The 49ers will face off against the Rams this Sunday in what will feel like a glorified preseason game. Evan Craig from Turf Show Times helps us out today to preview Week 18 with five questions.
1. Many thought the Rams would have at best an outside chance at the playoffs before the season, but they’ve proven that their “rebuild” was really more of a reload. Is it a surprise to LA fans that their team has a shot at another Super Bowl run?
If it was a surprise, it really shouldn’t have been. Before the season, I expected this team to win anywhere from seven to nine games. I never lost faith when the team sat at 3-6 entering their bye. Playing in a weak NFC helped the Rams rebound from that crappy 5-12 campaign.
While I don’t anticipate LA has much of a chance at a long-shot Super Bowl run, I expect they’ll be quite pesky, no matter who they face in the playoffs. This season has been a success for the team, no matter how it ends. The foundation is set, all the team has to do is keep it going in the years to come.
The reload succeeded because of the excellent drafting made by GM Les Snead. LA has returned to their winning ways due to all the young contributors Snead has selected in the past two drafts.
Sean McVay and DC Raheem Morris have also coached their freaking fracking butts off. With so many young players on the roster and an undermanned defense, there was every reason for the squad to wait until next year.
Instead, the Rams have been in every game, aside from the Cowboys' debacle that bears no mentioning here. With McVay and his strong coaching staff, nothing LA does should come as a surprise to the fan base anymore.
2. The young talent on the Rams roster has shown bright this year, from Puka Nacua and Kyren Williams on offense to Kobie Turner and Byron Young on defense. Who has been the most under-the-radar name that could jump into the national spotlight during the playoffs?
Great question as my under-the-radar pick would be offseason free agent pickup Demarcus Robinson. Since Week 13, the veteran has 319 receiving yards on 21 receptions. Robinson has clearly developed great chemistry with Matthew Stafford as he’s gone over 80 yards receiving the last two weeks and has four touchdown receptions in the past five games.
The playoffs are often where heroes are made, and I expect him to step up and be productive while defenses zero in on Kupp and Nauca.
3. Matthew Stafford looks like he has regained form and has the offense humming with only one game to go. How has Stafford (and McVay) adapted to become one of the most balanced and efficient offenses in the league?
Matthew Stafford proved he had enough in the tank in Week 1 against Seattle. He didn’t appear to have lost a step after missing half of last season. His throwing ability remains unmatched across the league.
I attributed his early woes to being forced to carry the load while the offense discovered their identity. Stafford threw away games to the 49ers and Bengals in back-to-back weeks. It’s unbelievable to see how different he’s been since returning from the bye and the injury that forced him to sit out the loss to Green Bay.
McVay has done Stafford a huge favor since the return of Kyren Williams to the lineup by relying on the run game. Williams has quickly become one of the best running backs in the NFL despite missing four games early on. The Rams went from imbalanced and relatively inefficient and completely flipped a switch in the second half due to McVay’s trust in Williams, which has allowed Stafford to sling it loose.
The second-year back has provided the offense with perhaps the best ground attack in Stafford’s career while also being the unit’s top weapon since Todd Gurley. When Williams plays, the Rams are a vastly different team as the offense has become elite based on his dynamic play style and other contributions.
4. The Rams will be locked into either the 6 or 7 seed based on the scenarios left from week 18, with potential opponents being Philadelphia, Dallas, or Detroit. Is there a specific matchup you would be more excited about for Wildcard Weekend?
As a writer, I’m rooting for playing the Lions on Wild Card weekend. The Matthew Stafford returning to Detroit and Jared Goff facing his old squad headlines just write themselves. I believe the Rams would bite a few kneecaps of their own against the Lions and could match their physicality and intensity. Although I would also be rooting for a rematch with the Eagles.
Right now, Philly can’t stop a nosebleed. They’re playing tired and ready to end a long year after their Super Bowl run. I wouldn’t be surprised if LA faces them and absolutely kicks their ass. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals shredded the Eagles in the second half last week and let’s be honest, the 49ers exposed them for the fraud they are. So why not LA?
Facing the Cowboys would be a different story as they’re unbeaten at home this season and LA got destroyed 43-20 in Big D earlier this year. The Rams would fare much better the second time around and would be additionally aided by playoff Mike McCarthy. Dallas has moments where they look elite until McCarthy makes a ridiculously stupid decision that costs them in the end. It’s a playoff tradition like none other.
5. I think both teams are focused on staying healthy as much as they are about winning this bitter rivalry. How does the changes in the starting lineup affect your opinion on the games line (SF -2.5 on DraftKings Sportsbook) and how do you see it shaking out?
With or without the lineup changes, I expected this to be a close matchup. LA played the Niners so well back in Week 2 that I was wanting to see what they could do if their playoff fates were on the line. Now that they’re not, this will be a game where I’m taking the under. I’m personally glad both sides are focused on staying healthy as I would hate to see a serious injury happen to any of the players right before the postseason.
Carson Wentz was announced as Sunday’s starter, so I honestly have zero clue what to expect. Wentz is such a wild card of a player. He’ll likely be more dialed in under McVay’s supervision. I envision he’ll play reasonably well but the 49ers win a low-scoring battle. (Sigh) You’d think the NFL scriptwriters would be tired of writing the same damn storyline every year.