The 49ers are 6-2 and spent the bye week preparing to make their move for a first round bye in a very tough NFC, while keeping the rest of the NFC West far enough back not to get any ideas. With eight games played and eight remaining, it’s time to see if we can reach some sort of consensus on team MVPs on offense and defense. I have a feeling there won’t be much of a consensus.
Bay Area Sports Guy (Vernon Davis) Choosing MVPs on a team with few clear weaknesses isn’t easy. How do you separate one lineman from a group where they’re all playing so well? Frank Gore is probably having the best season in terms of raw yardage, but I feel like Kendall Hunter and Brandon Jacobs could run behind this line if Gore got hurt.
Pro Football Focus ranks Davis as the second best overall tight end in football (taking into account receiving, blocking and penalties) behind Rob Gronkowski, and the margin is slim (17.9 to 15.5 — next closest is Marcedes Lewis at 8.1). Football Outsiders has Davis as the No. 1 tight end based on DVOA. Davis is the team’s most feared offensive weapon After catching four TD passes over the first three games of the season, defenses have keyed on him, opening up things for Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Delanie Walker (who could do a lot of damage if his hands wouldn’t betray him so often). Good thing Davis has become a player who can change a game without catching a pass.
East Bay Sports Guy (Michael Crabtree) I’m sure my selection of Crabtree strikes you as crazy. The obvious choice would be Frank Gore, and I certainly have no valid argument as to why Gore shouldn’t be the Offensive MVP. That said, Crabtree is having a great season. His yards-after-catch (YAC) of 6.3 ranks 7th among players who have participated in at least 50% of team snaps. His total YAC of 244 yards ranks 8th, and yet he only has 39 catches on 51 targets. The 7th and 9th place players have 105 catches on 176 targets combined. Does that not strike you as crazy? He’s tied for second in completion percentage on balls thrown his way with 76.5%, and he only has two recorded drops on the season. So, yeah, Crabtree deserves the recognition and the award.
Bay Area Stats Guy (Run game) I’m going to kind of break the rules here, as it is hard to break out any one player here for praise because they have all been excellent this season. According to Football Outsiders the 49ers have had the best rushing offensive line (I hope to see some improvement in the pass blocking). Both Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter have averaged 5+ yards a carry with very good success rates. You could even give credit to the wide outs and Alex Smith who have hurt teams enough that they can not overload the box to stop the run. Overall a great effort in the running game all around.
Ruthless Sports Guy (Frank Gore) I got really grumpy when everybody started writing Gore’s obituary in the offseason, but at the same time I understood why. He’s old in running back years and for most of his NFL career was completely overused by the 49ers. Although he may not have the speed to get past the corners and safeties these days, the guy is still elusive and football smart as ever. If Gore can stay healthy for the rest of the season and throughout the playoffs, there aren’t many teams that will be able to beat the 49ers.
Bay Area Duck Guy (Frank Gore) In Jim Harbaugh’s offense, it all begins with a strong running game, and that all starts with Frank Gore. After San Francisco drafted LaMichael James and began using Kendall Hunter more in the backfield, it looked like Gore may be phased out. It hasn’t gone that way. He’s amassed 4 touchdowns on the ground, 656 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per carry. He opens up the short passing game for Alex Smith and makes the defense pay on the ground at the same time.
Bay Area Sports Guy (Patrick Willis) The guy does everything. Calvin Johnson would probably tell you he’s the hardest hitter on the team (apologies to The Hawk, who gets more of a running start). He’s the best coverage inside backer in football, both anecdotally and statistically. He plays the role of Hunter Pence with his pregame speeches, only Willis backs those up with his play every week. With the rest of the defense getting so good around him it’s easy to take Willis for granted, but we shouldn’t. His teammates certainly don’t.
East Bay Sports Guy (Dashon Goldson) I have not been a huge supporter of Goldson. In the past, I thought he was one of the more overrated players in the league, and I certainly thought he wasn’t worthy of the long-term extension that he was lobbying hard for. But, this year, he might be the best safety in the league–aside from Eric Weddle, that is. While in coverage, Goldson has allowed just nine receptions in eight games. Quarterbacks complete just over 56% of their passes against him for and average 8.0 yards per catch. He’s a big reason why the 49ers allow on a league best 5.5 yards per attempt, and he deserves credit for it.
Bay Area Stats Guy (Patrick Willis) This is a hard choice to make because the 49ers defense is loaded with talent, you wouldn’t be wrong choosing either of the Smith’s, Dashon Goldson, Navorro Bowman, Carlos Rogers or Ahmad Brooks. In the end I went with Patrick Willis as my choice. He leads the team in expected points added and is second in win probability added to Bowman. He leads the team in tackles and is second in passes defended. He is the heart and soul of arguably the best defense in the NFL. It’s hard to make a wrong choice picking among this bunch of players but to me Willis is still the guy on this team.
Ruthless Sports Guy (NaVorro Bowman) I caught a lot of flack, especially from one extremely faithful BASG reader, about my pick of Navorro Bowman as the league’s defensive MVP last week. I get it – he isn’t the flashiest player in the league, or even on the 49ers. Still, I find it hard to comprehend the fact that San Francisco has a carbon copy — Patrick Willis — playing right next to the real thing. Willis has 65 tackles (48 solo); Bowman leads the team with 68 (42 solo). Each linebacker has an interception and Bowman has two sacks this season. Bowman is half of a two-man core that anchors the most stout defense in the league, and the best part is that he has no ceiling.
Bay Area Duck Guy (NaVorro Bowman) Pro-bowler Patrick Willis has definitely rubbed off on Bowman to the tune of a team-leading 68 total tackles, two sacks and one interception. So far this season, Bowman has looked like an All-Pro middle backer with not just his tackling ability, but his vision and obvious defensive IQ as well.
Indianapolis Colts (-3) @ Jacksonville Jaguars
**Colts won 27-10**
Bay Area Sports Guy: Colts
East Bay Sports Guy: Colts
Bay Area Stats Guy:
Ruthless Sports Guy: Colts
Bay Area Duck Guy: Colts
Oakland Raiders @ Baltimore Ravens (-9)
Bay Area Sports Guy: The good news for Dennis Allen is that the Raiders’ problems are talent-based. You can quibble with the zone-blocking scheme favored by Greg Knapp, but at least they play hard. They just can’t tackle. The Ravens aren’t as strong as they were at this point last year. They’re still good enough to beat most teams at home, but I think Oakland keeps it close. Pick: Raiders
East Bay Sports Guy: I practice pessimism in all facets of my life. I’ve established as much over my time at BASG. But I want to be optimistic here and so my pick reflects that. Not necessarily reality. The truth is the Raiders don’t play well against bad teams, and they barely occupy the field against good ones. What is equally as true is the same came be said about Baltimore’s offense. If Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback, then I’m an elite journalist. Which is to say, he’s inconsistent at best. If the Raiders catch him on a bad day, then it’s hello 4-and-5. Pick: Raiders
Bay Area Stats Guy: The model seems to really not like the Raiders, but not enough to want to give 9 points to the other team, even on the road. The model likes the Ravens to win this game about 75 percent of the time but the average margin is just a touchdown. Maybe some garbage time points can help the Raiders to a cover in this one. Pick: Raiders
Ruthless Sports Guy: If I was a gambling man I would stay away from the Raiders all year long. They’re impossible to figure out. The 49ers are so formulaic that sometimes they seem like the easiest bet on the docket; it’s not the same for Oakland. They hung tight with the Falcons in Atlanta and I imagine they’ll do the same in Baltimore. Pick: Raiders
Bay Area Duck Guy: Even without seemingly half its defense and Joe Flacco not playing all that great, Baltimore is still a better football team than Oakland. They will run the ball effectively and I can’t see the Raiders doing much on offense, either. Even with a pretty large spread, the Ravens will get it done at home. Pick: Ravens
St. Louis Rams @ San Francisco 49ers (-12.5)
Bay Area Sports Guy: After an uneven 2011 against the teams in their own division, the Niners seemed to play angrier against the Seahawks and Cardinals than any team — even the Giants. They’ve had a bye week to install a few more offensive wrinkles, but most of those will be used in future games. The goal in this game: 200+ yards rushing and a shutout. Pick: 49ers
East Bay Sports Guy: I wasn’t going to pick the 49ers, but then I thought, ”What the heck?” I’ve done dumber things in the past. I did live in Chico for a year, after all. And if I can survive a year in Chico, I can survive this pick. Ultimately, I believe the 49ers will win big because they’ve dominated lesser defenses. And the Rams defense is mediocre at best. They defensive line, while not horrible, ranks in the bottom half of the league rankings, according to Pro Football Focus. Teams average 4.2 yards per carry against the Rams. The 49ers, meanwhile, average 5.6. If they meet in the middle, it means, well, you get the point. Pick: 49ers
Bay Area Stats Guy: This one was right on the edge for the model where I really could have gone either way and not felt good about the pick. It suggested that the 49ers should win by 12.3 points with the most common margin at 13 points. I figured if I am not going to feel comfortable with a pick I might as well be rooting for the team I like to win. Pick: 49ers
Ruthless Sports Guy: I’m going to guess that the 49ers will probably score three touchdowns in this game. It’s also unlikely that the Rams will get in the end zone, or even in the red zone for that matter. I’ll go ahead and draw from the experiences that the 49ers had against the Bills, Jets and Cardinals. In other words, the 49ers should cover with plenty of room to spare. Pick: 49ers
Bay Area Duck Guy: 12.5 is a pretty large spread, but the 49ers are now looking like the top team we all thought they should be at the start of the year. Coming off a bye means that Jim Harbaugh gets an extra week to plan for St. Louis, and it gives the players a little more time to rest and recover. All of that adds up to a solid defensive showing at home in San Francisco accompanied by a solid offensive game from Alex Smith and Frank Gore. Pick: 49ers
GAME OF THE WEEK:
Houston Texans @ Chicago Bears (PK)
Bay Area Sports Guy: Houston showed they can go on the road and beat a quality team when they beat the Broncos 31-25 at Mile High. The Bears’ schedule has been pretty soft, and the Bears’ offensive line is no match for Watt. Pick: Texans
East Bay Sports Guy: I think Chicago is overrated. Were it not for defensive touchdowns, this team would hardly be a blip on the NFL Playoff radar. They’ve won games, sure. But they’ve won games against sub-par teams. Houston will be the first playoff caliber opponent the Bears will have faced since the Packers in Week 2. They lost that game by 13 points. I expect them to lose this one by an equal margin. Pick: Texans
Bay Area Stats Guy: Man Sunday Night Football sure has gotten the best games this year, Thursday games have seen some bad match-ups, featuring teams beat up and tired from a short week. Monday’s have seen some pretty uneven match-ups and clunkers but Sunday always seems to be at the very least a watchable match-up. Pick: Bears
Ruthless Sports Guy: This is going to be an awesome game: each team features a top-five running back, a top-flight quarterback and a top-notch defense. All things considered, the quarterback with the cleanest jersey wins, and I’m guessing that’ll be the Texans’ Matt Schaub. JJ Watt and company will be too much for Jay Cutler to handle; Texans win a big road game on national television. Pick: Texans
Bay Area Duck Guy: This might be the most difficult game of the week we’ve had on here so far. If these two teams squared off ten times, each team would probably win five. But I’m picking the Texans because Chicago’s defense relies on forcing turnovers, and something tells me Arian Foster and Matt Schaub will take better care of the ball than anyone the Bears have played this far. I’m expecting a game decided by no more than a field goal, but I say the running game from Houston wins it for the Texans in the end. Pick: Texans