The 49ers have dominated the Lions through the years. San Francisco has won its last nine games against Detroit and 14 of the last 15.
But this 2015 version of the 49ers is a different bunch than the group that beat the Lions in their last matchup in September of 2012.
In that one, Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes to Vernon Davis, Frank Gore rushed for 89 yards and a TD and a defense that included Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald held the Lions offense in check in a 27-19 victory.
All those players are gone now, of course, along with head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Now the 49ers of head coach Jim Tomsula, at 4-10, are listed as 7-point underdogs to the 5-9 Lions for Sunday’s game in Michigan (10 a.m. kickoff).
The 49ers rank as the NFL’s lowest-scoring team, averaging just over 14 points per game, and will face a Lions team that has won four of its last six.
The Lions, with quarterback Matthew Stafford, rank as the NFL’s No. 9 passing team, averaging 260.4 yards per game. In a Monday night victory over the Saints, Stafford completed 88 percent of his throws in a 35-27 victory. And, over his past four games, Stafford has thrown 12 TD passes vs. just one interception.
With All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate at his disposal, Stafford could have a big game against the 49ers, who rank near the league bottom (26th) in pass defense.
This week, 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini said the Lions offense is clicking right now with a trio of effective running backs, a good receiving corps and a creative attack. Rookie running back Ameer Abdullah had 77 yards rushing vs. the Saints, averaging 8.6 yards per carry.
“The backs are really explosive,” said Mangini. “You look at a guy like Golden Tate, very effective run-after-the-catch player. … They’re not forcing things. They are looking for an answer, the answer’s not there, they are going quick to the (running) back or quick to Tate, mixing in screens.
“They operate well in space. All three backs average over 8 yards a catch. So, you’ve got the big-play issue.”
Plus, there’s this: The 49ers will be playing away from Levi’s Stadium.
This season, the Niners defense has played far better at home than on the road. In seven home games, the 49ers have given up 119 points. In seven road games, they’ve allowed 220 points.
If the 49ers don’t get off to a good, early start Sunday, they could easily fall to 4-11.