The San Francisco 49ers couldn’t be facing a tougher opponent this week than the Washington Redskins at FedExField.
What? You might say. Aren’t the Redskins one of the worst teams in football and only beat the more bad Miami Dolphins by one point last week? Aren’t the 49ers one of only two teams in the National Football League without a loss this year, joining the highly respected New England Patriots for that distinction? Isn’t this matchup simply a bad team versus a good team?
Yes, yes and from a motivational perspective, the last thing the Niners need to be facing this week is a bad team. The 5-0 49ers are off to their best start since 1990, a year in which Jerry Rice was still catching passes from Joe Montana and San Francisco had been the class of the league for a decade. Excitement in San Francisco has reached a fever pitch and fans are now, after their win last Sunday over the defending NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams, convinced that they are rooting for one of the best teams in the league.
The problem in Washington for San Francisco this week has nothing to do with talent, and everything to do with motivation.
Take a look at how the 49ers got to five wins without a loss this season. They opened the season on the road as an underdog in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have won only two of six games this season, but were favored over the 49ers on opening day. San Francisco took that game on as a major challenge after winning only four games last season. They were also inspired in second week action, when few could really picture the team opening their 2019 campaign with back-to-back road wins. Again the 49ers were underdogs, this time to a Cincinnati Bengals squad still looking for their first win of the year.
When the 49ers opened their home schedule in third week action, they were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers the week after the visitors had lost starting quarterback Ben Roethlisbeger to a season ending injury. The 49ers were finally favored on the point spread in the same week they encountered their first motivational challenge. In a tough spot motivationally, the home team turned the ball over five times but somehow eked out a win over the Steelers while failing to cover the point spread.
They followed that victory, after their bye week, with a one-sided home Monday Night Football drubbing of the Cleveland Browns, 31-3. Still, despite that win, the 49ers were underdogs and highly challenged last week when they met the Rams in Los Angeles. It was a near perfect game for the 49ers defense, who gave up an opening game series touchdown to the Rams and then shut them down the rest of the day while earning a division win that enhanced their first place standing in the NFC West while dropping the Rams 2½ games back.
In other words, the 49ers have been challenged in a way that has enhanced their chances in four of their five wins this season, and overcame the Steelers in a gutty third week performance. Now, the motivation jumps sides, and the Redskins are the team sitting pretty even though they don’t know it.
Washington is a bad football team, have already fired the head coach they opened the season with this year, and are bracing for a 49ers onslaught.
Meanwhile, the 49ers are riding high, the only NFC team without a loss, and confident that their next real challenge is when they host the Carolina Panthers in eighth week action.
For sure, the 49ers versus the Redskins is a mismatch, a team that has won five games without a loss against a squad that has lost five games with only a single point win over a Dolphins team that may prove to be the worst team in NFL history. But that is not the mismatch we see, or the one that is going to determine this result.
The motivational mismatch is a wider gap than the talent imbalance, and it comes with double-digits on the point spread.
Qoxhi Picks: Washington Redskins (+10) over San Francisco 49ers