Both teams are coming into this game a little banged up, but the Giants are going to be far more shorthanded than are the Niners. New York will be down three offensive starters in Saquon Barkley, Andrew Thomas, and Ben Bredeson, which could prove extremely challenging against San Francisco's defense. 49ers wideout Brandon Aiyuk sustained a shoulder injury last Sunday and figures to be operating at less than 100% health if he makes it onto the field.
Still, this should be a fun matchup between two teams that each made the playoffs last season, one of which is off to a 2-0 start and the other of which is coming off a rollicking, come-from-behind victory. So, will the Niners continue their hot start, or will the Giants pull off an upset on the road? We'll find out soon enough. But before we break down the matchup, here's a look at how you can watch the game.
How to watch 49ers-Giants
- Date: Thursday, Sept. 21 | Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
- Location: Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara, CA)
- Stream: Amazon Prime Video
- Follow: CBS Sports App
- Odds: 49ers -10; O/U 44.5 (via SportsLine consensus odds)
When the Giants have the ball
For six quarters, the Giants looked like the worst offense in the NFL. They were embarrassed by the division rival Cowboys on Sunday Night Football in their season opener, then somehow completely shut out by the obviously-tanking Arizona Cardinals in the first half of their Week 2 matchup. Thankfully for New York, Daniel Jones turned it on in the second half of that game, going on an absolute tear in which he completed 17 of 21 passes (81%) for 259 yards (12.3 per attempt) and two touchdowns, and also ran the ball eight times for 58 yards and an additional score.
Unluckily for the Giants, they are in about as bad a position as possible to continue the offensive success they just found, in this week's matchup against the Niners. Saquon Barkley was injured on the second-to-last play of the Giants' comeback win over Arizona; and while Brian Daboll tried to keep hope alive that Barkley could play, he's already been ruled out and it seems more likely that he will miss multiple weeks. Not only that, but star left tackle Andrew Thomas is and left guard Ben Bredeson are also out, thanks to a hamstring issue and a concussion, respectively.
After Week 1's epic disaster of a performance against Dallas' defensive front, the Giants' offensive line bounced back pretty nicely last week, but it's about to face a much tougher test in the form of Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, Arik Armstead, and Drake Jackson up front. That group is much closer to the quality of the Cowboys' defensive line than it is to that of the Cardinals. (Specifically, Bosa could have a field day if the Niners line him up across from Neal.) With Thomas banged up and Bredeson almost certainly out, plus Mark Glowinski and Evan Neal struggling on the right side of the line, it's hard to see how the Giants can keep Jones as well-protected as he needs to be in order to find success through the air.
The Giants are also unfortunate in that their top passing game option, tight end Darren Waller, has to go up against the league's best linebacker duo in Fred Warner, who essentially erases the middle of the field, and Dre Greenlaw, who is no slouch himself. Waller leads the Giants with 9 receptions for 112 yards on 13 targets through the first two games, but draws a horrific matchup here. If the Niners, as expected, keep control of the middle of the field, it only puts more pressure on Jones to threaten the defense to the perimeter -- but in order to do that, he needs enough time to throw, and he needs players like Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, Parris Campbell, Jalin Hyatt, and Sterling Shepard to both win their matchups against the San Francisco defensive backfield and do so quickly enough that he isn't under hellacious pressure.
Then there's the fact that San Francisco is likely to play zone coverage on the significant majority of its defensive snaps. The Niners have been in zone on 75% of opponent passing plays so far this season, according to Tru Media. Jones was much more effective against man coverage last season than he was against zone: He ranked seventh among 33 qualified quarters in EPA per dropback when defenses played man, compared with 24th among the same group of players when they played zone. That's unsurprising because most of his damage a year ago was done with his legs, and it's much more difficult for a quarterback to find room to scramble when defenders have their eyes on him than when they have their backs turned.
And without Barkley to turn checkdowns into chunk gains, or break explosive plays on the ground, Jones is likely to find tough sledding even in the designed run game. The likes of Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, and Eric Gray are just not nearly as threatening as is Saquon, and the 49ers will defend the Giants to in ways that account for that. All in all, it's just very difficult to envision a Giants offense in the state it's in run now having much success moving the ball against what has so far unsurprisingly been one of the league's toughest units against which to move the ball.
When the 49ers have the ball
On the other side of the ball, the Giants will be without edge rusher Azeez Ojulari, which does not bode well for New York's ability to get pressure on Brock Purdy and force him into rushed or inaccurate throws. Despite blitzing at the NFL's third-highest rate (38.6%) so far this season, according to Tru Media, the Giants rank just 20th in pressure rate, generating a sack, hit, or hurry on only 31.6% of opponent dropbacks.
A heavy dose of blitzing is Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale's trademark. The Giants led the NFL with an even higher blitz rate last season. Meanwhile, Purdy was only blitzed 61 times during the 2022 regular season, but he fared pretty well in completing 38 of 59 passes (64.4%) for 390 yards (6.6 per attempt), four touchdowns, and two interceptions while ranking 13th in EPA per dropback, according to Tru Media. So far this season, he's 7 of 13 for 67 yards and a score when blitzed, though the 23.3% blitz rate he's faced is significantly below average and actually one of the 10 lowest in the NFL to date. How he and the 49ers' offensive line handle the blitz will have a significant impact on how effectively San Francisco can move the ball through the air.
Of course, San Francisco has plenty of ways to defeat blitzing opponents. The 49ers have arguably the league's premier yards-after-catch threats at running back (Christian McCaffrey), wide receiver (Deebo Samuel), and tight end (George Kittle), which makes them extremely effective in the screen game and on quick-hitting passes that allow Purdy to essentially play point guard and get the ball into his playmakers' hands before the rush has a chance to hit home. Purdy has delivered the ball, on average, 2.61 seconds after the snap so far this season, the seventh-fastest mark among 32 qualified passers. But it's not like he's just throwing it short and letting the receivers do all the work: His 8.7-yard average depth of throw is eighth-highest in the league.
In other words, the 49ers are putting him in position to get the ball out quickly, while also pushing the ball down the field. That's a dangerous combination -- especially when he's throwing to players like McCaffrey, Samuel, Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk. That the weakness of the Giants' pass defense is probably their linebackers is not ideal in a matchup against the likes of McCaffrey and Kittle, and it's probably not good that they're starting two rookies as their outside corners against Samuel and Aiyuk. Really, none of the passing-game matchups favor New York here -- with the exception of Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams working against the interior of San Francisco's offensive line. If there's any area where the Giants can tip the battle in their favor, it would be there; but then again, Kyle Shanahan is arguably the league's best play-caller, and he knows how to neutralize the interior rush.
Considering the 49ers have been able to run the ball with ease against the Steelers and Rams through the season's first two weeks (they're average a league-best 5.6 yards per carry) while the Giants have largely struggled to contain the ground game, it seems highly likely that Sam Francisco will again see success on the ground here. Running to the edges of New York's defense is easier to do than pounding it up the middle, but that's where the Niners like to attack with the run anyway. It all sets up very well for CMC and (assuming he gets more work, as Shanahan said he would) Elijah Mitchell.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Giants 13
New York's offense has only played two good quarters this season so far and will miss Barkley and Thomas against one of the league's best defenses. Jones will be under pressure all night from Nick Bosa and company and will struggle against San Francisco's zone looks.
I'm pretty confident in my pick, but the Sportsline Projection Model closely examines the totals for each game, and it's showing huge value on one side of this matchup. See which side to bet right here.