Game Preview: 5 Things to Watch when the 49ers Host the Bengals

Week 15 features another game in the NFL's series of Super Bowl rematches in honor of Super Bowl 50.

The San Francisco 49ers will host the Cincinnati Bengals at Levi's® Stadium on Sunday in a meeting of combatants from Super Bowls XVI and XXIII. San Francisco won both of those matchups and owns an 11-3 advantage in the all-time series, including the last two.

The most recent meeting between the 49ers and Bengals came in Cincinnati in 2011, with San Francisco winning a defensive struggle, 13-8.

While San Francisco (4-9) is out of the playoff picture, the team has the opportunity to spoil Cincinnati's (10-3) hopes for a first-round bye. The Bengals are currently the leaders of the AFC North, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are just two games behind and Cincinnati is without Andy Dalton for the foreseeable future.

Cincinnati's starting quarterback broke his thumb on his throwing hand, which means backup AJ McCarron will make his first career start on Sunday against San Francisco. The 2014 fifth-round pick threw for 280 yards, two scores and two picks last week after Dalton left the game in the first quarter. 

Aside from the Bengals swap under center, here are five things to watch on Sunday.

1. The status of Smith, Lynch

Tomsula said on Friday that Aaron Lynch has yet to clear the league's concussion protocol. The coach did say he's optimistic about Lynch's chances to play against the Bengals as the pass-rusher has practiced all week in a non-contact jersey.

As for Smith, the receiver was held out of practice all week until Friday, when he participated on a limited basis.

Lynch and Smith are listed as questionable for the game. Having both active will be vital for the 49ers hopes to get their fifth win of the season.

2. Improving along the o-line

San Francisco has allowed 45 sacks this season, more than any other NFL team. That number was boosted by the nine sacks allowed in Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns.

Things won't get any easier for the 49ers against the Bengals, who feature a potent pass-rushing duo of Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. Those two have combined for 18.5 sacks. What's more, the 49ers will be playing without starting left guard Alex Boone, who will miss the game due to a knee injury.

That means that center Marcus Martin will likely slide over to left guard while Daniel Kilgore gets his first start of the season at center.

3. Containing A.J. Green Cincinnati's star receiver has 1,169 receiving yards and eight touchdowns this season. This marks Green's fifth-consecutive season reaching 1,000 yards since the Georgia product was drafted fourth overall in 2011.

Green has more than 100 receiving yards in his last two games and has scored four touchdowns in his last three. The receiver excels in everything from intermediate routes to taking the top off of defenses by stretching the field. He'll keep Kenneth Acker and Tramaine Brock busy on the outside.

The absence of star tight end Tyler Eifert (concussion) only increases Green's role in the offense.

4. Start fast

Not a ton to add here. San Francisco is still looking for its first, first quarter touchdown this season. A hot start and making McCarron play from behind will be key.

5. Continued development for Armstead, Tartt and other young players

With the playoffs out of reach, the focus increases on the youth of the 49ers roster.

Arik Armstead got his second sack last week against the Browns and is continuing to flash more often as a pass-rusher. Tartt will be making his seventh start on Sunday and notched his first career interception in Cleveland against Johnny Manziel.

Jimmie Ward, Acker, Blake Bell and Eli Harold are among the other young players who will play a big role against Cincinnati.

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