Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers and Sean McVay’s Rams are both coming off of embarrassing losses in contrasting ways.
San Francisco was expected to cruise to a victory against the Falcons but found themselves in a narrow defeat with Julio Jones reaching over the goal line at the final buzzer. Los Angeles had the opportunity to get closer to a playoff spot but were instead boat raced in Dallas, as the Cowboys beat their first winning team of the season.
Both teams are desperate — the 49ers looking to stay in the race for a first-round bye and the Rams looking to squeak into the playoffs. Here’s why San Francisco will — and will not — win on Saturday, as they host the Rams under Levi’s Stadium floodlights.
Why the 49ers will win vs. Rams
After the Falcons’ game, the 49ers’ locker room was as quiet and frustrated as I have seen it. Each player kept to themselves, and the common theme when speaking to various players was to regroup, improve, and beat the Rams on Saturday night.
Once the players and coaches realized that they still controlled their destiny for the NFC’s top seed and a bye, all their focus was on trying to defeat the Rams and Seahawks in the next two weeks.
On the field, the 49ers’ defense will get back corners Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams, which is going to be much-needed against a Rams’ offense that features Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Brandin Cooks.
When the two teams played in Week 6, Rams’ quarterback was held to 78 passing yards, and the Rams’ offense could not get unhinged after an opening drive touchdown. While the 49ers’ defensive personnel may not be the same this week, I still think that if they can get pressure on quarterback Jared Goff, it will spell trouble for the Rams’ passing offense.
Offensively, Falcons’ defender Grady Jarrett wrecked the 49ers’ game plan with interior pressure, and the 49ers cannot afford to let Aaron Donald do the same this week. Tight end George Kittle has dominated the Rams’ secondary with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. I’d expect corner Jalen Ramsey to spend some time covering Kittle this week.
San Francisco was flat on offense last week, and I expect them to get wideouts Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel involved, especially with no Troy Hill for the Rams. I think they find their flow again on offense and dominate the Rams at home.
Why the 49ers will not win vs. Rams
The Rams still have an outside chance at the playoffs — but it will take wins against the 49ers and Cardinals and Vikings’ losses against the Packers and Bears. After representing the NFC in the Super Bowl last season, the Rams are in serious danger of not making it into the January tournament.
Considering there’s an underlying rivalry between Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay and the Rams’ playoff hopes hinge on this game, I would expect that the Rams’ young head coach has his troops ready to go. Shanahan has had the best of McVay in their last two meetings, and I am confident that McVay would like to disrupt Shanahan’s chances of earning a first-round bye.
If we ignore the Cowboys’ game, the Rams had defeated the Cardinals by 27 on the road and Seattle by 16 at home. The Rams involved their star running back, Todd Gurley, who had 42 touches combined and was effective every time he was given the ball.
The Rams could certainly go back to that against the 49ers and lean on Gurley’s legs and Goff’s play-action passing attack to hurt the depleted San Francisco defense.
On the flip side, corner Jalen Ramsey will make his first appearance in a Rams-49ers game, and I would expect him to follow Kittle on Saturday. Aaron Donald and Cory Littleton can put a lot of pressure on a 49ers’ offensive line that has not pass-blocked well recently.
If the Rams’ defense can provide a pass rush and their offense can control the clock, it could be a sluggish game that mirrors Falcons-49ers, and everyone knows how that ended.