The 49ers catch a slight break this Sunday when they face the Cincinnati Bengals without their starting quarterback, Andy Dalton.
Dalton broke his right thumb last week and was replaced by A.J. McCarron in a 33-20 loss to the Steelers.
But will it make a difference? Probably not.
Even without Dalton, the 10-3 Bengals – on their way to the postseason -- have a talented, balanced team full of playmakers that figures to be too much for the 4-9 49ers, who are coming off a woeful 24-10 loss to a Browns team that had been 2-10.
The Bengals have the No. 6 offense in the NFL and the No. 10 defense and outscore opponents by an average of 9.6 points per game.
They have a pair of solid running backs in Jeremy Hill (604 yards, eight touchdowns) and Giovani Bernard (647 yards rushing and 413 yards receiving), a dynamic wide receiver in A.J. Green (76 catches for 1,169 yards and eight TDs) and a terrific tight end in Tyler Eifert (48 catches, 12 TDs).
Carlos Dunlap (10½ sacks) and Geno Atkins (eight sacks) lead a pass rush that may feast on a 49ers offensive line that gave up nine sacks last week and will be without starting guard Alex Boone.
The 49ers, meanwhile, rank dead last in the NFL in offense and 30th in defense. Oddsmakers have made the Bengals 4-point favorites.
One big question for the 49ers Sunday will be whether they can protect quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Against Chicago two weeks ago, Gabbert starred in an overtime victory. But against the Browns he had a tough time – as did the offense overall – while he was constantly under pressure. Gabbert placed much of the blame for the Cleveland peformance on himself.
“I have to find a way to get rid of the ball,” Gabbert told reporters this week. “When you take that many negative plays throughout a football game, it’s tough. You’re digging yourself a deep, deep hole. I just have to find answers quick and make sure we’re all on the right page with communications.”
Sunday’s game at Levi's Stadium originally was scheduled to be on "Sunday Night Football," but was rescheduled for 1:25 p.m. when the 49ers turned into one of the worst teams in the NFL.