The San Francisco 49ers (5-6) sprinted back into the playoff picture with a last-second 23-20 win over the division rival Rams.
The 49ers continue their push on Monday, hosting the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills (8-3) at 5:15 p.m. in Arizona.
A victory for San Francisco would put all the pressure on the loser of this week’s Cardinals (6-5) vs Rams (7-4) game.
A loss would not bury the 49ers, but it would eliminate any wiggle room.
Here are five players to watch on Monday night:
Raheem Mostert, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers
The Bills rush defense is tied for first in first downs allowed (98), tied for second in touchdowns allowed (14) and top-10 worst in yards per carry (4.7) and total yards (1,426).
Buffalo has surrendered 100-plus rushing yards six times this season.
The way the Bills stop teams from running on them is using their high-powered offense to force opponents to keep up.
Nick Mullens absolutely cannot keep up with Josh Allen. That’s no dig at him. Jimmy Garoppolo couldn’t either.
The 49ers don’t have the firepower to play Buffalo’s game, but they have a chance if they stay in their element and run the ball.
Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. didn’t have the best returns from injury against the Rams. They both fumbled and combined for 2.96 yards per rush on 28 attempts.
But with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk back in the fold, it won’t be easy for defenses to sell out and stop the run. There are now two capable outside receivers.
That should open up the run game just enough for Mostert to take over.
Tarvarius Moore, Safety, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco fans might remember Stefon Diggs streaking down the sideline in the NFC Divisional game to end Ahkello Witherspoon’s starting tenure.
Although Witherspoon is unlikely to get a chance at revenge, Diggs will get plenty of opportunities to burn more 49er defensive backs.
Allen, Diggs and Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll bring out the best in each other. Add in the career years for both Diggs and longtime Cowboy Cole Beasley, and you have an elite offense.
Diggs and Beasley are both on pace to top their career highs in receptions, receiving yards and first downs.
Their simultaneous success has put a lot of pressure on free safeties that must stop the deep ball, and the crossing over route.
The 49ers love to drop Jimmie Ward into the box and leave Tarvarius Moore up top.
That will be a tough task for Moore. He’d have to protect the Diggs go-route and the Beasley deep-over, while Ward, Emmanuel Moseley or Fred Warner man-up Beasley.
If Moore succeeds, the 49ers would for sure have their free safety of the future.
Arik Armstead, Defensive Line, San Francisco 49ers
See separate article on Armstead and the 49ers defending Allen’s rushing ability.
Gabriel Davis, Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills
Richard Sherman had a superb return from injury last week against the Rams. Yet, that matchup played to his strengths.
He’s easily among the best game-planning and tackling cornerbacks of all time. That matches well with the short-passing Rams.
Allen on the other hand, loves to throw deep, and has plenty of weapons to accomplish that.
In addition to Beasley and Diggs, the Bills love to involve their third receiver mostly as a deep threat.
Veteran speedster John Brown owns that role when healthy, but he was just placed on injured reserve.
Fortunately for the Bills, they planned for such events by grabbing UCF’s Gabriel Davis in the fourth round of this year’s deep wide receiver draft.
In 11 games (six starts), Davis has caught 22 of 35 targets for 354 yards and four touchdowns.
Although he averages just two catches a game, 16 of his 22 have gone for first downs.
Diggs and Beasley are Allen’s first two options, but Davis’ big-play potential (10.1 yards per target) should not be ignored.
Expect Robert Saleh to use Sherman like he did last week with different looks to try and confuse Allen, while simultaneously putting Sherman in favorable situations.
Jerry Hughes, Defensive End, Buffalo Bills
Due to the poor offensive line play, especially on the right side, opposing defensive linemen are always in for a stat boost when facing the 49ers.
This week’s lucky winner is defensive end Jerry Hughes, who gets to add to his highlight tape against right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
McGlinchey’s third NFL season has definitely been a step (or few) backward.
The ninth pick in 2018 has seen his 2020 lowlights flood Twitter, the latest coming on numerous Aaron Donald rushes.
Hughes is no Donald (no one is), but he is an extremely underrated, reliable edge-rusher. He hasn’t missed a game since 2011 and has 51 sacks since joining Buffalo in 2013.
The 11-year pro got off to a slow start in 2020 with zero sacks and one tackle for loss through the first six games, but has really turned it up since.
In his last five games, Hughes has 14 tackles, 4.5 sacks, three TFLs, eight QB hits, two forced fumbles and an interception.
The 49ers need McGlinchey, and possibly tight end Ross Dwelley, to keep Hughes away from Mullens if they want to win this game.
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