Week 13's "home" game for the San Francisco 49ers will look drastically different given the team's new (temporary) setting. The 49ers are set to host their first home game at State Farm Stadium as they host the 8-3 Buffalo Bills on "Monday Night Football." There's plenty at stake for both clubs as the Bills sit among a crowded AFC playoff picture and the 49ers looking to keep their hopes alive down the final stretch of the season. With that, here are five things to watch for in the primetime matchup on Monday.
1. Home Away from Home
As if the year 2020 couldn't get any odder, the 49ers were forced to pick up and relocate with just days' notice to their new temporary home. Given the COVID-19 restrictions placed by Santa Clara County that prohibit all contact sports, as well as a 14-day quarantine for anyone traveling into the area from 150 miles away, the 49ers are set to host their next two upcoming home games in Arizona.
Despite the sudden uproot, the 49ers will continue a normal practice schedule in preparation for the Bills. The 49ers are following the blueprint of the Arizona Cardinals training camp, utilizing the fields outside of State Farm Stadium, the team's meeting rooms, dining areas and accommodations while they tackle the unexpected displacement.
How will the 49ers, who have been thrown a number of hurdles over the course of the season, adjust to the abrupt changes heading into Monday night? Excluding a Week 8, 2010 home game at Wembley Stadium, this will be the first home game for the 49ers not in their home stadium since 1989, according to NFL Media Research (San Francisco hosted the New England Patriots at Stanford Stadium after the city experienced a 6.9 magnitude earthquake).
Since 1970, there have been five games played by teams at an opposing team's home stadium. Those teams are 1-4 in such games.
"It's honestly just the exact same as we were in Santa Clara," linebacker Fred Warner said. "I think our logistics guys did an outstanding job making sure we have everything that we need out here. They made it as seamless as possible. I know we are in a new location and we do have the COVID protocols to abide by, which is just what we've been doing all along. So, it's not much of a change there. It's just a matter of staying locked in and making sure we're full steam ahead going into the this week against the Bills."
Added Nick Mullens: "We have everything we need to be successful here and it's time to make this place home."
2. Return to the Scene of the "Hail Murray" Crime
The Bills return to the scene of the crime following their crushing last-second loss to the Cardinals in Week 10. With under :40 seconds left in the contest, Bills quarterback Josh Allen connected with Stefon Diggs on a 21-yard pass in the end zone for what appeared to be the game-sealing touchdown.
Down by four points with :11 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray responded with a miraculous 43-yard bomb to DeAndre Hopkins for the score and the victory, which gave Buffalo its third loss of the season.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott was asked about returning to the site of the heartbreaking loss where he said one game does not affect another game. The team bounced back in Week 12 with a 27-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. The Bills are likely still harboring the painful loss and are eager to wash away the negative feelings that linger at State Farm Stadium in Week 13.
3. Bills High-Powered Offense vs. 49ers Top 10 Defense
Despite the multitude of lineup changes the 49ers have encountered due to the rash of injuries to several key players this season, San Francisco's defense continues to be the centerpiece of the team. Through 12 weeks, the 49ers rank sixth in total defense and own the fourth-best passing defense in the league, allowing opposing quarterbacks just over 200 yards per game.
Week 13 brings a big challenge for San Francisco as they host a Bills team that ranks 10th in scoring (27.2 points per game) and 11th in total offense (372.5) headlined by Diggs. The veteran wideout is averaging 7.3 receptions per game this season, ranked third in the NFL. Only Green Bay Packers Davante Adams (8.2) and Los Angeles Chargers Keenan Allen (7.7) have averaged more. The Bills are 1-of-5 teams to have two receivers averaging five-plus receptions per game in Diggs (7.3) and fellow wideout Cole Beasley (5.2).
However, the Bills will be without veteran wideout John Brown, who was placed on Injured Reserve last week with multiple leg injuries. Allen was averaging 8.8 air yards per attempt with Brown on the field this season. With the receiver sidelined, that number drops to 7.4, according to NFL Media Research.
4. Return of (More) Reinforcements
Heading into the team's Week 11 Bye, the 49ers had nine players land on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. The Reserve/COVID-19 List was created for a player who either tests positive for COVID-19 or has been quarantined after having been in close contact with an infected person or persons.
On Wednesday, the 49ers activated Brandon Aiyuk, D.J. Jones and Jordan Willis from the designation, making them all available for Monday's contest. With Aiyuk returning, it marks the first time the 49ers will have both he and Deebo Samuel together in the lineup since the Week 7 victory over the New England Patriots.
"The more these guys can play together, the more they can get out there," Kyle Shanahan said on Tuesday. "They're made of the right stuff. They're built the right way. And they'll only get better.
"I just want to get them going."
The team also opened the practice window for linebacker Mark Nzeocha, who was placed on Injured Reserve with a quadricep injury following the 49ers Week 3 win over the New York Giants.
5. Playoff Implications
Following the 49ers three-game losing streak heading into the Bye, many were ready to write off any chance for San Francisco's postseason hopes. Following their Week 12 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the narrative has changed as the 49ers took a significant stride forward in their playoff chances. The team's odds jumped from 11 percent to 27 following Sunday's win. The 49ers are in control of their own destiny heading into the final five weeks of the season – which begins on Monday against Buffalo in the race for the NFC's No. 7 seed.