When starting running back Raheem Mostert suffered a season-ending knee injury after just two carries in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, it felt like a lot of the wind got taken out of the San Francisco 49ers’ sails.
Even without Mostert — and a bunch of other key players who went down with year-long injuries during the 2021-22 season — the 49ers kept hanging around and winning games, finally sneaking into the playoffs with a Week 18 win.
Kyle Shanahan’s team kept finding a way despite what the NFL predictions said after some early-season issues and now San Francisco is playing the Los Angeles Rams with a chance to make the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons.
With all the success Shanahan has had against Rams coach Sean McVay, a longtime friend and former co-worker, he and the 49ers have to think they’re in a pretty good spot. But, of course, anything can happen in the playoffs and Los Angeles has home-field advantage and is the slight favorite.
Let’s look at how the 49ers got to this point with an eye to the NFL betting lines:
Dealing With Adversity
No playoff team was as ravaged by injuries all season like the 49ers. Whether it was Mostert, defensive linemen Javon Kinlaw and Dee Ford, offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey, cornerback Jason Verrett or others, San Francisco had to constantly shuffle new guys into the lineup and hope that they could get the job done.
For the most part, whoever the 49ers turned to seemed to get the job done. Elijah Mitchell, a rookie drafted in the sixth round, was one of the best running backs in the NFL and was a big reason San Francisco had a top-five ground game. He also played a huge role in the 49ers being able to withstand quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s ups and downs.
San Francisco was expected to be decent — the 49ers’ +550 odds to win the NFC on the BetUS sportsbook were better than those of the Rams and Green Bay Packers (+650) — but injuries and a slow 2-4 start meant that Las Vegas and the general public quickly lost faith in the team from a betting perspective. So, the 49ers going 11-8 against-the spread in the regular season and playoffs has mostly proven those doubters wrong.
Living and Dying with D
Even though Shanahan is an offense-first coach, his team’s clear strength is on the defensive side of the ball. The 49ers had the ninth-best scoring defense in football and allowed the third-fewest yards, all despite missing key contributors for much of the season. Star linebacker Dre Greenlaw, for example, has played in just five games. It’s remarkable how good San Francisco managed to be with Garoppolo running the offense. Just look at how they were able to beat the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round with only 212 yards of total offense.
So, it’s not much of a surprise then that the over is 8-11 in San Francisco’s games and the point total has gone under in both of the 49ers’ playoff games. The 49ers play a possession-focused game and get after the opposing quarterback a ton, so it’s hard for their opponents to really get going on the offensive end. If you’re betting online, you usually can’t go wrong by siding with the under in a San Francisco game.
On a Roll Of Covering (and Going Under)
The other thing to take note of regarding the 49ers is how good they have been straight-up and against the spread since their bad start. In their last 13 games — regular season and postseason — the 49ers are 10-3 overall and 10-3 against the spread. They covered in each of their last four games, the most-recent three games as underdogs.
They’re also 6-0 in their last six games against the Rams and covered the spread — as identical 3½-point underdogs against Los Angeles — in both of their meetings this season.
Also, six of the 49ers’ last seven games went under. The first Rams game went over and the second went under, so there’s no direct trend there, but it’s clear that as the season has gone on, the 49ers’ defense has gotten even better. There’s no reason to think that’ll change in this weekend’s NFC Championship Game.