The neutral has plenty to be thankful for in this thrilling 2021 NFL season.

But all that drama, driven by a series of stunning against-the-odds upsets, can make life miserable for fantasy players, even at this celebratory time of year.

Want to maintain your cheer through another seemingly unpredictable slate of games this Thanksgiving week? Turn to Stats Perform for the below data-powered picks.

Quarterback: Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants

The Eagles head into Week 12 rejuvenated, having won three of their past four games to improve to 5-6 ahead of a big NFC East matchup. Those three wins have all had one thing in common: Philadelphia have exceeded 200 yards rushing.

This run-heavy approach – with a league-high 49.6 rush percentage – wisely plays to the strengths of quarterback Hurts, who had three rushing scores last week against the New Orleans Saints as he surpassed 50 yards on the ground for the fifth straight game.

That was Hurts' 15th QB start. He ranks second through 15 QB starts since 1950 for rushing touchdowns (11 – behind Cam Newton, 14) and second through 15 QB starts since 1960 for rushing yards (890 – behind Lamar Jackson, 1,193).

The Giants – reeling from a bad defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – have given up 4.38 yards per rush play, ranking a mediocre 19th, and have not yet played any of the six best offenses in that regard. The Eagles' offense (4.99 yards per rush), led by Hurts, sits third and will be eyeing further big gains.

Running back: Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Mixon is already enjoying a career year with nine rushing TDs, and the 2021 season might be about to get a whole lot better for the running back – and any fantasy players who can count on him – as the Bengals face an injury-ravaged Steelers defense.

Pittsburgh have now given up the most yards per rush play (4.76) after a tough two weeks in which their roster was hit by absences and it showed on the field. The winless Detroit Lions tallied 229 rushing yards and two TDs in their Week 10 tie, before the Los Angeles Chargers averaged 6.12 yards per rush as Austin Ekeler's two scores headlined a Week 11 win.

Mixon, who has rushing TDs in four straight games and last week ran for over 100 yards for the first time since Week 1, should get free rein against a Steelers defense that successfully disrupts the run on just 24.62 per cent of attempts.

Even if Pittsburgh can fix a problem that has persisted throughout the season and got worse of late, Mixon ranks 12th among running backs (min. 10 carries) with 3.74 yards per carry on disrupted runs.

Wide receiver: Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings

A significant shift towards a run-heavy approach – the 49ers averaged 25.6 rushes per game through Week 9 but 43.0 per game since – would be an issue for most wide receivers, but Samuel is not most wide receivers.

It is his versatility that has helped accommodate a change that has potentially brought San Francisco back into contention.

Samuel caught only one pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week but rushed for 79 yards and a TD in the absence of injured rookie Elijah Mitchell. The previous week, with Mitchell involved against the Los Angeles Rams, Samuel had rushing and receiving scores in the same game for the first time in his career.

With the Vikings' rush defense matching the Steelers' in giving up 4.76 yards per rush, expect Samuel and the Niners to run the ball again and do it well.

Tight end: Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Pitts is the sixth-most targeted tight end this season (69) but has the third-most receiving yards (635), boosted massively by 100-yard games against the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins either side of the Falcons' Week 6 bye.

The schedule slowed that momentum somewhat – Atlanta were held to three points across defeats to the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots – but a trip to Jacksonville gives Pitts the opportunity to put his name up in lights once again.

The Jaguars have given up 7.20 yards per pass play in 2021, meaning this is unlikely to be the defense to keep Pitts in check. He has got open on 34.41 per cent of his 93 matchups, up on the tight end average of 18.10 per cent.

Defense: New England Patriots vs. Tennessee Titans

The Titans head into this week as the top seed in the AFC, but the Patriots may well take that spot from them over the next two weeks, hosting Tennessee before going to the Buffalo Bills in Monday Night Football.

While Mac Jones is enjoying a fine rookie year at QB, it will be New England's defense that puts them in contention, having given up only 5.07 yards per play while securing 21 total takeaways – ranking third in both regards.

And the Pats will expect to dominate the Titans, whose injury list has only grown since Derrick Henry went down. A.J. Brown is the latest offensive weapon to be unhealthy, while Julio Jones is not expected back for another two weeks.

These problems contributed to a woeful defeat to the Houston Texans last time out, when Ryan Tannehill threw four picks. Elsewhere in Week 10, New England caught four interceptions against the Falcons.

The NFL is a passing league. If a team has a quarterback who can elevate those around him and an offensive line that can protect him, chances are they will be well-positioned to contend for the playoffs.

Though the elite quarterbacks in the league can fit the ball into tight windows on a consistent basis, the odds of success on that side of the ball are much higher when those signal-callers are paired with receivers who can defeat man coverage and get into open space.

Excelling at finding the soft spot in zone coverage is also important, while the top play-callers in the NFL frequently engineer space for their receivers.

Yet receivers who can win one-on-one are a tremendous help to quarterbacks, especially those who can defeat the blitz regularly with their ability to efficiently read the field and find the open man.

While determining the 'best' receiver in the NFL is a subjective process that can hinge on an affinity for certain styles of play, success in beating defenders in coverage can be quantified.

Stats Perform has done so with its open percentage metric, which tracks how often a receiver gets open when they're matched up against man coverage and have enough time to run a route. Plays that break down before a matchup with a defender can take place or scramble drills where a receiver uncovers after running his initial route are discounted.

So who are the best and worst in that regard? Here we look at the top performers, some surprise names uncovering more often than perhaps expected and those who rarely separate from defenders.

THE ELITE

A year in which Cooper Kupp leads the NFL with 1,141 receiving yards has seen him established as arguably the premier route runner in the NFL.

That is reflected by his open percentage of 57.75, which is the highest of any player with more than 10 coverage matchups.

Getting open on 41 of his 71 matchups, Kupp has consistently excelled at creating separation. His burn percentage, which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he's targeted, of 65.2 is above the average of 60.3 for wideouts (min. 10 targets), while he is fourth in the NFL in burn yards per route (4.2).

Joining Kupp near the top of the tree is Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings. Proving his record-breaking rookie year was no fluke, Jefferson has faced 108 coverage matchups and got open on 55 of them, good for an open percentage of 50.93. 

Eleventh among receivers with a burn percentage of 73.4 and averaging 3.3 burn yards per route, there has been no sign of a sophomore slump from Jefferson, whose combination of separation ability and prowess at the catch point has turned him into one of the most dependable and dynamic receivers in the league.

Keenan Allen (53.16) is Kupp's closest challenger, the Los Angeles Chargers veteran underlining his status as one of the NFL's most underappreciated receivers by getting open at a rate that may only heighten frustrations around his team's underperforming offense.

Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill (47.78) boasts an elite open percentage that belies his underwhelming big play rate of 28.0 per cent, with Stefon Diggs' (47.62) success at getting open dispelling the notion of a drop-off from last year's receiving leader. Davante Adams (45.65) is unsurprisingly also among the league's best, yet he is accompanied by some eyebrow-raising names.

SURPRISE STUDS

It has been tough to watch an uninspired Pittsburgh Steelers offense this season and think anyone is getting open.

Almost every passing play the Steelers run seems to end in a contested catch, yet a wideout who thrives in those situations is also winning the vast majority of his coverage matchups.

Indeed, second-year wideout Chase Claypool ranks behind only Kupp and Allen in open percentage, uncovering from a defender on 35 of his 68 matchups (51.47). 

However, a burn yards per route rate of 2.5, just above the average of 2.3, and his struggles in the burn yards per target metric (10.30) indicate that, while Claypool is separating from coverage, he is not putting significant distance between himself and defenders. He will likely need to continue relying on his superiority at the catch point.

As with the Steelers, you won't find too many people who draw a sense of excitement watching a Teddy Bridgewater-led Denver Broncos offense.

There is no doubting the talent on Denver's attack. With Jerry Jeudy hurt and Noah Fant so far failing to take the second-year leap many expected, Courtland Sutton has shone brightest and is on course for a 1,000-yard season, though Tim Patrick's impact has been comparable.

Save for Kendall Hinton (47.83 on 23 matchups), it is the relatively unheralded Patrick who has proven Denver's best at separating, his open percentage of 44.44 from 90 matchups level with Dallas Cowboys star Amari Cooper.

A below-average burn yards per route of 2.0 speaks to a paucity of substantial separation, but Patrick is using the distance he is able to put between himself and defenders to create explosive plays, his big-play rate of 36.7 per cent comfortably above the average of 29.2.

Again leading tight ends in receiving yards (747), most would expect Travis Kelce of the Chiefs to top the list at that position for open percentage. Instead, it is a former AFC West standout in ex-Charger Hunter Henry.

Scoring seven touchdowns in as many games prior to being kept out of the endzone in Thursday's win over the Atlanta Falcons, Henry possesses an open percentage of 48.15. However, he has not been double-teamed this season.

Darren Waller has a double-team percentage of 17.2 and has still managed to get open 46.75 per cent of the time. The attention the Las Vegas Raiders star draws and his ability to succeed despite it illustrate his position as one of the league's biggest matchup nightmares and arguably the gold standard at tight end.

NO ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE

The Packers' offense has stuttered by its own high standards in recent weeks, with their underwhelming numbers not just a product of Jordan Love's struggles against the Chiefs.

Since Week 6, the Packers are averaging 213.2 net passing yards per game – 20th in the NFL. For the season, they are 16th in yards per pass play (6.46).

That mediocrity can, in part, be attributed to a lack of receiving depth beyond Adams, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling's issues getting open encapsulate that problem.

Valdes-Scantling is supposed to be the Packers' deep threat who can stretch defenses with his ability to separate vertically.

Open on only five of his 38 coverage matchups – a percentage of 13.16 – Valdes-Scantling is not fulfilling his role. The Packers will likely need to be more explosive in the playoffs if they are to go all the way, meaning Valdes-Scantling must up his game.

Bryan Edwards is in a similar situation in Las Vegas. Scarcely utilised last season, Edwards has seen a bump in targets in 2021, the Raiders often going to him downfield. 

Edwards' average depth of target is 17.2 yards, but he has found deep separation hard to come by, uncovering on 17 of his 111 matchups (15.32 per cent). Yet with a gaudy burn yards per target average of 15.01 and a big-play rate of 50.7 per cent that is third among receivers (min. 10 targets), Edwards is a player who takes full advantage of the little separation he gets when Derek Carr looks his way.

Edwards' former South Carolina team-mate San Francisco 49ers star Deebo Samuel is performing at the highest level of his young career. Samuel is second behind Kupp with 979 receiving yards and already has seven total touchdowns this season.

However, Samuel ranks near the bottom of the league in open percentage (15.07), with the difference between that number and his overall production a reflection of how he is used by San Francisco.

His average depth of target is 8.6 yards, below the NFL average for receivers of 11.0, speaking to the Niners' reliance on him on screens and short passes that are an extension of the run game.

Third in burn yards per route and leading all wide receivers with an average of 9.6 yards after catch per reception, Samuel takes advantage of those short targets with his speed, elusiveness and power, while he can win at the catch point downfield even without separation. The 49ers often get Samuel in space in the backfield but, for one of the league's most unique players, separation is not always a requirement.

Kyle Shanahan was filled with pride as the San Francisco 49ers finally ended their long home-win drought with a 31-10 upset of the Los Angeles Rams, but he warned that cannot be a flash in the pan.

All eyes were on debutants Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller after the high-flying Rams (7-3) acquired the star duo to boost their Super Bowl bid.

But the 49ers (4-5) spoiled the party – Jimmy Garoppolo throwing two touchdown passes as San Francisco celebrated just their second home win in the past two seasons, keeping their playoff hopes alive on Monday.

The 49ers, who have now won five straight games against the Rams – the longest active streak by either side, matching their 2008-10 run – had last emerged victorious on home soil in October 2020, also over the Rams.

Part of that was down to the 49ers having to play part of the 2020 season in Arizona due to COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara, but there was still a sense of relief as they eventually enjoyed success in their own backyard.

Shanahan was grateful to put such a run behind them.

"It's been frustrating," he said. "We haven't won at home yet this year. The last time we did win at home was versus the Rams.

"We had one game after that versus the Packers, and we spent are our home [games] in Arizona, but just going to this year was very frustrating.

"Especially, the crowds that we've had, the way our fans have been. They were awesome today. Just like they were awesome last week, but I'm glad we gave them something to be proud of today.

"I just told [the team] how proud of them I was. I said we've got a short week. I think we've got a real good team [the Jacksonville Jaguars] ahead of us – that's how we expect to play here.

"It's been long overdue and we've got to make sure that we take a day off. Those guys rest, come back healthy on a short week, make sure we keep it going forward."

There were entirely different thoughts going through the head of Rams coach Sean McVay, however, with the Super Bowl hopefuls suffering back-to-back losses for the first time this season.

"I choose to believe that these last couple weeks are not who we are," he said. "I refuse to believe that, even though, you know what, you're only as good as your last game.

"These last two weeks have certainly been humbling."

Beckham was rather less dramatic, though, despite his debut being overshadowed by a chastening defeat.

The wide receiver, who joined the Rams as a free agent this week following his release by the Cleveland Browns, simply felt the 49ers were better all over the field.

"I was excited, I felt like I was ready for the moment," Beckham added. "I've been through so much and God has put me in this position for that exact moment.

"It just wasn't our night. There's really no way around it, it just wasn't our night. Any given Sunday any team can win.

"The Niners came out and they played better than us in all phases of the game, and that's really the moral of the story. There's no trying to find what happened, they just outplayed us."

The San Francisco 49ers won their first home game in more than a year after Jimmy Garoppolo helped fuel a 31-10 upset of the Super Bowl-chasing Los Angeles Rams.

All eyes were on debutants Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller after the high-flying Rams (7-3) acquired the star duo to boost their Super Bowl bid.

But the 49ers (4-5) spoiled the party – Garoppolo throwing two touchdown passes as San Francisco celebrated just their second home in the past two seasons, keeping their playoff hopes alive on Monday.

The 49ers, who have now won five straight games against the Rams – the longest active streak by either side, matching their 2008-10 run – had last emerged victorious on home soil in October 2020, also over the Rams.

Matthew Stafford (26-of-41 passing for 243 yards, a TD, two interceptions and two sacks) struggled as the Rams dropped back-to-back games, with the Los Angeles quarterback intercepted by Jimmie Ward on the opening two drives of the contest.

Ward's second interception led to a 27-yard touchdown return as he became the seventh player since 2000 with two interceptions – including a pick-six, in the opening quarter after Garoppolo (15-of-19 passing for 182 yards, two TDs and no interceptions) had led an 18-play, 93-yard TD drive less than a minute earlier.

Stafford has now thrown a pick-six in back-to-back games for the first time since his rookie season in 2009.

Leading 14-0 following the first quarter, the 49ers maintained that buffer as the teams traded touchdowns prior to half-time – Stafford throwing a 10-yard pass to Tyler Higbee before Deebo Samuel ran for an eight-yard score.

After Robbie Gould's 50-yard field goal stretched the lead in the third period, Samuel and Garoppolo combined for a 40-yard touchdown pass to put the 49ers out of reach early in the fourth.

The past seven days for the San Francisco 49ers have been rough.

A defeat to an Arizona Cardinals team missing Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green and J.J. Watt ensured the Niners would enter Week 10 with a sour taste in their mouth having fallen to 3-5 on the season.

In a game viewed as a golden opportunity for the Niners to put themselves firmly in the playoff picture, they produced one of their worst performances of the year, and most expect their profligacy in failing to take that chance to be punished further against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football.

San Francisco's mood going into a contest with a Rams team also smarting after throwing in a clunker against the Tennessee Titans will not have improved with the news that came down on Thursday when Los Angeles signed three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. following his release by the Cleveland Browns.

Beckham is expected to make his debut at Levi's Stadium, where edge rusher Von Miller could also make his Rams bow having landed with Los Angeles in a trade from the Denver Broncos on November 1.

It is Beckham and Miller who will grab all the pre-game attention as the Rams look to pile the misery on the 49ers and improve to 8-2 in their bid to win the Super Bowl at their home stadium in February.

However, it is how each team deals with their absentees, rather than the performances of Beckham and Miller, that is likely to decide a potentially high-scoring matchup out west.

How will Woods loss impact run game?

The addition of Beckham initially appeared to be a luxury one for the Rams, whose receiver depth allowed them to recently part with veteran DeSean Jackson.

Yet, a day after Beckham's arrival, his signing was revealed as a much more necessary move with the news Robert Woods had suffered a torn ACL, ending his season.

Woods has long since been an integral part of the Rams' offense, not just for what he does as a receiver but also for his impact in the blocking game.

Per Stats Perform data, Woods' had an adjusted run-block win percentage of 88.89, the wideout comfortably outperforming the average for tight ends and fullbacks of 71.48.

The Niners rank 19th in opponent rush average allowed, giving up 4.37 yards per carry, but the Rams may struggle to take advantage of that fragility if they cannot replace Woods' influence in that regard.

With D.J. Jones (56.70), Nick Bosa (40.04) and Arik Armstead (48.84) all above average in double-team adjusted win rate on run defense, the Niners do have the talent up front to magnify any run game struggles for Los Angeles.

San Francisco's primary defensive question concerns their personnel in the secondary.

49ers' secondary problems persist

The 49ers saw their secondary depth suffer a blow right off the bat as Jason Verrett tore his ACL in Week 1, and the way in which the coaching staff have managed the personnel in the defensive backfield has received criticism.

Despite impressing early, rookie fifth-round pick Deommodore Lenoir has been conspicuous by his absence since the Week 3 loss to the Green Bay Packers, with veterans Josh Norman and Dre Kirkpatrick ahead of both Lenoir and fellow first-year corner Ambry Thomas on the depth chart.

Kirkpatrick is out on Monday with an ankle injury while Norman (ribs) is questionable, meaning both Lenoir and Thomas are likely to be in uniform, with one potentially set to start alongside Emmanuel Moseley and K'Waun Williams at corner.

Lenoir would appear to be the frontrunner to start if Norman cannot play, and the Niners may require an improvement on his generally solid play across the first three weeks for them to have a hope of containing Matthew Stafford and the Rams' passing attack.

The former Oregon corner's adjusted open percentage allowed of 35 is inferior to the average of 31.15 for cornerbacks and, beyond the threat posed by Beckham, Lenoir will also have to deal with the NFL's most productive receiver should he be thrust back into the starting line-up.

Cooper Kupp is on pace for over 1,900 receiving yards having already surpassed 1,000 through nine games. He is recording a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, 66.7 per cent of the time, with his average of 4.3 burn yards per route the best in the league among receivers with at least 20 targets heading into Week 10.

San Francisco's secondary can at best be described as being in flux. If the 49ers cannot find a combination that works, it could provide Kupp with the chance to deliver another hugely productive performance and leave Kyle Shanahan's men with the difficult task of keeping pace with the Rams' offense.

Moore thrown in at the deep end

The Niners can afford to have confidence of going blow for blow with the Rams, if they can avoid the turnovers that ultimately doomed them against the Cardinals.

Shanahan's offense has been moving the ball efficiently, with Jimmy Garoppolo producing his two best performances of the season over the last two games.

Garoppolo reached the 320-yard mark in the win over the Chicago Bears and the loss to the Cardinals, marking the second time in his career he has produced a streak of successive 320-yard games. The only other 49ers quarterbacks with multiple streaks of consecutive 320-yard games are Joe Montana (four) and Steve Young (two). 

His hopes of stretching that run to a third game may well hinge on the play of a rookie offensive lineman.

The Niners will be without right tackle Mike McGlinchey for the rest of the season after he tore his quad against Arizona. His replacement is expected to be rookie Jaylon Moore, who delivered an admirable showing in relief of left tackle Trent Williams versus the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7.

Moore is credited with winning nine of the 12 one-on-one pass protection matchups he has faced so far but, having spent his entire career to this point on the left side, looks set to flip to the right in extremely trying circumstances.

Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald's versatility should see him regularly shift from the interior and line up across from Moore on the edge, and the Rams will surely look to get Miller one on one with the rookie consistently.

Donald has won a remarkable 59 of his 91 one-on-one matchups and Miller's win rate of 43.94 per cent is still way above the average for edge rushers of 21.88.

The challenge for San Francisco will be to get Moore as much help as possible from tight ends and running backs to prevent that duo padding those numbers.

Leave him to fend for himself, and the Niners' hopes of keeping pace with Los Angeles could vanish in a hurry. After being embarrassed by a division rival last week, setting Moore, and in turn Garoppolo, up for success is crucial to them avoiding the same fate in the primetime finale to Week 10.

Even at the midway point of the NFL season, it is difficult to make definitive judgments about many teams in the 2021 campaign.

The AFC is a jumbled mess with no clear frontrunner, though the Tennessee Titans may feel differently after surging to the top of the conference with a 7-2 record. 

In the NFC, it is easier to discern the elite, but picking the teams who will claim the last two Wild Card spots from a crowded field is not a simple task.

What we can do, however, is look at the standings and see which teams are either over or underperforming.

Stats Perform has done just that by assessing the records of every team compared to their power rating, a model that, using X-info data, looks at seven different facets of each team: quarterback, offensive skill players, run blocking, pass blocking, pass rush, run defense and pass coverage, and the player rates associated with each.

These seven facets are weighted according to modelled importance, and then aggregated to a team-level rating.

And that process has produced some clear standouts who either have more wins than the model suggests they deserve or are failing to live up to its expectations.

Overperforming

New Orleans Saints – Power rating: 29th

If Sean Payton isn't getting Coach of the Year hype come the end of the season, something has gone severely wrong.

Payton has the Saints in position to claim an NFC Wild Card berth at 5-3 despite a quarterback situation most would struggle to overcome, with Trevor Siemian stepping in to replace the injured Jameis Winston.

The Saints' most pressing issue beyond signal-caller is at wide receiver. Their most targeted receiver, Marquez Callaway, is registering a burn – or, in other words, winning his matchup with his defender when targeted – 56.4 per cent of the time, below the average of 60.6 for wideouts (min. 10 targets).

That has led New Orleans to lean on running back Alvin Kamara and the defense.

Kamara is unsurprisingly making the most of his significant opportunities as a receiver, his big-play percentage of 23.6 fourth among backs with at least 10 targets.

The defense is allowing a league-low 3.19 yards per carry and leads the NFL in run disruption rate, but comparative struggles against the pass (6.92 yards per play) and in getting after the quarterback could spell trouble if Siemian cannot maintain a surprisingly strong start to his time under center.

Cincinnati Bengals – Power rating: 23rd

The Bengals have been brought back down to earth with a bump over the past two games, losing to the New York Jets before being blown out by the Cleveland Browns.

First in the AFC before that slump, they are now last in the AFC North but, with a 5-4 record, they can still be considered to be outperforming expectations.

The problem area for the Bengals continues to be the trenches. Joe Burrow has been sacked eight times over the past two games, Cincinnati's struggles up front reflected by a ranking of 21st in pass protection win rate.

Things have been worse up front on defense, the Bengals 30th in pass rush win rate despite the best efforts of Trey Hendrickson, who has beaten a pass blocker on 28 of his 43 pressures.

Burrow has the best percentage of well-thrown balls among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. He is delivering an accurate pass on 84.4 per cent of attempts.

His second-year leap is no mirage and has been aided by the outstanding rookie season of former LSU team-mate Ja'Marr Chase, eighth among receivers (min. 50 targets) with 3.5 burn yards per route. Yet, without improvement in other areas, elevating the Bengals back to the postseason could prove too much of a challenge for that truly dynamic duo.

Arizona Cardinals – Power rating: 16th

The Cardinals being this low down the list may be difficult to reconcile given they are 8-1 and just convincingly beat the San Francisco 49ers with their backup quarterback.

Yet holes have emerged on a defense now without J.J. Watt, whose addition had proven so critical to the interior of the D-line.

Arizona's defense is allowing 4.81 yards per rush, the second-most in the NFL, with the Cardinals in 22nd in run disruption rate.

Their pass rush win rate position of 24th belies the production of Markus Golden (nine sacks) and Chandler Jones (six), with those numbers suggesting the Cardinals' strength against the pass is more a product of the impressive play of a secondary that has surpassed expectations.

Though there is reason for doubt when it comes to the Cardinals' defense, this is a team that will go as far as Kyler Murray and the offense.

Murray is firmly in the MVP mix with a well-thrown percentage of 81.3, and receivers DeAndre Hopkins (80.9) and Christian Kirk (79.2) are each in the top five among wideouts (min. 10 targets) for burn rate.

With an offensive line ranked eighth in pass protection win rate doing an excellent job of keeping Murray clean, the Cards have an offensive recipe well suited to winning in 2021.

Yet their power rating and performance on defense indicates this team is not as complete as their record suggests.

Tennessee Titans – Power rating: 18th

Five straight wins, including victories over the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams, and the Titans are only 18th?!

It may be difficult to believe, but Tennessee's position in the bottom half of the NFL by power rating is one mirrored by the Titans' spot in Stats Perform's Efficiency Versus Expected (EVE) rankings.

EVE looks at several factors to train a model to predict yardage output for any game situation and then compares the projected yards to the actual yards gained or prevented in those situations.

The Titans are a disappointing 17th in EVE, despite Ryan Tannehill enjoying a season that has seen him deliver an accurate well-thrown ball on 83.5 per cent of his passes.

But Tannehill is now without his security blanket with Derrick Henry, who was threatening Eric Dickerson's rushing record and averaging 3.05 yards per carry on disrupted runs, and is throwing to a receiving corps that has just one member, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (63.6), with a burn percentage above 60.

Their stunning primetime win in Los Angeles was largely a product of turnovers and a startling amount of pressure from the defensive front, and the latter appears unlikely to be sustainable.

In the bottom half of the league in pass rush win rate (31st) and run disruption rate (27th), the production the Titans have got from the likes of Harold Landry, Denico Autry and Jeffery Simmons has not been the result of consistent dominance up front.

The story is the same for an offensive line ranked 29th in pass protection and 17th in run block win rate. Beyond Tannehill and Henry, areas where the Titans consistently excel are not obvious. The receivers will need to step up or the defense will need to prove a breakout performance against the Rams was not an anomaly for Tennessee to turn the doubters into believers.

Underperforming

Kansas City Chiefs – Power rating: 3rd

The uneven nature of the Chiefs' performances to this point makes them moving to 5-4 last week actually seem pretty impressive.

Yet, for all their issues on defense, and the doubts about an offense lacking the explosiveness of years gone by, the Chiefs should have fared even better over the first nine games, at least according to their power rating.

Though Kansas City only managed 13 points in their win over the Green Bay Packers, it is the Chiefs' offense that provides the most cause for optimism.

Patrick Mahomes' well-thrown percentage of 79 is above the league average of 78.5 for quarterbacks with a minimum of 10 attempts, and he is being well protected by the Chiefs' reworked offensive line.

The Chiefs rank fourth in pass protection win rate and first in run block win rate, with their rushing average of 4.62 yards per play the eighth-best in the NFL.

It is those game-changing downfield shots that are conspicuous by their absence for the Chiefs, with Tyreek Hill's underwhelming big-play percentage of 24.8 illustrating their struggles in that regard.

But this remains a team set up for offensive success, and if a defense that has not allowed a 300-yard passing game since Week 5 can continue making incremental improvements, Kansas City could yet enjoy the season many envisioned.

San Francisco 49ers – Power rating: 8th

A route to contention is not as easy to plot for the 3-5 49ers, who continue to beat themselves with mistakes that negate their overall efficiency.

The 49ers are eighth in EVE, with their position in offensive yards over expected (eighth) and yards allowed under expected (14th) painting the picture of a top-half team on both sides of the ball.

Yet a turnover differential of -9 that is superior to only that of the New York Jets (-12) makes a losing season a more realistic possibility for the Niners than a playoff push.

The offense is the primary source of hope. Deebo Samuel is on pace for over 1,800 receiving yards and his 4.1 burn yards per route are second for receivers with at least 50 targets, while George Kittle had a 100-yard game on his return from injury last week and ranks second among tight ends (min. 10 targets) with 3.1 burn yards per route.

With rookie Elijah Mitchell impressing at running back, Brandon Aiyuk emerging from Kyle Shanahan's doghouse and a line ranked in the top 10 in pass protection and run block win rate, the Niners theoretically have the offense to compete with anyone.

Poor execution has prevented them from doing so. If the Niners are to somehow stay in the hunt, the turnovers must stop, but change is also required on defense.

The 49ers have struggled to disrupt the run, and disappointing secondary play has limited the impact of a stellar season from Nick Bosa, whose adjusted pass rush win rate of 41.09 per cent is way above the average of 21.88 for edge rushers.

Time is running out for San Francisco to figure it out; if the Niners cannot do that, it will be another frustrating year for a team too talented to be struggling this much.

Minnesota Vikings – Power rating: 10th

It has been a typical Vikings season, with a talented and potent offense seeing their efforts go largely unrewarded as they have flirted with both triumph and disaster late in games on a near-weekly basis.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins might have an MVP case were the Vikings in a better position to contend. He has been extremely accurate, posting a well-thrown percentage of 81.8, and has generally avoided turnover-worthy plays, throwing just four pickable passes on 285 attempts.

Dalvin Cook's missed tackle per touch rate of 0.269 is the best among running backs with at least 50 carries, and Justin Jefferson is again one of the league's elite separators at receiver, as evidenced by his burn rate of 72.1 per cent.

Yet the Vikings are only 13th in offensive yards over expected, speaking to an issue that continues to hold this team back, with Minnesota again in the lower reaches of the league in pass protection win rate.

It has been a different story on the other side of the trenches, the Vikings seventh in pass rush win rate, though the absence of Danielle Hunter with a torn pectoral muscle may see them lose that position.

Soft against the run, allowing the third-highest yards per rush (4.77) in the NFL, the Vikings are a team whose lofty power rating is easily explained through a loaded passing game and a pass rush that has excelled through their first eight games.

But their 3-5 record is reflective of an incomplete team that maintains an obvious weakness in the trenches and lacks the defensive solidity to put games to bed. The Vikings may be a top 10 team on paper, but it is tough to trust them to perform to that standard consistently.

Kliff Kingsbury conceded James Conner is performing way beyond his expectations after the running back helped an undermanned Arizona Cardinals power past the San Francisco 49ers.

The Cardinals were anticipated to face an uphill battle in Week 9 as star quarterback Kyler Murray and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins were ruled out through injury.

Also missing receiver A.J. Green (reserve/COVID-19 list) and with defensive lineman J.J. Watt on injured reserve, Arizona refused to let their plethora of absences condemn them to a damaging defeat in the NFC playoff race.

Instead, the Cardinals have the best record in the NFL after moving to 8-1 with a convincing 31-17 road victory.

Key to the win was Conner, who now leads the NFL with 11 total touchdowns after scoring three against the Niners in a game that saw him finish with 173 yards from scrimmage.

Signed in April after a largely unsuccessful stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Conner has served as one of the more astute acquisitions of the NFL offseason, with the display he produced after Chase Edmonds' injury forced him to take the bulk of the workload serving as emphatic evidence of that status.

"I thought he was more of a downhill, power back just watching from afar," Kingsbury said after the game.

"Then we got him here, and he made some spectacular catches in training camp, with his quick twitches and routes.

"He's been above-and-beyond anything any of us could've expected."

Veteran backup Colt McCoy averaged 9.58 yards per attempt in relief of Murray and credited the MVP contender and the talent around him as he enjoyed an efficient day few outside of Arizona will have envisioned.

"If I didn't think I could still play, I wouldn't be playing," McCoy said. "But I also understand my role.

"There is not a bigger fan of Kyler Murray than me right now. I've learned a lot from him in my short time here, and he's very special.

"I'm not Kyler Murray… Me, I'm benefiting from being on a great team."

The Green Bay Packers' first look at life without Aaron Rodgers was not a pleasant one, as their offence sputtered with backup quarterback Jordan Love at the helm and the Kansas City Chiefs held on for a 13-7 victory. 

The Packers (7-2) had averaged 27 points during the seven-game winning streak that ended on Sunday after reigning MVP Rodgers missed the game following a positive coronavirus test during the week. 

The visitors did not get on the scoreboard until Love hit Allen Lazard for a 20-yard touchdown pass with five minutes remaining for his first career NFL TD.

That gave Green Bay some hope after their previous drive had ended with L'Jarius Sneed picking off a Love pass on Kansas City's five-yard line, but the Packers ran out of time. 

While the Chiefs (5-4) were not about to complain about the victory that got them back over .500, their season-long concerns about their offence continued as Patrick Mahomes had another unimpressive game. 

Former league MVP Mahomes completed 20 of 37 passes for just 166 yards but avoided throwing an interception for the first time since the season opener. His 54.1 completion percentage was his worst in a regular-season game since completing 51.2 per cent in a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 5 last season. 

 

Cardinals cruise past 49ers without Murray

The other red-hot team playing without their star quarterback fared better, as the Arizona Cardinals rolled to a 31-17 defeat of the San Francisco 49ers despite Kyler Murray's absence through an ankle injury. 

Veteran Colt McCoy stepped in for the Cardinals and completed 22 of 26 passes for 249 yards, while James Conner rushed for 93 yards and a pair of scores as Arizona improved to 8-1. 

Three turnovers proved critical for San Francisco (3-5) as the 49ers lost two fumbles in the first half and had trouble sustaining drives throughout the game, with only 23:13 of possession compared to 36:47 for Arizona. 

Jimmy Garoppolo completed 28 of 40 passes for 326 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for San Francisco. 

In Philadelphia, Dustin Hopkins' 29-yard field goal with two seconds to play gave the Los Angeles Chargers (5-3) a 27-24 victory over the Eagles (3-6). 

Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins are both game-time decisions for the Arizona Cardinals, head coach Kliff Kingsbury has confirmed.

Arizona travel to play NFC West rivals the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, looking to bounce back from suffering their first loss of the year against the Green Bay Packers.

Murray threw multiple picks and no touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career as Arizona lost 24-21 to the Packers, ending the only perfect record left in the NFL.

The Cardinals (7-1) could be without their starting quarterback and leading wide receiver on the road against the Niners.

Murray (ankle) and Hopkins (hamstring) both missed the open section of practice on Friday, having also not been involved on Wednesday or Thursday.

"He is progressing but we will see how he feels Sunday and go from there," Kingsbury said about Murray.

"I know he wants to play. He knows how important a divisional game is [but] we are not going to put him out there if he can't function.

"I don't know if [Hopkins] will go full speed or not."

Arizona (7-1) got a 17-10 win at home over San Francisco (3-4) this season, but that was the only game in which they have not scored at least 21 points this year. 

Murray has had a spectacular year so far, putting himself in the MVP conversation.

The third-year QB ranks second for completion percentage (72.7) and has 17 touchdown passes to seven interceptions, as well as a further three scores on the ground.

Murray's 24 passing plays of 25-plus yards are tied for the most in the NFL with Tom Brady, and he leads an efficient offense which has led him to the fourth-highest passer rating (110.4) in 2021.

Veteran backup Colt McCoy will play if Murray is unable to take the field.

Hopkins leads the team in catches (35) and receiving yards (486), but at 60.8 yards per game is operating well below his production from last season (87.9) amid his injury struggles.

The Cardinals also put wide receiver A.J. Green on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week.

The 49ers, meanwhile, beat the Bears 33-22 in Chicago last week, snapping a four-game losing streak and scoring their most points since a 41-33 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 1. 

In an unusual sequence of results since the start of last season, the Niners are 1-10 at home and 8-4 on the road. 

The Green Bay Packers head into Week 9 with a 7-1 record, though coach Matt LaFleur will have to figure out a way past the Kansas City Chiefs without his star quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers – who has thrown for 1,894 yards and made 17 touchdown passes this season – will miss his first Packers game since 2017 after testing positive for COVID-19.

The Arizona Cardinals are also now at 7-1 after losing their unbeaten record with a defeat to the Packers last week, and will be looking to get back to winning ways against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Los Angeles Rams are the only other team in the NFL that sits at 7-1 going into Week 9, and are set for a fascinating contest with the 6-2 Tennessee Titans.

 

Green Bay Packers (7-1) @ Kansas City Chiefs (4-4)

Overcoming Rodgers' absence will be no easy feat for Green Bay. Since the 37-year-old took over as the starter in 2008, the Packers are 133-64-1 with him, and 6-11-1 without.

The Packers knocked off the last unbeaten team in Week 8 with a 24-21 win at Arizona and are now on a seven-game winning streak, their longest within a single season since going 13-0 in 2011 on their way to a 15-1 record. Their only loss that season came in Kansas City.

The Chiefs hold a 7-4-1 record over Green Bay, but the Packers have won three of the last four meetings. They most recently played in Week 8 in 2019, with the Packers triumphing 31-24 at Arrowhead. Kansas City went 10-1 following that game on their way to winning the Super Bowl.

Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to that championship and since he took over as the starting quarterback in 2018, Kansas City have had just six games with 20 or fewer points, including the postseason. Three of those games have come this season (Weeks 5, 7 and 8).

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill had 12 receptions in the Chiefs' 20-17 win against the Giants on Monday, one shy of tying a career high (set in Week 12, 2020 at Tampa Bay). The Chiefs are 15-2 (regular and postseason) when Hill has at least eight receptions.

Arizona Cardinals (7-1) @ San Francisco 49ers (3-4)

This will be the second meeting in the NFC West for these two teams this season, with Arizona already enjoying a 17-10 home win over San Francisco in Week 5. It is, though, the only game in which the Cardinals have not scored at least 21 points this year. The Cardinals have won five of their last six road games against the Niners, with three of those wins coming by at least 10 points.

The 24 points scored against the Cardinals by the Packers in Week 8 in their first loss of the campaign was the second most allowed by Arizona this season (33 against Minnesota in Week 2). Their average of 17.3 points allowed per game ranks third in the NFL.

San Francisco beat the Chicago Bears 33-22 last week, breaking a four-game losing streak and scoring their most points since a 41-33 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 1. Since the start of last season, the Niners are 1-10 at home and 8-4 on the road.

Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 322 yards and ran for two touchdowns in Chicago. The only 49ers player with more passing yards in a game while also rushing for multiple scores is Steve Young, who had games with 355 yards (1994), 348 (1991) and 331 (1998).

Tennessee Titans (6-2) @ Los Angeles Rams (7-1)

Including their win in Super Bowl XXXIV, the Rams have an all-time record of 8-5 against the Titans/Oilers franchise. The Titans' last game at the Rams in southern California came in Week 9, 1990, which saw a 17-13 Rams win over the then-Oilers in Anaheim.

Tennessee beat the Indianapolis Colts 34-31 in overtime last Sunday. It was their third overtime game this year, tying the franchise record for most overtime games in a single season (1983).

The Rams, meanwhile, defeated the Houston Texans 38-22 after leading 38-0 heading into the fourth quarter. They are one of two teams (along with the Dallas Cowboys) to score at least 20 points in every game this season.

Cooper Kupp had 115 receiving yards and a touchdown in that win in Houston, his third straight 100-yard game. Kupp has 10 touchdown catches from the first eight games of the season, second in Rams history only to Elroy Hirsch (12 TDs in 1951).

Elsewhere...

The New England Patriots travel to Carolina to face the Panthers on Sunday, where Mac Jones is set to make history. The rookie quarterback has 1,997 passing yards in his eight games in the NFL so far. Drew Bledsoe currently holds the record for fewest games needed to reach 2,000 passing yards with the Patriots (11). Butch Songin and Tom Brady managed it in 12 games.

The Minnesota Vikings will be hoping to end Lamar Jackson's impressive record against NFC teams. The Baltimore Ravens quarterback is 11-0 all-time as a starter in those meets, throwing for 1,901 yards and 17 touchdowns while running for 995 yards with six scores. 

Despite differing seasons, it could be a close contest in Jacksonville. Including the playoffs, the Bills (5-2) and Jaguars (1-6) have split eight all-time encounters when the Jags are the home team, with both teams scoring exactly 161 points. 

A clash in the AFC North sees the Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) host the Cleveland Browns (4-4), where Joe Burrow will be trying to become the first quarterback in Bengals history to throw three or more touchdown passes in four straight games. Andy Dalton also had three straight games of three or more TD passes in October 2013.

The Arizona Cardinals are set to make a late decision on whether Kyler Murray plays in a Week 9 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.

Quarterback Murray missed the opening part of practice on Wednesday due to an ankle injury as the Cardinals stepped up their preparation to face the Niners at Levi's Stadium this weekend.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury had stated that MVP contender Murray was day-to-day as he nurses a sprain of his left ankle, having limped off the field following the defeat to the Green Bay Packers last Thursday.

Kingsbury said after practice that the signal-caller is "progressing" ahead of Sunday's showdown with a 3-4 San Francisco team and a game-time decision is likely to be made.

Wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green were also absent from practice along with running back Jonathan Ward.

There was more positive news on center Rodney Hudson, offensive lineman Max Garcia and defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence, who all returned to practice.

Linebacker Zaven Collins also recovered from a shoulder injury to take part in practice.

NFC West leaders the Cardinals are 7-1 after suffering their first loss of the season, going down 24-21 to the Packers.

Murray threw multiple picks and no touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career as Arizona lost the only perfect record in the NFL.

 

In fantasy football, as in life, things do not always work out the way you planned.

Every year, fantasy managers will leave their draft in a great mood, believing they have nailed it, only to see their star players fail to live up to expectations.

This week's look at some of the top selections for Week 9 features such players heavily, with some who have struggled with consistency or injuries appearing in line for a strong outing this weekend.

Stats Perform looks at four offensive players and a defense who should be fantasy starters in Week 9.

Quarterback: Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings @ Baltimore Ravens

Cousins can be a confounding quarterback for Vikings fans and fantasy players alike, as his 184-yard performance in the Week 8 loss to the Dallas Cowboys demonstrated.

Yet he has an intriguing bounce-back matchup on the road as the Vikings aim to stay in touch in the NFC playoff race.

The Ravens are conceding 7.35 yards per play, the fifth-most in the NFL, and saw their defense shredded for 415 yards passing by Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in their last game before the bye.

Cousins already has three 300-yard games to his name this season and unquestionably has the weapons to take advantage of the Baltimore defense and record another on Sunday.

Running Back: Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Chicago Bears

Harris has not been efficient in his rookie season, averaging 3.74 yards per carry, but this is a selection predominantly about volume.

Indeed, the former Alabama star has carried the ball 128 times so far this season. Only three players have recorded more rushing attempts.

That is a recipe for success against a Bears defense allowing 4.55 yards per carry, the eighth highest in the NFL. Fantasy managers with Harris on their roster should be optimistic about a player with three touchdowns in his last four games.

Wide Receiver: Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Diggs has endured a mediocre year, continually frustrating his fantasy owners, though he did find the endzone for the second successive week as Buffalo defeated the Miami Dolphins last week.

And the wideout who led the league in receiving yardage last year gets another chance to exploit a vastly inferior opponent this week as the Bills travel to Jacksonville.

The 1-6 Jaguars are giving up 8.18 yards per pass play. Only the Detroit Lions (8.28) have been more charitable to opposing passing attacks this season, making the Jaguars the ideal opponent for Diggs as he looks to record only his second 100-yard performance of the season.

Tight End: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals

Like Diggs, it's been an underwhelming season for Kittle, though for different reasons as he missed the last three games with a calf injury.

Prior to being put on injured reserve, however, Kittle had seen 19 targets across his last two games. With Kittle anticipated to return this week, expect him to be a favoured target of Jimmy Garoppolo, which could lead to a big day with the 49ers offense seeming to find its rhythm in the Week 8 win over the Bears.

Defense: Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos

Third in the league in takeaways with 14, backing an opportunistic defense like that of the Cowboys is never a bad play.

This week they face a Broncos offense that has committed a turnover in all but one game and is averaging 5.51 yards per play, putting them 21st in the NFL.

The Cowboys are eyeing a playoff run while the Broncos, despite being 4-4, appear focused on building for the future, events on Sunday should reflect that.

The Pittsburgh Steelers overcame the loss of kicker Chris Boswell for the whole second half as they beat the Cleveland Browns 15-10 on Sunday.

D'Ernest Johnson rushed 10 yards for the game's first touchdown in the third quarter to put Cleveland seemingly in control at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Steelers' chances were already damaged by the loss of Boswell to a concussion following a huge hit from Browns tackle Jordan Elliot, but Najee Harris' touchdown closed the gap to a point.

Ben Roethlisberger threw two yards on fourth down for Pat Freiermuth to earn the decisive score with a little over 11 minutes on the clock.

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett came in costume as the Grim Reaper to mark October 31, his cape inscribed with the names of his sacked quarterbacks, but it was the Steelers' trick play that proved far from a treat in the first half: Boswell took a direct snap from 28 yards and, after rolling right and throwing for the end zone, he took a powerful hit from Elliot.

After rookie Harris had dragged Pittsburgh back into contention following Johnson's score, Roethlisberger, who is now 24-3-1 in career starts against the Browns, made his mark.

The 38-year-old, who finished 22 of 34 for 266 yards, almost saw his two-yard pass fumbled by Freiermuth but the tight end recovered to land both feet in the end zone.

By contrast, Jarvis Landry's handling let him down as he was stripped by Joe Schobert with a little over six minutes left.

The 4-4 Browns will hope for better next time out against the 5-3 Bengals, who were stunned by a New York Jets 34-31 comeback win in which Mike White threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns on his first NFL start.

Rams rout Texans, Lions looking toothless

The Philadelphia Eagles ran in four touchdowns as they snapped a two-game losing streak to crush the Detroit Lions.

As coach of the NFL's only winless team after eight straight defeats, Dan Campbell will head into a bye week to try to arrest a terrible run of results that culminated in Sunday's 44-6 loss, in which the Lions only got on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.

The Houston Texans (1-7) are faring little better, their 38-22 loss to the Los Angeles Rams (7-1) looking only a little more respectable after they ran in 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, Davis Mills throwing for 310 yards and two touchdowns.

49ers down Bears through sensational Samuel

The San Francisco 49ers improved to 3-4 after a 33-22 defeat of the Chicago Bears in which Deebo Samuel set pulses racing with a spectacular 83-yard catch-and-run.

After being denied an apparent touchdown for being ruled out of bounds, Samuel's run still allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to score from two yards out just a handful of plays later to cut the Bears' advantage.

Not only did Samuel produce the Niners' longest play of the season, he passed Jerry Rice for the most receiving yards for the franchise across the first seven games of an NFL season.

Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy will miss Sunday's game with the San Francisco 49ers as he remains in coronavirus quarantine.

Nagy tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, leaving special teams coordinator Chris Tabor to take charge of practice this week.

And it is Tabor who will take the reins on Sunday as the Bears look to improve to 4-4 in a meeting with the 2-4 Niners.

Tabor is in his 14th season as an NFL assistant and must use that experience to lead the Bears to victory in a game between two teams fighting to stay alive in the NFC playoff picture.

The Bears follow the Arizona Cardinals in being without their head coach for a game because of COVID issues.

Arizona defeated the Cleveland Browns in Week 6 in a game coach Kliff Kingsbury missed after testing positive.

The Bears won their most recent meeting with the 49ers in 2018 but have lost two of their previous three home games against San Francisco.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance returned to practice on Wednesday, though there is no immediate sign of him taking the starting job from Jimmy Garoppolo.

Lance missed the 49ers' Week 7 defeat to the Indianapolis Colts because of a knee sprain he suffered when starting in relief of the then injured Garoppolo in Week 6 against the Arizona Cardinals.

Garoppolo was heavily criticised for his performance in the 30-18 loss to the Colts, which saw him complete 16 of 27 pass attempts for 181 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions as San Francisco lost a fourth straight game to drop to 2-4.

That has predictably led to calls for Lance, whom the 49ers selected after trading up to the third overall pick in this year's draft, to take the reins full-time.

He will not start against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, however, with head coach Kyle Shanahan waiting to see how Lance's knee reacts to practice before deciding how much he will be involved if at all.

"I don't think it's the right thing for him to start full-time right now, especially when I don't even know if he can get through practice today," Shanahan told a media conference. 

"So, I told you guys I understood why the questions are coming, but that's why I don't understand why that keeps coming, because I want to see if he's healthy today first. And then when he's healthy for at least more than one day, then we'll start to see when it's the best time for him."

However, Shanahan indicated he had been expecting an acceleration in Lance's development in the wake of his first start before injury curtailed his chance to build on that display, in which he went 15 for 29 for 192 yards and an interception while adding 89 yards on the ground.

"I think it was real unfortunate that, at the time he got to play, I thought he was ready to take off a little bit after that getting that experience," Shanahan added. 

"I thought that was going to be great for him to come back the next week, especially with Jimmy banged up a little bit, but he had an unfortunate injury, and it's lasting a little longer than expected.

"So, I'm excited to get him out there today. But he hasn't done anything in a couple of weeks, so we'll see where his progress is now."

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