Overview: This is a very hard game to predict, mostly because the Rams are resting many of their key starters. Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, John Sullivan, Andrew Whitworth, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald and Alec Ogletree are all expected to sit this one out as the Rams gear up for playoffs (I love writing that last part!). Coach Sean McVay addressed his players after last weeks division clinching win against the Titans (see the video below)
Coach McVay's Clinching Speech-Woooooooo!
Todd Gurley continued making his case for the MVP Award. The 80 yard touchdown on a screen play may have been his signature play of the season so far (see video below).
Rams Offense vs Niners Defense: Sean Mannion will start this game for Jared Goff at quarterback. The Rams line will be missing two key pieces, left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Center John Sullivan, so my guess would be that the Rams will feature a lot of short passes and running plays to offset the San Francisco 49ers pass rush. Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown have done a good job in run blocking on the right side of the Rams line this season, and so far as I know they will be playing. Malcolm Brown and Tavon Austin will probably see a fair amount of action at running back. They aren't Gurley by a long shot, but they do offer a nice 'thunder and lightning" (power and speed) combo. Tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee could play key roles here. McVay utilized his tight ends a lot when he was the Washington Redskins Offensive Coordinator and we could see that again on Sunday. I think the Rams can still put points on the board with this unit IF Mannion plays well and if the line plays well enough to run the ball and implement a short passing game. The Niners have some talent on defense, including defensive tackle Deforest Buckner, who made his presence known in The first meeting between these teams. Linebacker Ruben Foster is a dynamic play-maker on defense, and the 49ers defense as a whole comes in relatively injury free for the final game of the season. I am going to give the Rams offense a slight edge in this match-up, but I will be the first to admit that there is a lot guesswork involved here because of the number of Rams players who won't be on the fieldRSS Feed
Edge: Rams (slight)
Rams defense vs. Niners offense; Aaron Donald and Alec Ogletree are expected to sit this one out, and they are probably the Rams two best defensive players. Cody Davis will be back at safety after missing several weeks with an injury. Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing at an elite level at quarterback so far, winning all four of his starts and putting up Aaron Rodgers/Tom Brady-like numbers. But Rams DC Wade Phillips has been around a long time, and he likely will thrown some things at Jimmy G that the young quarterback hasn't seen before. You could also make an argument that Garoppolo at some point is due for an off game...no one is THAT good. I hope that turns out to be true, because if Garoppolo is anywhere as good on Sunday as he has been, the Rams defense minus it's best players could get lit up. Which is another reason the Rams may go to a short passing/rush heavy offense. Eating up the clock, playing old-fashioned smash mouth football and keeping the ball out of Garoppolo's hands would have it's advantages.
Special Teams: The Rams have the best special teams in the league, and even without kicker Greg Zuerlein, I check this box for Los Angeles. What may be more important than who wins this game from the Rams viewpoint will be the performance of placekicker Sam Ficken, who is replacing Zuerlein. He got off to a shaky start last week, missing a field goal and an extra point before nailing a couple of extra points. If he performs badly in this game, that is a problem going forward.
Prediction: Honestly I am tempted to write "who knows." If the Rams are starting everyone they win this game hands down. With the many star players they are resting, it's really a crap-shoot But there are those who argue Los Angeles Rams would be better off losing this game. If they do lose and the Saints win, Los Angeles drops to the four seed. That would mean a victory in round one of the playoffs would send them to Philadelphia to face a somewhat-struggling Philadelphia Eagles team. If they end up as the number three seed, they most likely would have to travel to Minnesota to face a hot Vikings team. But just to complicate things even more, dropping to the fourth seed could also mean a trip to New Orleans for the NFC title game if they and the Rams both get that far. I honestly don't know how this game will come out, but the Rams have been exceeding expectations all season. Maybe they can do it again on Sunday.
Rams 27 San Francisco 24