Minnesota enters this game at 2-4 after defeating the division rival Chicago Bears last week, while the Niners are 5-1 and fresh off having been defeated for the first time this year. Both teams are dealing with injury issues, as the Vikings will be without Justin Jefferson and the Niners won't have Deebo Samuel, possibly in addition to several other players. Still, with the way this week -- and season -- has gone so far, it sure seems like anything can happen.
So, will the Niners bounce back from their first loss of the season, or will the Vikings pull off the upset? We'll find out soon enough. In the meantime, keep it locked to our live blog as we update you with stats, scores, and highlights.
How to watch
When the 49ers have the ball
San Francisco is pretty banged up on offense. Star left tackle Trent Williams will likely miss this game, having been listed by the team as doubtful due to an ankle injury. We know for sure that Deebo Samuel is out with a hairline fracture in his shoulder. And Christian McCaffrey, who is listed as questionable, got in just one limited practice last week as he dealt with an oblique injury (though he's reportedly expected to play).
The Williams injury could present some issues -- especially if the Vikings flip Danielle Hunter over to the opposite side of the line from where he usually rushes so that he can go up against backup Jaylon Moore. Minnesota's defense this season has likely outperformed its talent level in ranking 15th in yards per game, 21st in points per game, 15th FTN's DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), and 19th in TruMedia's version of EPA/play, but the Vikings have proven highly vulnerable to specific elite attacks. The Eagles ran for 259 yards on them, for example, while the Chargers threw for 445 yards.
San Francisco has been an elite rushing team and an elite passing team this year, as one of just two teams (along with the Dolphins) that rank inside the top five in DVOA in both facets. McCaffrey has obviously been the most significant contributor in the rushing department, and he leads the league in rushing yards to date. But the Niners have proven in the past that they are quite capable of moving the ball with Elijah Mitchell and/or Jordan Mason types. If they have to spell him more often than usual, it shouldn't be a significant problem.
The removal of Samuel from the passing attack could present some problems, especially because the Vikings have played a heavy dose of zone this year under Brian Flores and Samuel tends to be the preferred perimeter weapon against zone-heavy teams. (He's been targeted on 24.7% of his routes against zone and just 19.1% against man, per TruMedia.) But this is still a team that has Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle, and Kyle Shanahan scheming them opportunities.
Something to watch for is how often the Vikings decide to blitz Brock Purdy. Flores loves sending extra rushers, and it's important with this team in particular because the defensive backfield is a relative weakness. Heating up the opposing quarterback doesn't give the receivers as much time to get open before the QB has to throw. Minnesota has blitzed at the highest rate in the NFL this season, sending at least give men after the quarterback on an unfathomable 57.3% of opponent dropbacks.
But Purdy has also seen blitzes at a higher rate than any quarterback in the league, with opponents sending pressure on 40% of his dropbacks. He's largely diced them up, completing 40 of 66 passes for 486 yards, five touchdowns, and zero interceptions while checking in sixth in the NFL in EPA/play. Having CMC and Deebo in the lineup has been a crucial component of that performance, but Aiyuk and Kittle are capable of picking up the slack, and Shanahan is more than capable of figuring out how to get them into open space.
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When the Vikings have the ball
Working without Jefferson against one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Vikings seem highly unlikely to find much in the way of offensive success.
Minnesota has piled up a decent amount of yards this season, but that has mostly come by virtue of throwing the ball at one of the highest rates in the league, both overall and relative to expected pass rate. They have been trailing and in comeback mode in the majority of their games, and it has allowed Kirk Cousins to simply let it rip.
And they've been right to do that. Other than in the two games against the Chargers (130 rushing yards) and Panthers (135), they have found almost nothing on the ground. In their other four contests, the Vikes have averaged just 46.3 rushing yards per game, with Alexander Mattison mostly stuck running in mud. Mattison himself has done a poor job of breaking tackles, but he's also averaged just 1.39 yards before contact per carry.
He's not likely to find much more running room against San Francisco. Although the Niners rank just 22nd in rushing defense DVOA, they have given up one of the lowest rates of explosive runs in the league (5.8% of opponent carries, per TruMedia), and opponents have checked in below average in yards both before and after contact on a per-carry basis.
Minnesota wants to throw the ball anyway, but with Jefferson out, Cousins is left with a depleted pass-catching corps. He still has a couple of high-level options in tight end T.J. Hockenson and rookie wideout Jordan Addison, but K.J. Osborn has been one of the most inefficient receivers in football, checking in 74th in yards per route run among the 92nd wideouts who have run 100 routes or more so far this season. Hockenson also has the misfortune of having to deal with linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, who have absolutely erased the middle of the field this season, just as they have over the past few years. (The Niners rank first in DVOA on throws over the middle, per FTN.)
And all of that is secondary to the issues the San Francisco defensive front can present against Minnesota's offensive line, which will be without left guard Ezra Cleveland. The Niners come in waves with Nick Bosa and Drake Jackson on the edge, Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead up the middle, and supporting players like Randy Gregory (one sack, three hits, and two tackles for loss in his San Francisco debut last week), Clelin Ferrell, Kevin Givens and Javon Kinlaw. Cousins tends to get rid of the ball quickly to neutralize pressure, but without Jefferson, his pass-catchers are less likely to be open quickly -- especially against the Niners secondary.
Prediction: 49ers 26, Vikings 13
I like my pick for this game, but you might like Larry Hartstein's better. He's our gambling guru over at SportsLine.com and he's been on roll with his Vikings predictions, going 40-16-2 on his last 58 picks. Anyone who has followed him is WAY UP! If you want to check out Hartstein's pick, you can do that right here.