It's been quite the up-and-down season for the San Francisco 49ers, and those of us who call themselves fans. But redemption is nigh and the playoffs beckon. Of course, this necessitates the Niners taking care of business on the road Sunday for a win-and-get-in clash against hated NFC West rival, the Los Angeles Rams.
Looking ahead to this epic clash, there are no shortage of questions the 49ers have to answer Sunday, and there's quite a lot up in the air heading into the team's first practice session on Wednesday.
Without further ado, let's take a look at a handful that have piqued my interest.
Will Jimmy Garoppolo play through his thumb injury?
All I can do is chuckle at the way Kyle Shanahan has handled questions from the media regarding Garoppolo's thumb injury. Last week, he attempted to convince everyone that the quarterback only has a sprained thumb, playing the injury down in a huge way.
Afterward, Shanahan admitted to KNBR that it's "a Grade 3 sprain" (that means a torn ligament) but also made a big deal about Garoppolo potentially playing last Sunday at home against the Houston Texans.
After Trey Lance's outstanding second-half performance led the team to victory, Shanahan once again muddied the waters about whether Garoppolo might play in Week 18 against the Rams.
If Jimmy's a hundred percent healthy and could do everything, like perfect, then I would definitely go with Jimmy," Shanahan said in the post-game press conference. "I'm not just going to throw a guy in after one game like this, when Jimmy's been doing it for us all year. I think it's going to be hard for Jimmy to be at a hundred percent, which is how most people are right now at this time of year. But Trey did a good job, if Jimmy can't go, we won't hesitate at all. But if we feel Jimmy can go and play confident, then Jimmy will be out there."
Shanahan also responded with a curt, "nope," when asked if Garoppolo needs to be one hundred percent to play this Sunday against the Rams.
So, is Shanahan merely doing his best to say the right things, or does he truly believe Garoppolo can potentially play with the season on the line.
With a torn ligament in his throwing thumb.
If you follow me on Twitter, then you already know what I think about all this.
Will the 49ers offense avoid a sluggish start?
The Lance-led offense looked about as smooth as a pup tripping over its ears in the early goings Sunday.
My heart sunk into my stomach as it unfolded. And it wasn't necessarily because it looked like Lance might be in over his head.
Simply put, the 49ers have a habit of starting slow this season -- no matter who has been under center. David Lombardi of The Athletic did a nice feature earlier this season discussing the topic. At the time, Garoppolo was the undisputed leader of the offense. Yet it was still a problem
Many fans didn't really want to believe that it couldn't be blamed on Garoppolo. Yet Shanahan kept insisting that it wasn't "just one guy" -- a refrain he continued Sunday discussing the team's slow start against Houston.
Simply put, the 49ers cannot afford to start slow this Sunday against the Rams. As incredible as DeMeco Ryans and his defense have been in 2021, I'm personally expecting Matthew Stafford and Co. to put points on the board early.
Will COVID be a problem for the 49ers vs. Rams?
Monday brought with it potentially bad news for the 49ers when Jimmie Ward, K'Waun Williams, and Dontae Johnson all landed on the team's COVID-19 list.
This is three-fifths of the team's starting nickel secondary. Yikes...
The good news (for the 49ers) is that the NFL recently amended its health and safety protocols to speed up the turnaround time for players to return following positive tests. Even better, players who are vaccinated don't have to test again and can return in five days.
Still, this particular question cannot possibly be small in the minds of the 49ers coaching staff leading up to Sunday's huge game.
Will Daniel Brunskill continue to own Aaron Donald?
Rams star defensive lineman Aaron Donald is arguable the best overall defender in the NFL today. The man absolutely annihilates offensive lines and terrorizes quarterbacks on a weekly basis.
Yet, the 49ers appear to have a secret weapon -- Donald's Kryptonite, perhaps? It's right guard Daniel Brunskill, in case you didn't know.
So, will Brunskill have another monster game dominating the league's best interior pass-rusher? If he does, it could mean another 49ers victory.
Who will be the unsung hero of Week 18 for the 49ers?
It seems like there's always a guy nobody saw coming who steps up in big games. We all know players like Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Elijah Mitchell are doing to be a huge part of the game plan and likely will produce.
So who's going to be that guy who makes a jaw-dropping play at a critical moment to spur the 49ers to the playoffs?
Personally, I'm voting for Kyle Juszczyk.