NFL : Saturday Football

NFL : Saturday Football

49ers-Bengals Preview
By Josh Jacobs 

We can turn back the clock as far back as 1987 (when San Fran and Cinci held some memorable contests), but what good would that do. It’s 2007 and the NFL game has changed considerably.

On Saturday at 8:15 p.m. EST, a pass first run last Cincinnati team will travel to San Francisco in the hopes of finishing off the season with a more respectable record then its 5-8 SU and ATS performance indicates.

As of Thursday most books have installed the 49ers as 8 ½-point underdogs with a total set at 43. Weather conditions are expected to be partly cloudy with a low temperature reaching 43 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Pass Game

While it may be blatant, Cincinnati heads to the West Coast with 310 total points scored versus San Francisco’s 171. That’s a huge discrepancy!

There’s no doubting the Bengals’ ability to hurl the ball thanks to QB Carson Palmer and the receiving core. Palmer is averaging 298 YPG through the air, 1.8 TDs per game with 1.3 picks per game in the last six contests on the road. Problems have arisen in his last two contests as the visiting team, where Cincinnati’s signal caller hasn’t found the end zone once.

Wide outs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh have combined to produce 2,153 receiving yards and 17 scores with their Bengals team.

The only problem with Cincinnati and their high flying offense; the crew is 1-5 SU and 2-4 ATS on the road. Maybe it’s the 348.2 YPG that the defense is giving up or it could be the 25.1 PPG allowed. Either way you cut this cake, the Bengals haven’t matched the productivity on the offensive side of the ball with the ‘D’.

When we talk about San Francisco and its passing game, we’re talking about the worst producing team in the league.

If signing the Heisman Trophy winner of 2000, QB Chris Weinke, isn’t an indication of desperation then a combined effort of 2,080 passing yards with only nine TDs and 16 INTs between signal callers Trent Dilfer and Alex Smith should complete this sorry story of a passing game.

The latest news coming off the wire is that third string signal caller Shaun Hill is the most likely candidate to get the nod on Saturday. In a loss against Minnesota last week (27-7), Hill went air for 181 yards with one TD. It was his first action of the season.

San Francisco’s veteran slinger Trent Dilfer suffered a concussion in the same contest against the Vikings and the medical staff have yet to clear him for active duty.

The Defensive Problem

Both squads will enter this contest with a poor defensive squad, most notably in the secondary.

While Cinci is the worst out of the two teams against the pass, this same squad hasn’t allowed a touchdown in two of its last three games (with the exception of coming off a defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh during Week 13).

Taking down the opposing QB for just 18 sacks has the Bengals ranked 31st worst in the league

Indicating sporadic play on defense is the following ATS trends; Cincinnati is 5-11 ATS in its last 16 games after allowing less than 250 yards in their previous game and are 1-4 ATS in its last five after allowing less than 90 yards rushing in its previous game.

With all the holes that Cinci has on defense in the end the 49ers will be left questioning its own integrity in the secondary. Good luck to cornerbacks Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer (‘questionable’) who have combined to snatch four interceptions this season. The speed behind the Bengals wide receivers will be too much for this team to contain.

For you total players out there San Francisco has seen the ‘under’ go 13-6 in its last 19 games as an underdog.

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Re: NFL : Saturday Football

Cincinnati (5-8, 6-7 ATS) at San Francisco (3-10 SU and ATS)

A matchup of two teams going nowhere gets its own spotlight when the Bengals travel to Monster Park to face the 49ers in a primetime nationally televised contest.

Cincinnati, in the rare role of a double-digit chalk, failed to cover a 10-point spread in last week’s 19-10 home victory over St. Louis. Much like the Bengals’ season, QB Carson Palmer was mediocre, going 21 of 29 for just 189 yards, with no TDs and two INTs. Fortunately for Cincy, Shayne Graham went 4-for-4 on field goals, and RB Rudi Johnson had 23 carries for 92 yards and a TD.

San Francisco got thumped at home last week, falling 27-7 to Minnesota as an 8½-point underdog, the 49ers’ fifth straight home loss (1-4 ATS). QB Trent Dilfer (7 of 19, 45 yards, 1 INT returned for a TD) played most of a putrid first half for the league’s worst offense, then left the game with a concussion. Unknown Shaun Hill relieved Dilfer, going a respectable 22 of 27 for 185 yards and a TD, but he lost two fumbles, and the 49ers finished with five turnovers.

The straight-up winner is 11-2 ATS in Cincinnati’s games this season and 11-2 ATS for San Francisco in 2007.

The Bengals are 0-4 SU and ATS coming off a victory this season, and they are 2-5 ATS in their last seven starts overall. They are on further negative ATS runs of 1-5 as a favorite, 1-4 as a road favorite and 1-6 as a favorite of 3½ to 10 points. On the positive end, they are 17-8-1 ATS in their last 26 on the highway and they are on an 8-3 ATS run laying points on the road.

The 49ers are mired in ATS slumps of 1-7 overall and 1-6-1 at home (1-4-1 ATS at home this season). San Francisco is also on ATS nosedives of 1-7 as an underdog, 2-5 on Saturday, 2-5 in December, 3-11-1 following a double-digit home setback and 3-7 as an underdog against the AFC.

San Francisco has scored 20 points or fewer in all but one game this season and has been held to 10 points or less six times in the last 10 weeks.

After tallying at least 20 points in nine of their first 11 games, the Bengals have been held to just 19 and 10 points each of the last two weeks. Defensively, Cincinnati has given up at least 24 points nine times this season.

Cincinnati has stayed under the total in three straight games and five of its last seven, while the under is 4-2 in San Francisco’s last six overall and 5-1 in its six home contests. Finally, the under is 5-1 in the Bengals’ last six December contests and 13-6 in the 49ers’ last 19 as an underdog.

ATS ADVANTAGE: CINCINNATI and UNDER

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Game Preview for Bengals vs 49rs

(Sports Network) - The 2007 season hasn't gone the way the Cincinnati Bengals have hoped, but at least they've got an opportunity to finish strong. The team will aim for its third victory in four games when it visits the lowly San Francisco 49ers this Saturday at Monster Park.

At 5-8, the Bengals are eliminated from postseason consideration and in danger of recording their first losing campaign in head coach Marvin Lewis' five-year tenure. And while the season has been an overall disappointment for a club that came in with playoff aspirations, the last few weeks have produced better results.

Cincinnati has sandwiched home wins over Tennessee and St. Louis around a loss to AFC North leader Pittsburgh over its past three games, and Lewis' charges have a chance to record their first winning streak since ripping off four consecutive victories from November 19-December 10 of last season.

The Bengals enter Saturday's tilt off a 19-10 triumph over a depleted St. Louis squad forced to use a third-string quarterback (Brock Berlin) making his NFL debut. Cincinnati finds itself in a similar situation this week, as Shaun Hill will start his first regular-season game for the injury-riddled 49ers.

Hill had never attempted a pass in his six-year career until he replaced a woozy Trent Dilfer late in the first half of San Francisco's 27-7 loss to Minnesota last Sunday. The 27-year-old performed well, albeit with the game's outcome already decided, as Hill completed 22-of-27 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown in his emergency appearance.

Dilfer suffered a concussion after colliding with the Vikings' Charles Gordon just before halftime, and has been ruled out for Saturday's game. The veteran was filling in for primary signal-caller Alex Smith, who is out for the season with a separated right shoulder that will require surgery to repair.

The instability at the quarterback position, not to mention Smith's growing rift with head coach Mike Nolan over the team's handling of his injury, are two low points in a 49ers season that's been filled with hardship. After beginning the year with promising back-to-back victories, San Francisco has dropped 10 of 11 contests and is tied with Atlanta and St. Louis for the worst record in the NFC.

Offense has been the Niners' primary crutch, as the team ranks last in the NFL in total yards (235.5 ypg), scoring (13.2 ppg) and passing yards (150.0 ypg). San Francisco has scored 16 points or less in all 10 of its 2007 defeats.

The Bengals' main problem has been playing on the road. Cincinnati is just 1-5 away from home this year and has lost seven of its last eight as the visitor dating back to last season.

SERIES HISTORY

The 49ers have a 7-3 lead in their all-time regular season series with the Bengals, but have lost two in a row to Cincinnati. The Bengals won home shootouts in 2003 (41-38) and 1999 (44-30), last losing to San Francisco in a road contest in 1996 (28-21). Cincinnati is 1-4 all-time in San Francisco, scoring its only win there in the first meeting between the clubs, in 1974.

The most famous matchups between the franchises came after the 1981 and 1987 seasons, when the 49ers prevailed over the Bengals in Super Bowls XVI (26-21 in Detroit) and XXIII (20-16 in Miami).

Lewis is 1-0 against the 49ers in his career as a head coach. Nolan, who served on the Baltimore Ravens staff along with Lewis in 2001 and succeeded Lewis as the team's defensive coordinator from 2002 through 2004, will be meeting both his former staff-mate and the Bengals for the first time as a head coach.

WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL

Cincinnati is capable of putting up points in bunches behind a quick-strike aerial attack orchestrated by quarterback Carson Palmer (3448 passing yards, 21 TD, 17 INT). The two-time Pro Bowler has struggled lately, however. Palmer threw four costly interceptions in a Week 11 loss to Arizona, completed just 17-of-44 passes in a defeat to Pittsburgh two games later, and was picked off twice more in last Sunday's game. Despite his uneven showings, the Bengals rank fifth in the NFL in passing yards (256.1 ypg) and seventh in scoring (23.8 ppg). Palmer's been aided by a stellar trio of receivers headlined by the flashy Chad Johnson (79 receptions, 1187 yards, 6 TD). Running mate T.J. Houshmandzadeh (966 receiving yards, 11 TD) leads the league with 96 catches and needs just 34 yards to give Cincinnati a pair of wideouts with 1,000 on the season. Third receiver Chris Henry (18 receptions, 1 TD) has made an impact after sitting out the first eight games due to violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy.

The Bengals haven't been as effective running the ball, as primary carrier Rudi Johnson (481 rushing yards, 4 total TD) has averaged a subpar 3.0 yards per rush in an injury-plagued campaign, and the team has clearly missed having perennial All-Pro tackle Willie Anderson out for most of the year with an ailing knee. Cincinnati is coming off an impressive 192-yard performance on the ground against the Rams, with Rudi Johnson putting up 92 on 23 attempts and speedy reserve DeDe Dorsey (164 rushing yards) amassing a career-best 81 on only four runs. The versatile Kenny Watson (531 rushing yards, 5 TD, 44 receptions) has seen his carries diminish in recent weeks, but he remains a factor in the team's passing game.

Palmer and his accomplished receivers will be bombing away at a San Francisco defense that's been rather mediocre against the pass despite sporting a pair of cornerbacks who have been to Pro Bowls in Nate Clements (79 tackles, 3 INT, 11 PD) and Walt Harris (47 tackles, 3 INT, 10 PD). The 49ers have recorded only 10 interceptions on the year and haven't received the consistent outside rush they expected out of free-agent signee Tully-Banta Cain (29 tackles, 2.5 sacks). The club's leading sacker has been 35-year-old end Bryant Young (31 tackles, 6.5 sacks).

San Francisco has been pretty solid defending the run, as the unit is holding opponents to a credible 3.8 yards per rush and bottled up Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson (14 carries, 3 yards) last week. However, the Niners did surrender a back-breaking 84-yard touchdown burst to the Vikings' Chester Taylor in the loss. Rookie linebacker Patrick Willis (136 tackles, 1 sack) has put together a spectacular debut season, while end Marques Douglas (64 tackles, 3 sacks) and strong safety Michael Lewis (82 tackles, 2 INT, 1.5 sacks) are quality stoppers as well.

WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL

Hill will get a long-awaited opportunity to prove whether last week's strong second-half performance was a legitimate indicator of his abilities. He likely won't get much help, though, from a lackluster group of receivers or a shaky offensive line that's yielded 46 sacks this season. Ex-Seahawk Darrell Jackson (33 receptions, 1 TD) has been a major letdown at one wideout spot, while second-year tight end Vernon Davis (42 receptions, 2 TD) has yet to reach the heights the team expected when they chose him with the sixth overall pick of last year's draft. San Francisco's most reliable target has been Arnaz Battle (45 receptions, 5 TD), who's caught a touchdown pass in three straight games. Carolina castoff Chris Weinke will serve as Hill's new backup after being signed on Wednesday, with Smith being placed on season-ending injured reserve.

The front wall has also failed to consistently open up holes for running back Frank Gore (781 rushing yards, 5 TD), as the 49ers are averaging a meager 85.5 rushing yards per game (29th overall). The hard-working back has just one 100- yard outing this year after eclipsing the century mark nine times during a breakthrough 2006 season. Gore has done a good job as a receiver, however, as he leads the Niners with 46 catches totaling 363 yards.

Defense has not been Cincinnati's strong suit, as the Bengals come in ranked 28th in points allowed (25.1 ppg), 26th in total yards allowed (348.2 ypg) and 25th against the pass (231.7 ypg). The group did keep a makeshift St. Louis offense in check last week, though, as the Rams mustered just 241 yards and 10 first downs with the inexperienced Berlin under center. Injuries have ravaged the Cincinnati linebacking corps all year long, but the team seems to have stabilized that area with the insertion of journeyman Dhani Jones (66 tackles, 1 sack) on the weak side and shifting leading tackler Landon Johnson (89 tackles, 1 sack) into the middle.

The Bengals have also had problems establishing a strong pass rush, having produced a mere 18 sacks -- the second smallest total in the NFL -- through their 13 games. End Robert Geathers (38 tackles, 1 INT) leads the defense with just 2 1/2 sacks, and that lack of heat on the quarterback has put undue pressure on a young cornerback tandem of Leon Hall (54 tackles, 4 INT, 10 PD) and Johnathan Joseph (45 tackles, 3 INT). Cincinnati could also be without free safety Madieu Williams (68 tackles, 2 INT, 2 PD), who's considered questionable to play with a thigh contusion, for a second straight week. If he can't go, untested rookies Marvin White (9 tackles) and Chinedum Ndukwe (27 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) will both be in line for extended roles.

FANTASY FOCUS

The top fantasy players in this matchup are on the Cincinnati side, as both Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson are top 10 receivers who should add to their already-impressive numbers with Palmer likely to face minimal resistance from a sporadic San Francisco rush. Palmer has been mildly disappointing from a fantasy perspective this year, but the former No. 1 overall pick is certainly worthy of a start with a favorable matchup this week. Don't expect heavy yardage numbers out of Rudi Johnson, but Cincy's top back has scored in three straight games and makes a solid option as a No. 2 running back or flex play. Keep Shayne Graham in your lineups as well, as the Bengals' kicker has drilled 14 field goals over the last five games and figures to get some more scoring chances on Saturday.

Gore, the 49ers' offensive star, could be in line for a very productive day as long as the team can establish some semblance of an aerial threat under Hill. The Bengals aren't particularly strong against the run and Hill will often look the running back's way when he drops back to throw. The only other San Francisco player that warrants consideration is Battle.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

With neither team having anything to play for other than pride at this point, that would seem to give the 49ers, who will be fielding more unestablished players with something to prove and are playing at home, something of an edge. Still, Cincinnati is vastly superior to San Francisco in terms of offensive firepower, and its defense has actually resembled a credible unit over the past few weeks. With this game and a matchup with winless Miami still on the docket, the Bengals have a chance to close the year out strong and provide something to build upon for next season, not to mention the possibility of maybe saving the embattled Lewis' job. The 49ers, on the other hand, appear to be a team in disarray and are eager to put a discouraging and turbulent year behind them.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bengals 27, 49ers 14

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Lousy 49ers huge home dogs to Bengals

- How bad are the 49ers? So bad that in the eyes of oddsmakers they are 9-point underdogs at home to a lousy Cincinnati team. San Fran has won eight of the past 10 meetings, but the Bengals have dominated ATS, going 5-0-1 against the number.

The Bengals defeated St. Louis 19-10 as a 10-point favorite in Week 14. The combined score fell UNDER the posted over/under total (45.5).

Rudi Johnson rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries for Cincinnati, while Carson Palmer completed 21-of-29 passes for 189 yards with two interceptions

The 49ers lost to Minnesota 27-7 as an 8.5-point underdog in Week 14. The combined score fell UNDER the posted over/under total (39).

Trent Dilfer completed 7-of-9 passes for 45 yards with an interception for San Francisco, while Frank Gore rushed for 68 yards on 16 carries.

Current streak:
San Francisco has lost 2 straight games.

Team records:
Cincinnati: 5-8 SU, 4-8-1 ATS
San Francisco: 3-10 SU, 3-9-1 ATS

Cincinnati most recently:
When playing in December are 5-5
When playing on grass are 4-6
After outgaining opponent are 4-6
When playing outside the division are 3-7

San Francisco most recently:
When playing in December are 3-7
When playing on grass are 3-7
After outgaining opponent are 3-7
When playing outside the division are 1-9

A few trends to consider:
Cincinnati is 5-0-1 ATS in its last 6 games when playing San Francisco
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Cincinnati's last 5 games
Cincinnati is 5-11 SU in its last 16 games
Cincinnati is 3-8-1 ATS in its last 12 games
The total has gone UNDER in 5 of San Francisco's last 6 games at home
San Francisco is 8-2 SU in its last 10 games when playing Cincinnati
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of San Francisco's last 6 games
San Francisco is 1-6-1 ATS in its last 8 games at home

Next up:
Cincinnati home to Cleveland, Sunday, December 23
San Francisco home to Tampa Bay, Sunday, December 23

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What bettors need to know: Bengals at 49ers
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Cincinnati Bengals at San Francisco 49ers (+8, 42)

Quarterback controversy

Alex Smith and 49ers head coach Mike Nolan have never exactly seen eye to eye, but this week it all came to a head. The third-year quarterback criticized his coach in the San Jose Mercury News a few hours before he opted to have season-ending surgery on his shoulder.

Smith claimed that Nolan was trying to “undermine” him in the locker room by telling his teammates he was using injuries as an excuse for poor performances, the report said. The 23-year-old QB has since apologized and held an hour-long meeting with his coach yesterday.

"I initially reacted out of frustration based on the questions that were being asked, but the article does not reflect how I truly feel," Smith said in a statement afterwards.

"I can see how an article like this can be very damaging, but I know my relationships with coach Nolan and my teammates are stronger than that. I never intended this to be a distraction for the team or their preparation for the upcoming game.”

Smith’s problems started when he separated his shoulder in the Sept. 30 game against Seattle. The Niners decided he did not need surgery and, after a month’s rehab, he returned to make three disastrous starts. Smith claimed at the time that he was severely hampered by the injury, but Nolan claimed he was “fully healthy.”

Smith, who threw for 914 yards and two touchdowns in six starts this season, now faces three months on the sidelines as he tries to recover.

Nolan, meanwhile, claims all is forgiven. "I care the same for Alex today as the day we drafted him," he said on his weekly radio show. "I'm hopeful he gets back on the field as soon as he's healthy. I'm not mad at him – not one bit."

San Francisco is 3-10 for the season.

When it rains, it pours

San Francisco not only lost Alex Smith this week, but backup Trent Dilfer also went down to injury. He suffered a concussion in last week’s 27-7 loss to Minnesota and is out for Saturday’s game.

Third-string quarterback Shaun Hill will make his first NFL start against the Bengals. The five-year veteran looked competent in relief of Dilfer last week, completing 22 of 27 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown.

"There's a lot of things I need to get better at," Hill told the San Francisco Chronicle after that game. "Some of that is about getting comfortable playing again. Some things made me want to throw up. Some things, the execution was poor but the results were good on my part. Some things I got away with. The results were better than my execution."

The 49ers also signed veteran quarterback Chris Weinke this week to shore up their injury-stricken quarterback corps. Weinke, a Heisman Trophy winner with Florida State in 2001, spent four seasons with the Panthers. He was not attached to a team before joining San Francisco this week.

"It's a crash course that I'm going to have," Weinke told the San Jose Mercury News. "Just study the next three days, and be able to step in if called upon. And I'm excited to be here. It was good to get back out on the field and get a practice under my belt.”

It’s not inconceivable that Weinke will see time this week Hill is still recovering from a broken bone in his passing hand.

Playing for pride

Despite a solid 19-10 win over St. Louis, the Bengals (5-8) were eliminated from the playoffs due to other results on Sunday. That’s the earliest Cincinnati has been out of contention in Marvin Lewis’ five years as head coach.

“That's disappointing, but it is what it is, and we'll move forward," Lewis told the Cincinnati Post on Monday. "We haven't focused much on that. We put ourselves in this situation. It shows how important each and every win is.

“There are some games that we should have won but didn't, that makes a big difference when you get into this kind of situation.”

Cincinnati has won three of its last five games after a dismal 2-6 start to the season. The Bengals could be considered unlucky not to have a better record. Four of their losses have been by eight points or less and two were dropped despite Cincinnati carrying fourth-quarter leads.

"I don't know if the other team is making great adjustments or if we relax," wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. "That's why our season hasn't gone the way we have liked. We won Sunday, though, and we'll go out to San Francisco and try to get another one."

The Bengals still have a shot at a .500 record this season. They must win their final three games against San Francisco, Cleveland and Miami. They have not had a losing season since 2002.

Head to head

The Bengals have beaten San Francisco in two straight meetings and covered the spread in five of the last six. Three consecutive games between these teams have gone over the total.

Cincinnati is 5-8 ATS overall this season, while the Niners are 3-10. San Francisco has covered the spread just once in its last eight outings.

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Three key mismatches in Bengals-49ers game
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Cincinnati Bengals at San Francisco 49ers (+8, 43)

Bengals receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh vs. 49ers’ secondary


Most teams would love to have either Chad Johnson or T.J. Houshmandzadeh at wide receiver. The Bengals have both, a combo that will ensure a hard day’s work for the 49ers’ secondary on Saturday.

Johnson leads the Bengals in receiving yards (1,187) and Houshmandzadeh leads in touchdowns (11). Combined, they have produced a staggering 2,153 yards and 17 touchdowns in just 13 games this season.

Johnson tends to be the go-to guy when Cincinnati is driving and looking for first downs, while Houshmandzadeh is the main target in scoring situations.

Whatever way the Bengals decide to use them, the 49ers will struggle to contain the duo. San Francisco’s pass defense is allowing 217.6 yards per game, and has conceded six passing touchdowns in the last three games.

49ers running back Frank Gore vs. Bengals’ rush defense

A persistent ankle injury has kept Niners running back Frank Gore from matching the dizzying heights he managed last season. But there have been glimpses of his electric power and pace in recent games. Cincinnati’s visit could spark a return to form.

Gore racked up 1,695 rushing yards and nine combined touchdowns last season, but has only run for 781 yards and five touchdowns this time around. He has improved in recent games, notching 116 yards and two TDs against Arizona on Nov. 25. Last week, he ran for 68 yards against Minnesota – the league’s best rush defense.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, has looked far from comfortable defending against the run. It is allowing 116.5 yards per game on the ground to rank 22nd in the league. Six different running backs have broken the 100-yard mark against the Bengals. Cleveland’s Jamal Lewis ran for 215 yards and TD against them on Sept. 10.

Bengals’ pass defense vs. 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill

The Bengals’ much-maligned pass defense has shown improvement in recent games. That trend should continue this week when it will defend against Cincinnati’s third-string quarterback Shaun Hill.

Overall, Cincy’s pass defense is allowing 231.7 yards per game. But for the second straight game, the Bengals will face a third-string QB. Last week it was Brock Berlin of the St. Louis Rams who was kept to 153 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He was also sacked once.

San Francisco has been forced to throw Hill into the deep end this week following injuries to Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer. The fifth-year veteran has never started an NFL game and has only made three appearances in his entire career. The Niners signed Chris Weinke as cover this week, but the former Panthers backup has been out of football for almost a year.

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