You almost couldn't have planned the final weekend of the season any more perfectly. We've got a pair of West Coast rivals meeting with a ton of playoff implications at SoFi Stadium in Hollywoodland. More specifically, the Rams (12-4) are playing for the division title and the chance to play at home in the playoffs and the 49ers (9-7) are playing for their postseason lives.
Just in case you haven't seen them already, here are the exact scenarios for each team going into this game:
- The Rams will clinch the NFC West division title with a win or tie vs. San Francisco or if Arizona loses or ties against Seattle.
- The 49ers, currently the No. 6 seed for the playoffs, can clinch their postseason spot with a win or a tie vs. the Rams or with a New Orleans loss or tie at Atlanta.
After an 0-3 month of November, the Rams come into this game riding a five-game winning streak, including last week's 20-19 come-from-behind victory at Baltimore. The Niners have won three of their last four and are 6-2 since their 3-5 start to the season. So this will be a showdown between two teams that are playing on an uptick.
San Francisco (9-7) at Los Angeles (12-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 9 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Rams -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Is the thumb up for Jimmy G.?
The dashingly handsome Jimmy Garoppolo suffered an injured thumb and torn ligament on his passing hand back on Dec. 23 against the Titans. He's sat since then but finally threw again this week during practice; however, it is still uncertain as to whether or not he will see the field. And even if he did play, how dynamic can he be? In the meantime, Trey Lance did an admirable job filling in last week, going 16-of-23 for 249 yards and two touchdowns in leading the 49ers to the win over the Houston Texans. And much like Baltimore backup Tyler Huntley did against the Rams, Lance has the ability to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally with his feet, giving the Niners a chance to do a few more things. He'll have more of the playbook to work with this week, and he'll need it against that Rams D.
2. The midseason acquisitions
The Rams have gotten a real boost from their trades for Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller. Against the Ravens last Sunday, OBJ caught five passes, including a pair of real clutch plays. One was the big catch on fourth-and-5 which kept their game-winning drive alive. The other was the game-winning touchdown on the very next play on a seven-yard pass to the pylon with 57 seconds left. Meanwhile, Mr. Miller made his presence felt last week, recording five tackles with two key sacks and another tackle for a loss in the win over the Ravens.
3. Will the Kupp runneth over?
The 49ers have a real quandary on their hands in the defensive backfield since Dontae Johnson, K'Waun Williams, and Jimmie Ward are all on the Reserve/COVID-19 list as of press time. Ward is the one who would be assigned to cover Cooper Kupp in the slot. If he can't play, it's going to be a tough chore to contain Kupp and Co. On Tuesday, the Niners added cornerback Darqueze Dennard to help plug holes in the dyke. But Dennard has spent time on the Cardinals, Colts, and Giants already this season, none of which has been in actual game action. Oh, on top of all that, Mr. Kupp has a chance to break two NFL single-season records; receptions (149, held by Michael Thomas, 2019) and receiving yards (1,964 yards, Calvin Johnson, 2012). He's also trying to become the first receiver since 2005 to win the "triple crown" as he also leads the NFL with 15 touchdown catches.
The 49ers have won five straight in this rivalry, including a 31-10 blowout in Santa Clara back on Nov. 15. In that game, the Niners held onto the ball for 39 minutes, while Matthew Stafford averaged just 5.8 yards per attempt and also got sacked twice and intercepted twice. On top of that, the Rams had just 52 rushing yards. But now Sony Michel has come on strong with nearly 500 yards in the last eight games, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Also, Cam Akers (torn Achilles) is set to make his season debut on Sunday, giving head coach Sean McVay another weapon to work with.
On top of all that, Stafford is playing this game to put him in completely uncharted territory. A win here results in the first-ever division title of his career. I say congrats Mr. Stafford, that's why you came to Tinseltown.
Prediction: Rams 27, 49ers 23
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.