SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 7-6. The Broncos won the last meeting between the teams 42-17 in October 2014 in Denver. Sunday's meeting marks Denver's first regular-season encounter at the 49ers' stadium in Santa Clara, though the Broncos have played there in the preseason. The last 49ers win came in London, 24-16 in Week 8 of 2010. The 49ers haven't won at home against Broncos since 34-17 in Week 16 of 1997.
KEYS TO THE GAME: John Elway, the Broncos general manager, said this week he'd gladly take 53 players like Phillip Lindsay. The Broncos undrafted rookie has been a revelation at running back and another strong running performance could push the Broncos over .500 for the first time since they were 2-1 following Week 3.
He's had back-to-back 100-yard performances and enters Sunday's game 63 yards shy of 1,000 for the season. Lindsay chews up an average of 6.1 yards per carry, tops in the NFL, and if the Broncos can establish an effective run game with Lindsay taking the lead, Denver would be able to control the tempo of the game and take some of the pressure off their exceedingly young corps of receivers, especially since Emmanuel Sanders is lost for the season with a torn Achilles.
The Denver defense has struggled much of the season to get off the field on third down. It's a trend that needs to be reversed because with injuries in the secondary and linebacker corps, the margin for error is a narrow one if the Broncos are to stay on course in their late-season bid for a playoff berth. With the secondary depleted due to injuries, it will fall to the front seven to contain the 49ers attack.
In a battle of two quarterbacks who tend to be far more effective when the opponent has to focus on stopping the run, the 49ers would stand to benefit from Jeff Wilson Jr. outperforming Lindsay.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: LB Shaquil Barrett (hip), CB Tramaine Brock (ribs), CB Chris Harris Jr. (fibula)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Brandon Marshall (knee)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
--OUT: RB Matt Breida (ankle), WR Pierre Garcon (knee), S Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder)
--QUESTIONABLE: CB K'Waun Williams (knee)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Broncos LBs Von Miller and Bradley Chubb vs. 49ers Ts Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. Miller and Chubb both have double-digit sacks this season and their ability to apply pressure vigorously has helped lift the Broncos back into wild-card contention. But despite the 49ers' lackluster won-loss record, they have in Staley and McGlinchey two top-tier pass protectors and if Miller and Chubb struggle, it could be a long day for the Broncos' injury depleted secondary.
--49ers CB Richard Sherman vs. Broncos WR Courtland Sutton. Sherman is a seasoned pro and polished pass defender and he'll bring a wealth of experience to his coverage of Denver's rookie wideout, who has been thrust into the go-to role by a season-ending injury to Emmanuel Sanders and the trading away earlier this season of Demaryius Thomas.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Broncos rookie WR Courtland Sutton's ascension in the offensive scheme began slowly but has moved into overdrive this week. Sutton got on the field sparingly at the start of the season but won more time as the third receiver and began showing a knack for getting open downfield. After Demaryius Thomas was traded, Sutton broke into the starting lineup and he'll now move into a bigger role after the loss of Emmanuel Sanders to an Achilles' tendon injury.
FAST FACTS: BRONCOS QB CASE KEENUM threw TD pass & had 95.5 rating in Week 13. Has 300+ pass yards & 2+ TD passes in 2 of his past 3 starts vs. NFC. ... RB PHILLIP LINDSAY (rookie) rushed for career-high 157 yards & 2 TDs, incl. 65-yard TD, last week. Is 1 of 2 undrafted rookies (DOMINIC RHODES, 12/16/01 vs. Atl.) since 1970 with 150+ rush yards & 2 rush TDs in single game. Ties for rookie lead with 8 rush TDs & ranks 2nd with 937 rush yards. Is 1 of 4 undrafted rookies since 1970 with 1,000+ scrimmage yards (1,126) in single season. ... Rookie WR COURTLAND SUTTON had team-high 85 rec. yards & TD catch last week. Aims for his 4th in row on road with 75+ rec. yards. Leads all AFC rookies with 558 rec. yards. Leads NFL averaging 19.9 yards per catch (min. 25 catches). ... LB VON MILLER had 1.5 sacks last week. Aims for his 5th in row with sack & has 8.5 sacks in his past 7. Ranks 2nd in NFL with 12.5 sacks. ... LB TODD DAVIS had 10 tackles & career-high 3 TFL last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with 10 tackles. Is 1 of 3 in NFL with 90+ tackles (92), 5+ PD (7) & 5+ TFL (5). ... Rookie LB BRADLEY CHUBB had sack last week. Leads NFL rookies with 10 sacks. ... 49ERS QB NICK MULLENS set career-highs in completions (30) & pass yards (414) with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 95.3 rating in Week 13. Has 250+ pass yards in 3 of 4 career starts. ... Rookie RB JEFF WILSON JR. had career-high 134 scrimmage yards (73 rec., 61 rush) & 8 receptions last week. Is 1 of 3 rookie RBs (SAQUON BARKLEY & NYHEIM HINES) with 8+ receptions in single game this season. ... TE GEORGE KITTLE has 23 catches for 372 yards (93 per game) & 2 TDs in his past 4 at home. ... Rookie WR DANTE PETTIS set career-highs in receptions (5), rec. yards (129) & TDs (2) last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with 75+ rec. yards & TD. ... DL DeFOREST BUCKNER had 7 tackles & 2 sacks last week, his 4th-career multi-sack game. Aims for his 3rd in row with sack & 2+ TFL. ... Rookie LB FRED WARNER had 8 tackles in Week 13. Is 1 of 4 NFL rookies with 90+ tackles (91) in 2018.
PREDICTION: The Broncos should have enough in their run game and appear to be trending upward after a midseason slump. Denver can ill-afford a letdown and against a team with five double-digit losses, the Broncos will make enough plays to get it done.
OUR PICK: Broncos, 28-13