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49ers peaking at the right time


In what is arguably the franchise’s most important game in years, the Atlanta Falcons (6-7) head to the west coast for a Week 15 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers (7-6).

Somehow, the Falcons are hanging on in the NFC playoff hunt, but to really increase their chances, they’ll need to beat a surging 49ers team that’s coming off its fourth win in five games.

To help us preview Sunday’s game, we’ve gone behind enemy lines with the managing editor of Niners Wire, Kyle, Madson, for an inside look at Atlanta’s latest opponent.

What’s the reason for 49ers’ second-half resurgence?

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK

Madson: They started winning the turnover battle with more regularity. Through the first six games when they went 2-4 they generated just four takeaways on defense and committed 11 on offense. Since then they’ve come up with 12 defensive turnovers and seven on offense. Six of those seven came in losses to the Cardinals and Seahawks. The turnover stat has set the table for their run game to be more effective, taking some of the onus off Jimmy Garoppolo’s plate and allowing head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense to run at something closer to maximum efficiency.

Does Deebo Samuel deserve to be in the MVP race?

Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Madson: Sure! He can be in the conversation, but there’s no way he’ll actually win it or be close to winning it. He has six rushing touchdowns, most ever by a wide receiver, and five receiving touchdowns. His 240 rushing yards are the most ever by a wide receiver with 1,000 receiving yards. He’s an excellent player and the most impactful offensive player the 49ers have. His argument holds water in a vacuum, but then you put him up against Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and even someone like Rams WR Cooper Kupp and it becomes a lot harder to make a real case for an award that generally goes to a QB.

How is the defense playing since Robert Saleh’s departure?

(AP Photo/Stephen Brashear, File)

Madson: It’s hard to judge new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans because the 49ers’ secondary is so bad from a talent perspective. On the other hand, the fact they’re still ranked No. 8 in overall defensive DVOA says a lot about the job Ryans has done. There’ve been some growing pains with some poorly-timed blitzes and players being out of position in key spots, but for the most part the defense has been pretty good. It’s also worth noting the emotional lift Saleh tended to bring appears to be there with Ryans even if he isn’t as demonstrative on the sideline. There were several chances this year for the 49ers’ defense to tap out, but they didn’t and have now started coming up with turnovers and helping swing games. That’s a huge credit to Ryans.

How has Trey Lance looked and what’s going on at QB?

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK

Madson: The sample size is pretty limited. Lance played a handful of snaps in Week 1 and another couple in Week 3 before getting a start in Week 5 when Jimmy Garoppolo was hurt. In that start he struggled with some accuracy and looked to run maybe a little more often than he should’ve. However — the physical tools are very apparent. He’s got a long way to go as a passer which is partly why he’s not starting this year. It looks like his playing time will only come if Garoppolo is unavailable since Shanahan has all but bailed on any thought of a two-quarterback system.

Who wins on Sunday?

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK

Madson: The 49ers are trending the right direction and should probably win this one going away. I’ve not really been able to find anything the Falcons do really well, and San Francisco’s pass rush has a chance for a huge day against a bad Atlanta offensive line. ON THE OTHER HAND, this San Francisco team has a penchant for bad turnovers and face-planting in key moments. The Falcons probably keep this one closer than the 49ers would like, but I expect the home team to win it. 49ers 27, Falcons 23.

Read Niners Wire’s BEL interview with Falcons Wire

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