Five 49ers to watch vs. Texans in Week 17 of 2021 NFL season

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  • Houston Texans
    Houston Texans
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  • San Francisco 49ers
    San Francisco 49ers
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  • Trey Lance
    Trey Lance
    American football player

Lance looks to advance 49ers' playoff hopes vs. Texans originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers' Week 17 game against the Houston Texans was going to have plenty of intrigue, regardless.

Now, with veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo unable to practice this week due to a torn ligament in his throwing thumb and officially listed as doubtful, things got a lot more interesting.

The 49ers (8-7) control their own destiny. They will advance to the playoffs if they defeat the Texans and the Los Angeles Rams in back-to-back games to close out the regular season. 

The 49ers would clinch a playoff spot on Sunday with a victory and a New Orleans Saints loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Here are five players the 49ers will count on to perform well on Sunday to avoid the upset against the Texans (4-11):

5. LB Fred Warner

The 49ers need to tighten up their third-down defense, and linebacker Fred Warner is a big part of that as he roams the middle of the field.

The 49ers lost to the Titans in large part because the defense could not get off the field on third downs. Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill picked apart the 49ers’ zone coverage and converted on 9 of 16 third-down opportunities.

Warner did not have one of his better games, as he gave up some plays in coverage and also had three missed tackles.

4. TE George Kittle

Tight end George Kittle went on injured reserve the day before Trey Lance made his first NFL start in Week 5. He will be relied upon to help make things easier for the young quarterback this time around.

Kittle did not have his best game against the Titans in Week 16. He was beaten for the sack on the play Garoppolo was injured. He and Garoppolo also had a miscommunication in the end zone that led to an interception.

Kittle should be a huge component of the 49ers’ offense as a run-blocker and as a pass-catcher. He allows Lance to complete underneath throws that could turn into big gains.

3. DE Nick Bosa

The Titans were able to do some things last week to neutralize 49ers’ edge rusher Nick Bosa.

The 49ers and Bosa need to be ready to handle whatever the Texans come up with Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

Bosa is tied for third in the NFL with 15 sacks. It will be important for him to get pressure on rookie quarterback Davis Mills to prevent him from gaining confidence and getting in a rhythm.

2. CB Ambry Thomas

Rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas appears to be in line to make his fourth consecutive start.

“Ambry has been matched up with some of the top receivers in the NFL and he's gotten better and better each week,” 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “I see the confidence building in him.”

Mills, a rookie from Stanford, will almost assuredly go after Thomas with Houston’s top receiving option.

Veteran wideout Brandin Cooks leads the Texans with 80 receptions for 945 yards and five touchdowns.

1. QB Trey Lance

Could this be it? Could this be the game that signals the beginning of the Lance era with the 49ers?

Lance, the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, is in a much better position to succeed this time around after spending nearly a full season developing behind the scenes.

RELATED: Why Williams believes Lance has 'responded in perfect way'

Lance started on Oct. 10 in the 49ers’ 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. He was used as much as a runner as a passer.

That should change now that he seems to have a better grasp of the offense and a finger injury that impacted his accuracy has completely healed.

Lance steps into a pressure satiation, as the 49ers desperately need a victory to advance their hopes of securing a spot in the NFC playoffs.

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