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Why the 49ers won’t face the Rams in the Divisional round

An old friend will have a say in the reason. Ultimately, the other shoe drops for the Rams.

New Orleans Saints v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

It’s not an open-and-shut case, but a lot would have to go right for the Green Bay Packers to win on the road against the Dallas Cowboys. So we ruled out the fun, up-and-coming Packers as a potential Divisional round opponent for the 49ers.

Whoever writes the script for the NFL season can take a bow for the Sunday night matchup. Matthew Stafford will play a playoff game in Detroit for the first time in his career. In three playoff games with the Lions, Stafford’s teams went 0-3 and lost by a combined 41 points. In one playoff run with the Rams, Stafford won a Super Bowl.

There’s the Jared Goff and Sean McVay connection.

The storyline of Dan Campbell anytime he steps onto a football field. This week, like any week, he’ll inevitably run a fake punt at the most unpredictable but predictable time.

The winner of this game has to score 30 points. These are two of the five best offenses in the NFL. That’s not a surprise, as McVay and Detroit’s offensive coordinator Ben Johnson are two of the five best offensive minds in the league.

These are also two of the lowest-ranked defenses in the playoffs. Nick Mullens scored 44 points against the Lions during two starts in December. The Rams have given up at least 20 points for five games in a row, and none of those three previous teams are still playing.

Why the 49ers will face the Rams

In a year where offense is king, the Rams have the most talented quarterback in the NFC, a running game, and an All-Pro caliber wide receiver. They’ll be competitive against anybody when you factor in McVay, Aaron Donald, and Raheem Morris.

Kyren Williams has been a difference-maker at running back. Since his return in Week 12, the only team the Rams lost to was the Baltimore Ravens, who were at home and off their bye week. Baltimore needed a punt return in overtime to pull out a victory.

In back-to-back weeks, Los Angeles scored over 30 points against the Browns and the Ravens. Not many teams can say they had that kind of success against those two defenses. The Rams have won seven of eight and scored at least 26 points during that streak.

We’re led to believe that teams that head into the playoffs on winning streaks continue that success in the postseason. According to recent history, it’s true. The previous three Super Bowl champions all entered the playoffs on a winning streak of some sort.

There’s no Sam LaPorta for Detroit, and he’s objectively a star in the making. You can’t replace his 120 targets overnight. A slow start by Detroit means you’re putting the game in Jared Goff’s hands. That’s advantage: Rams.

We have seen how games go when Goff has to shoulder the workload. He threw three interceptions earlier this season at home against the Bears. Just a couple of weeks ago, Goff had a pair of interceptions. The Rams have to take advantage of the “Goff moment.”

Why the 49ers won’t face the Rams

This season has been the best coaching job of McVay’s career. The Rams were picked to finish with the fourth-worst record in the NFC. They were supposed to look like the New York Giants at 6-11 this year.

That’s why I think the Cinderella story is over.

In Week 17, the Giants gained 389 yards against the Rams. New York missed a 54-yard field goal with 34 seconds remaining in a 26-25 game.

The Rams beat the Saints, Commanders, Browns, Cardinals, and the Seahawks during their winning streak. That was Joe Flacco’s first start in Cleveland.

The Lions are a step up in class for the Rams. Detroit isn’t going to forget how to score without LaPorta.

The Lions lead the NFL in adjusted line yards, which is a metric that measures how many yards an offensive line is responsible for on a rushing attempt. Detroit is also fourth in adjusted sack rate. In many ways, this season, the Lions’ offensive line is as dominant as the Eagles’ line from last year.

The Rams’ best coverage player in the secondary is none other than Ahkello Witherspoon. While a competitive player, that can’t be your CB1 in a playoff game.

Witherspoon and the Rams’ other starting cornerback, Derion Kendrick, are in the bottom 30 among all cornerbacks with at least 50 targets in passer rating. The Rams are fortunate that LaPorta is out, as they’re 23rd in DVOA in defending tight ends. They are below average at defending each eligible receiver outside of the slot.

Ben Johnson still has Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Jameson Williams to throw it to. It’s less about Goff versus Stafford and more about the sum of the Lions against the sum of the Rams.

The Lions had the fourth-highest pressure rate in the NFL. The last time Adian Hutchinson had fewer than five pressures in a game was in Week 8. He’s getting after the quarterback.

Stafford will make three or four wow throws a game, but he’ll also put the ball in harm’s way, especially when pressure is coming and he’s sped up. Hero-ball Stafford takes over.

Dan Campbell pushes the correct buttons much more than he’s given credit for. There’s a reason the Lions have won 12 games. Campbell has a trick or two up his sleeve, and the Lions look like a team expected to win double-digits while Los Angeles comes up short after a heck of a season.

I’d like the Rams more if they were playing the Cowboys, and the same is true for the Packers against the Lions. But these are the matchups, and I think we’re in for a weekend of favorites in the NFC.