NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Loser Might Win
by Dennis Ranahan

The San Francisco 49ers host the Oakland Raiders tonight in a matchup a blind squirrel in the snow picking team names out of the dark could have topped.

Now, you can’t really blame the National Football League for thinking a Thursday night primetime telecast between two natural Bay Area rivals would be an attractive contest when the schedule was released last spring. This could have been anticipated to be a solid battle between the Jimmy Garoppolo led 49ers against an improved Raiders squad under the direction of head coach Jon Gruden.

Not what we get tonight.

Here is your first quiz question of the week. Who is starting at quarterback tonight for the 49ers? A) C.J. Beathard; B) Joe Montana; C) Tom Savage; D) Nick Mullens

Here is a clue, he went to Southern Mississippi.

That doesn’t help? I’m not surprised. The answer is D, Nick Mullens. The last time Mullens made news for the 49ers was in September when he was cut in the week leading up to the opening of the regular season. He was then signed to the practice squad and activated after starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season ending injury.

He gets the start tonight in relief of C.J. Beathard, who didn’t get a straight-up victory for San Francisco in his five starts but did pick up a couple point spread wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Green Bay Packers.

Point spread wins over the Chargers and Packers on the road? Yep. Well then the 49ers really can’t be that bad.

Think again.

San Francisco was able to point to losses against the Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals and Packers as ones they could have won had they just not suffered key turnovers. Then, last week, as a road favorite in Arizona, the 49ers didn’t turn the ball over, but found another way to lose … surrendering a double-digit fourth quarter lead to a Cardinals team that has more trouble scoring than an acne suffering seventh grader at a school dance.

Now the 49ers turn to Mullens after giving up on veteran backup Tom Savage, who was let go earlier today. Bethard, still nursing a sprained wrist, will serve as Mullens backup tonight.

So, with this information on the problems the 49ers are facing, is this an easy play on the Raiders getting two points on the spread?

Sure, if you want a 1-6 team on the road as a favorite with a short work week. Now, unlike teams that have to travel with the use of an airplane, this short week doesn’t really affect the visitors tonight any more than the home team. Driving distance between San Francisco or Oakland to Santa Clara, site of Levi’s Stadium, is nearly the same.

So, what advantages do the Raiders have tonight?

Any I can think of are quickly erased by their current situation.

Consider this, both the Raiders and 49ers might do better to lose this game tonight than win it for the teams longterm fortunes. Neither are playoff calibre squads this year, but they are in the hunt for the first pick in next April’s NFL Draft. Both come into action tonight with a single win, and the losing team in this one gets a huge edge toward “earning” the top draft pick.

Since before the season began, with the trading of Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears for a first round draft choice and other considerations, Oakland has seemed more bent on preparing for the future team Gruden wants to coach than his current roster of players. The trading of another Raiders first round pick last week, wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys, continues to stockpile Oakland with high draft choices. They now have three number ones in the 2019 allocation of college talent.

What I am concerned about tonight is that a wager on either team may result in you caring more about tonight’s final score than the participants.

Too bad the World Series wasn’t playing their seventh game tonight, it could have provided some sports entertainment while the NFL limps these two patsies into primetime.