NFL

Warner crucial for 49ers in Super Bowl rematch - The key matchups that will decide Week 7's best games

By Sports Desk October 22, 2022

Not every NFL week is going to be filled with great games. The law of averages says there will be some clunkers.

But it only takes one game to spice up a Sunday, and Week 7 has such a contest in the form of a Super Bowl rematch.

The Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV three seasons ago, the Niners failing to finish the job in Miami having led 20-10 with seven minutes remaining.

San Francisco's first chance for a measure of revenge comes on Sunday, when the 49ers host the Chiefs in a game SmartRatings sees as the best of the week.

SmartRatings is a Stats Perform AI-based platform that provides excitement ratings for sporting events, teams and players. The excitement scale, ranging from 0-100, is powered by complex algorithms that are predicated upon six primary variables: pace, parity, novelty, momentum, context and social buzz.

The weight of each variable is dynamic and adapts as a season progresses. The excitement scale translates to the following general sub-ranges: 0-39 (Dull Game), 40-64 (OK Game), 65-84 (Good Game), 85-100 (Great Game).

Here, we take a look at Chiefs-49ers clash in the Bay Area and two other games viewed as the most exciting of Week 7 and the key matchups that could decide them.

Green Bay Packers @ Washington Commanders

SmartRating: 54

Win Probability: Packers 74.2%

Key Matchup: Allen Lazard vs. Washington cornerbacks

Randall Cobb's injury means Aaron Rodgers has even fewer receivers he can trust, so Lazard can expect plenty of targets to come his way as the Packers look to end a two-game losing run.

The numbers suggest Lazard will be able to find joy against a vulnerable Washington secondary.

Lazard has won his matchup with a defender, which Stats Perform labels as a 'burn', on 21 of his 32 targets. His burn rate of 65.6 per cent is above the league average of 60.6 for receivers with a minimum of 20 targets.

He has produced a big play on 12 of those targets, good for a big play rate of 37.2 that is 10th among wideouts (min. 20 targets).

Washington's starting corners, Benjamin St. Juste and Kendall Fuller, have allowed 12.27 and 13.15 burn yards per target respectively -- the average for corners with at least 20 targets is 10.05.

Both have given up a big play on over 30 per cent of their targets -- St. Juste (31.3%), Fuller (36%) -- at a position where the average is 25.5. In other words, Rodgers and Lazard should theoretically be able to thrive against both starting corners. If they do, the Packers' passing game might finally get on track and boost Green Bay's hopes of a deep playoff push many anticipated before their underwhelming start.

Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans

SmartRating: 60

Win Probability: Colts 54.4%

Key Matchup: Jeffery Simmons vs. Quenton Nelson


The AFC South is turning into a dogfight, with the 3-2 Titans leading the 3-2-1 Colts by half a game going into this divisional clash.

For the Colts to make sure the tie with the Houston Texans that separates them and the Titans does not prove costly down the stretch, they need to knock off Tennessee.

Doing that will involve stopping Jeffery Simmons, who has been a force on the interior of the Tennessee defense.

Simmons has beaten a pass protector on 18 of his 23 pressures this season. Only four interior defensive linemen have defeated a blocker on a pressure more often.

However, the Colts have a left guard in Quenton Nelson who has once again been one of the NFL's elite at his position in 2022.

Nelson has allowed a pressure on just 3.1 per cent of his pass protection snaps, giving him the sixth-best pressure rate among guards with at least 100 snaps this season.

The Colts will at least need to slow down Simmons for their passing game to prosper as it did against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the heavyweight battle between two former first-round picks in the heart of the trenches could well decide who takes command of the division.

Kansas City Chiefs @ San Francisco 49ers

SmartRating: 71

Win Probability: Chiefs 50.7

Key Matchup: Fred Warner vs. Chiefs offense


A Super Bowl rematch between two teams coming off losses was made spicier with the news of San Francisco's blockbuster trade for running back Christian McCaffrey on Thursday.

But McCaffrey is unlikely to have much of an impact if he does play on Sunday given the limited time he has had to absorb the 49er playbook.

More key to the 49ers' hopes of at least partially avenging their Super Bowl collapse is the performance of a player who intercepted Mahomes in that game, Fred Warner.

The 2020 first-team All-Pro is the organisational heartbeat of the 49er defense, the man who plays a pivotal role in ensuring DeMeco Ryans' group is ultra-disciplined and consistently in the right position to make plays.

That discipline fell down in Week 6 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons, in which an extremely banged-up defense struggled to handle the Falcons' array of motions and zone-read runs involving quarterback Marcus Mariota.

San Francisco will get back a host of players from injury this weekend and the defense must do a better job of handling motion against an offense that heavily relies on it and will have to be alert to Mahomes' running threat, which for defenses is a frustrating complement to the wondrous things he can do throwing the ball.

Still, with no Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs' avenues to explosive plays are not as plentiful as they once were, and the 49ers will likely approach Kansas City in a similar way to the Buffalo Bills defense last week, leaning on two-high safety zone coverages in an attempt to force Mahomes to attack underneath.

Warner has allowed receivers to get open in zone coverage on just 10.87 per cent of his zone plays, his zone open rate the best in the NFL among linebackers. With his acumen in that area of the game and the athleticism he possesses to run downfield with Mahomes' primary target Travis Kelce, a bounce-back effort from Warner will be crucial to San Francisco's hopes of overturning odds that are slightly in Kansas City's favour.

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    Brazil began their Copa America campaign with a frustrating goalless draw against Costa Rica at the SoFi Stadium.

    The Selecao dominated large periods of the Group D clash. Marquinhos saw a goal ruled out following a VAR review, while Lucas Paqueta rattled the woodwork from distance.

    Yet despite enjoying just under three-quarters of the possession and registering 19 shots to their opponents' two, they could not find the breakthrough and failed to win their opening match in the competition for the first time since 2016.

    Dorival Junior's side subsequently lost early ground on Group D leaders Colombia, who beat Paraguay 2-1 earlier in the day.

    Brazil quickly asserted their authority on proceedings in California as they sought the game's opening goal.

    Rodrygo steered a shot wide following a jinking run into the penalty area, while Raphinha was denied by Patrick Sequeira after latching onto a diagonal ball over the top of the Costa Rica defence.

    The Selecao thought they had broken the deadlock on the half-hour mark when Marquinhos applied the finishing touch after Rodrygo glanced Raphinha's free-kick towards the far post, only for the strike to be ruled out for offside following a VAR review. 

    Rodrygo fired narrowly over in first-half stoppage time and, then on 63 minutes, Lucas Paqueta saw his ferocious 25-yard drive crash against Sequeira's left upright.

    Dorival withdrew the quiet Vinicius Junior in favour of Endrick and Savinho for the final 20 minutes, and both looked dangerous upon their introductions.

    The latter's cross almost saw Costa Rica defender Haxzel Quiros head into his own net with his blushes spared by Sequeira, who then beat away Guilherme Arana's fierce volley.

    Savinho was involved again in stoppage time as he teed up one final opportunity for Bruno Guimaraes, who bent his first-time shot narrowly wide to compound a frustrating start to the tournament for the nine-time winners.

    Selecao stutter on return to States

    It is fair to say Brazil do not boost particularly fond recent memories of playing in the United States in recent years.

    After all, the Selecao crashed out in the group stages when the Copa America was last held in this nation eight years ago.

    Neymar, who was part of that side, watched on from the stands having been ruled out of this tournament through injury.

    Try as they may, his team-mates just could not break down their opponents and turn their dominance into the elusive goal, with just three of their 19 attempts on target.

    Fresh from playing a starring role in Real Madrid’s LaLiga and Champions League double, Vinicius Junior was unable to inspire his nation – his tallies of 45 touches and 23 passes were the lowest recorded by any of Brazil’s outfield starters.

    On a brighter note, Marquinhos made his 16th Copa America appearance – with only Dani Alves (19) and Thiago Silva (18) playing more times for the Selecao in the competition since 2000 – though a VAR review prevented him from marking the occasion with a goal.

    Another clean sheet for repellent Costa Rica

    Costa Rica were heavy underdogs on their return to the Copa America for the first time in eight years.

    Not since 2004 have Los Ticos progressed from the group stages of this competition, but they certainly know what it takes to claim a scalp on the big stage.

    Exactly 10 years ago, they beat Uruguay and Italy to top Group D, which also featured England, on the way to reaching the World Cup quarter-finals.

    Fast forward a decade and Joel Campbell, who was part of that side, came off the bench for his 140th cap as his nation halted a run of nine successive defeats by Brazil. 

    More impressively, Costa Rica have kept clean sheets in each of their last four competitive games.

    Their failure to record a single shot on target for the first time in a Copa America match since 2011 will be a slight concern, but that defensive stubbornness will stand them in good stead as they look to progress in this tournament.

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  • United States 2-0 Bolivia: Pulisic powers hosts to convincing win in Copa America opener United States 2-0 Bolivia: Pulisic powers hosts to convincing win in Copa America opener

    Christian Pulisic stole the show with an eye-catching strike and another assist as the United States opened their Copa America campaign with a 2-0 triumph over Bolivia on Sunday.

    Gregg Berhalter's side never appeared troubled in a routine victory at AT&T Stadium in Texas, thanks to the solo endeavours of captain Pulisic in their Group C opener.

    The Milan forward needed just three minutes to curl in a sublime opener before teeing up Folarin Balogun – who another strike ruled out after the interval – just moments before the break in a one-sided first half.

    Bolivia rarely seemed likely to forge a comeback as the USA managed a winning start to a Copa campaign for the first time since the 1995 edition when they defeated Chile 2-1 in Uruguay.

    Antonio Carlos Zago's side did not heed an early warning when goalkeeper Guillermo Viscarra was forced to rush out and clear in front of Balogun.

    Bolivia were caught napping just minutes later as Timothy Weah worked a short corner with Pulisic, who coasted inside before curling into the top-right corner from an acute angle on the left-hand side of the area.

    Weah – son of legendary forward George – was denied from point-blank range as the USA almost doubled their lead immediately.

    Yet Berhalter's host nation would soon add to their advantage in Arlington.

    Pulisic was afforded the freedom of midfield yet again, dropping into space before offloading for Balogun to cannon a left-footed drive into the bottom-right corner.

    That smart 44th-minute finish marked Balogun's first-ever goal at this tournament and the Monaco striker found the back of the net for a second time after the interval, only for his celebrations to be cut short.

    His routine tap-in from inside the six-yard area was ruled out for offside as Weah had rushed forward to capitalise on Weston McKennie's pass before sliding across for his attacking partner.

    Viscarra was equal to Pulisic's effort before the hour as the forward attempt to recreate his early heroics, while substitute Ricardo Pepi prodded wide from Antonee Robinson's pinpoint left-wing delivery.

    Pepi was denied by fine Viscarra reflexes late on as the USA coasted to an opening victory before their next meeting with Panama on Thursday, a day before Bolivia face Uruguay.

    Pulisic stars in rare USA win

    Pulisic was tipped by many as the USA player to keep an eye on at the Copa America, and the Milan man delivered in emphatic fashion in this opener.

    Fresh off the back of scoring 15 goals across all competitions for the Serie A giants, Pulisic's opening strike had an expected goals (xG) tally of just 0.037 – yet that was no problem for the USA captain.

    His headline-worthy effort halted a woeful run for the USA against CONMEBOL sides at this tournament as well given Berhalter's side had previously lost eight of 10 such games.

    Victory also marked the USA's first Copa triumph over Bolivia in just their second attempt, avenging for a 1-0 defeat way back in 1995 when Marco Etcheverry scored the winner.

    Bolivia wait goes on

    Bolivia were seeking a win against a CONCACAF opponent in Copa action for the first time since the 1997 edition.

    They defeated Mexico 3-1 in the semi-finals of the tournament they hosted 27 years ago, though a wait for another such victory must continue after a drab showing in Texas.

    Carlos Zago won this competition as a player with Brazil in 1999 but his side have a long way to go if they are to even escape their group in the USA.

    Bolivia have now lost their last four international outings by a concerning margin of 9-1, having suffered defeats against Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and the USA.

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