will see more of Landry than Beckham in terms of who lines up at receiver to the right of Mayfield. And with Witherspoon out on the opposite side, Beckham will have a matchup advantage at corner regardless if the 49ers roll their coverage in his direction.
For Chubb, it also feels like a number that will be beyond him because of game situation in picking the 49ers to win. If the Browns are trailing, they will pass more, and the lack of touches will prevent him from reaching that number.
Browns +3 first half
Both teams have struggled out of the gates offensively this season, with the 49ers averaging 11 first-half points in their first three games and the Browns 9.5 points in their first four. Cleveland, though, has also been solid on the defensive side, yielding six first-quarter points and 25 in the first half overall. This figures to be a tight game where a tie going into halftime would not be surprising.
UNDER 23 first half
Both teams have struggled offensively in the first half and been difficult to breach defensively, making the under the pick. The 49ers have yielded 23 first-half points in their three games, and both teams have not been all that great scoring at the end of the first half, combining for four field goals.
The number is below a flat TD+FG total, which makes this an aggressive play, but the feeling is one team will be in single digits come halftime.
49ers UNDER 13 points first half
This is an anti-49ers pick based on their red zone inefficiency as mentioned previously. Additionally, 24 of the 33 first-half points they have scored came against winless Cincinnati, and Cleveland does have a better defense than the Bengals.