The AWS Biggest Mover of the week has almost always (and understandably) been followed by regression, and the Cleveland Browns were no exception, losing big in Santa Clara on Monday to the upstart San Francisco 49ers, who are the AWS Biggest Movers after five weeks thanks to an undefeated record and impressive play on both sides of the ball.
The Niners are leaning on terrific playcalling (both offensively and defensively), lethal pass rush and run games, and just enough from starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. While it’s been fairly clear that they are a team to be reckoned with since the season started, some dominoes (namely the two-time defending NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams) needed to fall before they earned this distinction.
San Francisco has added more than two wins to their preseason expectations and more than doubled their odds to win the NFC West and the Super Bowl for the first time since 2011 and 1994, respectively. They’ve moved up to sixth in our PFFELO power rankings, even without Garoppolo really hitting his stride. It helps that the third-year 49er has George Kittle to throw to, as he is following up his 0.76-WAR season with a 2.58 yards per route run number that is second among tight ends.
It would be wise for the Bay Area faithful to hold off on booking their tickets to Miami this upcoming February for now (though one of the authors of this article already has). For one, the Monday night demolition came in a great spot where the visiting Browns were coming off a Kitchen-sink game against a division rival while the Niners had 15 days of rest. Second, the defense has been simply otherworldly, ranking behind only the Patriots in expected points per play allowed, which measures how much each play improves the offense’s chances of scoring.
Defense is much more inconsistent from season to season and week to week compared to the offensive side of the ball, as our friend Josh Hermsmeyer recently discussed from his soapbox in the land of hatred and despair. Speaking of the offense, we know that quarterback play and passing offense are the best predictors of future success, and Jimmy G ranks just 20th in PFF grade from a clean pocket while the passing offense has the 10th highest expected points added per early-down play. Improved play from Jimmy Jesus is likely the key to a deep playoff run for the 49ers.
Things don’t get particularly easy for the 49ers, though, as they have to face the reigning division champion Rams and 4-1 Seahawks twice before season’s end. They also have the 13th-toughest schedule overall. Additionally, three of their wins are against AFC foes (two of them very down in the Bengals and the Steelers in Mason Rudolph’s first start). None of their wins are within their division. Thus, while they are currently sitting well, a few poorly-placed losses can put them behind the eight-ball in their division and make the NFC West crown elusive. Buckle up (for Miami??)!
Wins: 8.57 -> 10.88
Playoffs: 46.4% -> 77.7%
Division: 21.8% -> 48.7%
Super Bowl: 2.4% -> 7.8%