In this originally MNF scheduled matchup, the Buffalo Bills travel to Glendale, Arizona to take on the San Francisco 49ers. Yes, you read that correctly. Due to COVID restrictions placed in Santa Clara County, the 49ers will be playing their next two home games in State Farm Stadium, home of the Cardinals. This game will be the first regular-season neutral site game held in the United States since 2005 when the New Orleans Saints played games in San Antonio after Hurricane Katrina. It will feature two teams in the playoff hunt in their prospective divisions, so coming away with a Monday night victory will be of the utmost importance.
– Monday Night Football Preview –
Buffalo Bills at San Francisco 49ers
Bills at 49ers (-1) | Over/Under: 47
Both the spread and the Over/Under lines for this game have changed drastically by the day. At one point earlier this week, the Bills were favored by 2.5 points and with an Over/Under of 49. Now, the spread line has completely shifted, flipping to a line of 49ers being favored by one and the Moneyline spread becoming a pick ’em with many sportsbooks. For this game, neither team has a discernible gambling advantage due to the lack of a real spread and those who will be betting on this contest will mainly be picking the team they feel will win outright. For me, based on the health of these two teams and the level they are playing at currently, I will be betting the Bills for Monday night and taking the Under. While both these teams have shown they can put up points this season, Buffalo has only gone over the line of 47 combined points twice in their past six games (Weeks 9 and 10 against Seattle and Arizona respectively). San Francisco does not have the elite offense that those two teams have to force a shootout with Buffalo, making the Under the safer bet for Monday night.
Josh Allen has continued his progression as a franchise quarterback this season, making a tremendous leap in his passing prowess while maintaining his abilities as a mobile threat. One factor that has helped Allen make these improvements is his passing efficiency. Allen has an on-target throw percentage of 80.3% through Week 12, the fifth-best percentage in the NFL this season. This, compared to his 73.2% mark in 2019, has shown how committed the Buffalo offensive coaching staff has been to creating a system to help maximize his potential as a winning NFL quarterback and a fantasy asset. Allen is ranked as the QB4 so far this season and has been a hit for those who have had him on their roster this year. He will look to keep things going on Monday night against San Francisco. The 49ers have been solid this season against fantasy quarterbacks, ranking as the 12th best unit against them through Week 12 (depending on scoring format) but they are also the defense that has allowed the most rushing yardage to quarterbacks this year (341 yards through Week 12). Look for Allen to exploit this part of the matchup and put up another QB1 level performance Monday night.
One notable player that has spent time on San Francisco’s lengthy injury report is their star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He has missed time with various ailments this season, including an ankle injury in Week 8 that will likely keep him out of this week’s Monday night matchup. This means the 49ers will be looking to Nick Mullens once again to lead them from under center. Mullens has been largely unimpressive in recent weeks, ranking as the QB24 since Week 9 with 790 passing yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions with a 64.8% completion rate. He has not been someone who can be relied on in fantasy so far this season and that will not change for Monday night, as the Bills have only allowed one top ten weekly finish performance in their last four games (Kyler Murray in Week 10). Keep Mullens on your waiver wire this week.
As one of the youngest running back tandems in the NFL, Devin Singletary, and Zack Moss have yet to make a consistent impact on fantasy production so far this season. They both have flashed in certain matchups, such as Singletary finishing as the RB15 in Week 4 (in PPR scoring formats) and Moss finishing as the RB7 in Week 8, but neither running back has been able to find steady rushing work in the Bills offense. They will both try to find some production on Monday night against a San Francisco defense that has been exposed by running backs in recent weeks. The 49ers have allowed at least an RB16 level performance (in PPR scoring formats) in their last four games so the matchup for Singletary and Moss is fairly appealing. But, based on their limited usage in recent weeks (both players averaged less than 11 total touches since Week 9), they are still too risky of a start outside of Flex consideration. If you have better options, keep Singletary and Moss on your bench this week.
San Francisco has been one of the leading examples of running back by committee in 2020. Much of this has been due to injury, but Kyle Shannon has always been one to share the load amongst his running backs, even with a fully healthy stable. But being on this committee is not all bad, depending on who you play each week. A 49ers running back has posted a top ten finish in five of their eleven games so far in 2020 (in PPR scoring formats), showing there is a distinct advantage to being “the guy” in this backfield. But, the hard part has been trying to find who that guy will be each week. The only running back that has been reasonably reliable for the 49ers has been Jerrick McKinnon, but even that has tapered off in recent weeks with the return of Raheem Mostert. This backfield will only get further compounded with the return of Tevin Coleman, who may be back as soon as this week for MNF. Given the messy nature of this position group, I would stay away from them this week. The only options I would consider playing are Mostert and McKinnon as they both seem like the top two backs in the group but with the variability of this backfield in 2020, it is incredibly risky. Consider Mostert and McKinnon for Flex options, but keep the rest of these running backs on your bench/waiver wire for Monday night.
Following his departure from Minnesota, many wondered how Stefon Diggs would be able to produce once he was on his own in Buffalo as Allen’s primary target. The two have found a spectacular connection as Diggs is among the league leaders in terms of targets, receptions, and receiving yards. Despite his lack of touchdowns (only four through Week 12), Diggs has been one of the most steady starts in fantasy football this year. He has posted at least ten points (in PPR scoring formats) every week this season while exceeding 20 points four times. He has been a must-start player through Week 12 and that will continue on Monday night. Feel confident in Diggs this week.
When looking at the other Bills’ wide receivers, Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis, their fantasy status is much less clear. Both players have had some great individual performances, like Beasley in Week 10 (11 receptions for 109 yards and one touchdown) and Davis’s game in Week 9 (four receptions for 70 yards and one touchdown) but have not been able to string them together consistently, making them incredibly frustrating players to start each week. Beasley and Davis will look to make an impact on Monday night but will have a tough matchup against the 49ers. San Francisco is the 11th best defense against fantasy wide receivers so far this season (depending on scoring format) and has not allowed more than one opposing wide receiver to gain more than 50 yards in their last two games. Beasley is the better option to play among the two, but he is still a high-risk Flex play for Monday night. Beasley’s best games this season have come when he gets 6 or more targets, so he will need to get open early and often to make a positive fantasy impact this week.
Much like their backfield, the 49ers have used multiple different players, some well known and others not as much, to fill in for recurring injuries throughout the season. Kendrick Bourne and Brandon Aiyuk started the season getting a majority of the snaps at wide receiver for Weeks 1-8. During that timeframe, Auyik was the more valuable fantasy asset, ranking as the WR28 in PPR scoring formats including two outstanding games in Weeks 7 and 8. He likely would have continued this production in recent weeks but he was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list before Week 9. Aiyuk has recently been activated from the list so he will be eligible for Monday night. He will join Bourne; Richie James Jr., who has fizzled out in recent weeks after being the WR1 in Week 9; and Deebo Samuel, who had a great game in his own right in Week 12. This group will take on a Buffalo secondary who is ranked tenth against fantasy wide receivers through Week 12 but have recently allowed at least one wide receiver to have at least 40 yards and one touchdown in their last three games. Samuel and Aiyuk are going to be the best options for Monday night. They are the most talented wide receivers on the 49ers and seem to have the best connection with Mullens at the moment.
Several prospective fantasy owners had given up hope on tight end Jordan Reed this past offseason after he was released by Washington. Reed had been unable to put together a fantasy-relevant season since 2016 and had continued to struggle with injuries in recent years. When he was signed by San Francisco in August, many thought he would move to a back-up role alongside George Kittle and serve as a solid red zone weapon in the 49ers offense. But, when Kittle suffered a foot injury in Week 8, Reed was thrust into the starting role and so far has not produced as many had hoped. Reed ranks as the TE33 for Weeks 9-12 with a majority of his production coming in Week 10 versus New Orleans. On Monday night he will get to face a Bills defense that has allowed the second-most receptions and receiving yards to the position, giving Reed a large amount of upside as a streamer this week. Reed has been second on the team in targets in each of the past two games so his chemistry in the offense and with Mullens, in particular, seem to be heading in the right direction for a solid Monday night performance. Start Reed this week.
Neither of the tight ends for Buffalo has been fantasy relevant in 2020. In fact, a Bills tight end has only posted one top ten weekly performance all season, with Tyler Kroft finishing as the TE2 for Week 3 with four receptions for 24 yards and two touchdowns. Mind you, those 18.4 fantasy points (in a PPR scoring format) make up 44% of Kroft’s total production for the entire 2020 season (12 receptions for 119 yards and three touchdowns). Dawson Knox, the other main tight end for Buffalo, has failed to catch more than three passes in any of the six games he has played this year. Both players should continue to stay on your waiver wire/bench this week, especially against a 49ers defense that is arguably the best at defending the position in the league.
After finishing in the top ten in 2019, the 49ers and Bills D/STs have struggled in 2020. There have been injuries and personnel changes to mostly answer for these declines but it is interesting to think what their upsides are going forward into the last few weeks of the season and the fantasy playoffs, starting with this upcoming Monday night matchup. When looking at both of these units, Buffalo is certainly the one with the most appeal this week. While the Bills D/ST have allowed an average of 28 points per game in their last three contests, they have also averaged four sacks and three turnovers in those same games, which can make a big difference depending on your D/ST scoring format. They will also be facing a 49ers offense that has been picked on in recent weeks. In fact, the last three D/ST units to face San Francisco (Green Bay, New Orleans, and Los Angeles) all finished among the top ten units that week with the Saints and Rams landing in the top five. Buffalo’s D/ST will be a top streaming option this week and will come up big on Monday night.
San Francisco’s D/ST has not been a constant option for many fantasy owners but they have shown a propensity to show up in certain matchups. Their best games this season have come against teams that are in the bottom half of the league in terms of points scored and turnovers (Week 3 versus New York, Week 7 versus New England, and Week 12 versus Los Angeles). Unfortunately, Buffalo does not quite fit that mold, at least from a scoring perspective (ranking ninth in the league through Week 12). They do, however, have had issues in recent games with ball retention, having five giveaways in the past two weeks; which gives the 49ers D/ST enough upside to consider streaming. But with the batch of much better options out there, I would keep the 49ers D/ST on your waiver wire/bench this week.
The 49ers have been an impressive team to follow so far this year. At certain points in the season, their injury report and IR list have been among the longest in the NFL but they have continued to find ways to win and stay alive in the NFC West. When you look at their Monday night matchup against the Bills, it will be interesting to see if San Francisco will have what it takes to beat a current playoff team, something they have struggled with so far in 2020. In fact, if you exclude the NFC East fiasco, the 49ers only win against a team currently slotted to make the postseason is the Rams, who they beat by a combined margin of eleven points. Expect this trend to continue on Monday night as Buffalos wins 21-16.
Brandon Sysak is an staff writer for Gridiron Experts. I have been covering different aspects of the NFL, fantasy football and the NFL Draft since 2017. I am originally from Midland, MI but now reside in the Cincinnati, OH area. I began my career with Gridiron Experts covering the 2017 College Football National Championship.