Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers
Line: San Francisco -1.5
Where: Empower Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado
When: Sunday, 9/25 at 8:20 p.m. ET
San Francisco has grown accustomed to facing quarterback Russell Wilson twice a year, but he will be in a different uniform on Sunday night.
Wilson and his new squad in Denver will play host to San Francisco in primetime in a matchup of 1-1 teams. The Broncos came up short at Seattle when Wilson faced his former team in Week 1, but they bounced back with a 16-9 win over Houston last week. San Francisco opened its 2022 campaign with a 19-10 loss in Chicago before blowing out Seattle in a 27-7 final in Week 2.
Oddsmakers opened Denver as a 3-point home favorite, but the early betting action has been all over San Francisco, making the 49ers 1.5-point favorites as of Friday afternoon. The total has drifted down from its opening number of 46 to its current price of 44 or 44.5, depending on the sportsbook.
Wilson struggled for most of his home opener against the Texans, completing just 6 of 20 passes to start the game. He led a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives, though, helping his team rally from a 9-6 deficit heading into the final quarter.
“No matter how long you hold Russell and contain him, he always finds a way to make some players,” San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I can’t tell you how many times you go against him and nothing’s happening and then all of a sudden they score 21 points just like that.”
Wilson has just two touchdown passes in his first two games with Denver, as the combination of dropped passes, penalties and questionable play calling from first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett have all played a role.
The Broncos have committed 25 penalties in their first two games, which are the most infractions in consecutive games in franchise history. They have also gone 0-for-5 in the red zone this season. Wilson is 16-4 in his career against San Francisco, though.
“Can’t escape,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said when asked about facing Wilson again after he was traded. “Just playing against him all these years, his escapability and just the savvy and big-play ability—you’ve got to make sure you keep him in front and you contain him. If you give him a sliver of space, he’ll take it.”
San Francisco’s defense has looked strong again this year, holding Chicago and Seattle to fewer than 200 yards each, which no team had done to open a season since Carolina in 2017. The offense has been more of a roller coaster after quarterback Trey Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
Fortunately for the 49ers, they did not find any suitors for Jimmy Garoppolo on the trade market, so he is stepping back in as the starter. San Francisco has gone 31-14 in games that Garoppolo has started during his career, making it to the Super Bowl and the NFC Championship in his two healthy seasons as the starter.
He completed 13 of 21 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown against Seattle last week, while running back Jeff Wilson had 18 carries for 84 yards. The offense should get a boost on Sunday night, as tight end George Kittle is set to make his season debut after missing the first two games with a groin injury.
Kittle had seven receptions for 210 yards in the first half when he faced Denver in 2018. The Broncos finished eighth in the NFL in total defense last year, allowing 326.1 yards per game—San Francisco ranked third.
Denver has gone 1-9 in its last 10 primetime games and is winless in its last seven Sunday Night Football games. The 49ers have gone 6-1 against the spread in their last seven games, while Denver is 1-5 ATS in its last six games.
These defensive-minded teams have been playing low-scoring games since last season, with the Broncos going ‘under’ in 10 of their last 13 games and San Francisco going ‘under’ in nine of its last 10 contests.
The pick: Denver +1.5
This is a buy-low spot on a Denver team that has looked bad through the first two weeks of the season primarily due to correctable, self-inflicted mistakes. The Broncos have committed 25 penalties in their first two games under a new quarterback and new head coach. They should improve rapidly as the season goes along, and they bring some momentum into this contest after escaping with a win last week. Wilson has dominated San Francisco during his career and the 49ers are having to play in the altitude with Garoppolo back under center. I am not surprised that the early betting action has been on San Francisco, but I also cannot back the 49ers as road favorites against Wilson.