49ers Mailbag: Will George Kittle be ready for crucial next three games?

Matt Maiocco

The 49ers face a historically difficult challenge over the next three weeks, playing teams in back-to-back-to-back games that enter Week 12 with identical 8-2 records.

The 49ers lead the NFC West -- not to mention the NFC -- with a 9-1 record, and they have earned their way back onto NBC's "Sunday Night Football" for the first time in more than four years.

The 49ers meet the Green Bay Packers in a big one at Levi's Stadium, and here are some questions on the minds of fans. 

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George Kittle took part in walk-throughs and practices Thursday and Friday, which is an indication the club expects him to be available Sunday night. Kittle's goal all along has been to return to action to face the Packers.

So while the 49ers consider Kittle a "game-time decision," the four extra hours after being flexed into a night game gives him four more hours to convince the decision-makers that he is ready to return to action after a two-game absence due to knee and ankle injuries.

Kittle, and wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) and Deebo Samuel (shoulder) are expected to play against the Packers. However, left tackle Joe Staley, defensive end Dee Ford, running back Matt Breida and kicker Robbie Gould are not expected to play.

The best matchups for the 49ers are, in order: 1) Packers; 2) Saints; 3) Ravens.

Right now, the Baltimore Ravens are the best team in football. That game on Dec. 1 could be a rough one for the 49ers. The 49ers will practice at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, between the games in Baltimore and New Orleans. The hope is that the 49ers will be rested and fresh for the game against the Saints on Dec. 8.

There are enough holes in the Packers defense for the 49ers to get their run game going while also exploiting some matchups with their linebackers in pass coverage against Tevin Coleman and Kyle Juszczyk.

The 49ers are favored to beat Green Bay in Santa Clara. They will be decisive underdogs in their next two games.

The 49ers' next three games are very important for playoff seedings, for sure. But the key through the course of a 16-game regular season is to treat every game the same way.

It's the same level of preparation and the same level of focus that's required whether they're playing Green Bay in Week 12, New Orleans in Week 14 or Arizona in Week 11.

Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley has proven to be a starting-caliber player. Ahkello Witherspoon is likely to be back in the starting lineup on Sunday, and Moseley will be back as the team's backup corner.

I do not expect Moseley to take Richard Sherman's job any time soon.

Sherman has one year remaining on the original three-year, $26.5 million contract he signed in 2018. I fully expect him to be back with the 49ers next season.

Moseley is going to be around for at least several more years, so I can definitely envision a time when he takes over as the starter.

Dee Ford has proven to be a valuable asset for the 49ers. He teams with Nick Bosa to give the team two outstanding edge rushers.

Yes, Ford is scheduled to make a lot of money. But the 49ers did not give up a second-round draft to acquire him for just one season.

Ford is under contract for five years. Arik Armstead is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after this season. The 49ers have more defensive tackles than edge rushers, so I think it will be a very difficult decision, but the priority would be keeping Ford and finding a way to reach a contract extension with DeForest Buckner.

Let's see how this season plays out, but I expect Joe Staley to be back with the 49ers for his 14th NFL season. That has always been the intention since he signed a two-year contract extension through 2021 in June.

Staley has appeared in only three games this season due to injuries. The 49ers expect him to get healthy in the next week or two and finish the season strong.

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw is a rookie. He is under contract to the 49ers for three more seasons after this one. The plan is for him to continue to be the third linebacker and core special-teams player.

I don't see that role changing next season. Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander will be the every-down linebackers, while Greenlaw will start at Sam linebacker in the 49ers' base defense and be available to replace either Warner or Alexander, if needed.

Yes, Trent Taylor (foot) and Jalen Hurd (back) will remain on injured reserve for the balance of the season and be back next year to attempt to earn major roles with the club. The 49ers who remain possibilities to return off IR this season are Kentavius Street and Jason Verrett.

Coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff have a couple of big decisions to make, beginning Sunday night.

We know five of the team's inactive players will be Breida, Gould, Staley, Ford and quarterback C.J. Beathard. So who will be the other two inactive players?

Defensive tackle Jullian Taylor could be inactive, as D.J. Jones is ready to return to action. Then, I think the last wide receiver on the depth chart is the most logical person of being inactive. Last week, that player was Dante Pettis, who saw two snaps on offense and no action on special teams.

Kendrick Bourne will continue to see a lot of playing time, but I'm not sure if Marquise Goodwin will have a big role. With Kittle getting back on the field, the 49ers will use mostly two-receiver sets with either two tight ends or two backs on the field most of the time.

No, signing Antonio Brown is not the right move for this team. It never has been, and it never will be.

I do not see the 49ers being interested in Dez Bryant, a receiver who has not played for nearly two full years. After all, he would have been on the team long before this point if they had any interest.

[RELATED: 49ers' Ward will have hands full with Rodgers, Packers in Week 12]

They will have to take a hard look at what they want to do at wide receiver, but I'm sure they will bring in some new faces.

We know that Deebo Samuel is a keeper. He is a long-term starter. But after Samuel, the 49ers do not have any reliable pass-catchers under contract for next season and beyond.

Emmanuel Sanders is scheduled for unrestricted free agency. I'm sure the 49ers would like to bring him back. But at what price?

They hope to get Taylor and Hurd back healthy next season. But they will need to bring in more competition for Bourne, Pettis and Richie James.

49ers Mailbag: Will George Kittle be ready for crucial next three games? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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