The 49ers are on the cusp of their second Super Bowl appearance in three years.
Considering where this team was just a few weeks ago, given how they played for most of the season, it doesn’t make much sense.
Lost in the whirlwind of the last few weeks of the campaign was a clear understanding of their success.
But this team is here and they are quite capable of winning another game against their rivals.
Yes, Rams and Nines are natural enemies, but they are rivals only in the sense that a hammer is a rival to a nail. San Francisco won six games in a row against their Southern California peers.
Can they bring the score to seven in the biggest game these two teams have played since the Rams returned to the West Coast?
It will be close, but these five battles will determine the winner:
The 49ers win if: K’Von Williams looks like the old one.
The Rams will win if: Matt Stafford avoids the deep serve and sets the rhythm with Cooper Kupp and tight end Tyler Higbee working in the slot.
The Niners have struggled to contain pass catchers inside the number in recent weeks as Williams looked at least a few steps slower after a calf injury and being on the COVID list.
Meanwhile, the Rams have the best receiver in the game, Cooper Kupp, who spends a lot of time inside. And unlike Aaron Rodgers, who refuses what works for… reasons… Sean McVeigh is too smart not to take free footage.
Stafford’s quick catch-and-shoot play could also have neutralized the 49ers’ pass rush, which would have been huge for Los Angeles.
The 49ers will win if: Their run defense and elite midfielders continue to play well.
The Rams will win if: Cam Akers, who runs back, can go to the second level several times in the game, which gives the Rams game some serious legitimacy and creates game action for McVeigh’s offense.
From a Week 14 win over the Bengals and onward, the 49ers have allowed a meager, hard to believe, 3.1 yards per carry in seven games. You just don’t run against this team of nines.
Meanwhile, Akers, who returned from a near miraculous preseason torn Achilles tendon, averaged 2.5 yards per playoff carry on 41 rush attempts.
But Akers is a talented defender who may just be warming up. If Akers can play an important role in this game, and not just someone who runs behind the offensive line, the field will open up for the Rams, which is a dangerous proposition for San Francisco.
The 49ers will win if: Right-back Dan Brunskill could continue blocking Aaron Donald incredibly
The Rams will win if: Aaron Donald commands dual teams throughout the game, with fellow defensive lineman Greg Gaines playing the monsters as a stopper.
San Francisco is a team that wants to run outside of the hash marks, but against the Rams’ defense, they will probably want to attack the LA light box with in-zone rushes. The 49ers’ offensive line may not be in the best shape, especially with Trent Williams off, but they should have at least a one-man lead every game on Sunday. That, plus the random and inexplicable fact that right-back Dan Brunskill has simply owned perhaps the best player in football, Aaron Donald, for the last few seasons.
But if Donald demands two men block him and Gaines can win his one-on-one battles in the middle, that will change everything. The 49ers want to dribble 35 times on Sunday, but they won’t do it in such a useless way.
And without a running game, the Niners offense is not dynamic, and against this team the Rams will lose.
The Rams will win if: Linebacker Troy Reeder has the game of his life.
The 49ers will win if: Troy Reeder plays as Troy Reeder
Shanahan will build his entire attack plan around attacking midfielders who lack space. The reader fits this shape.
Reeder was one of the worst linebackers in the NFL this season – he was too slow to pass and not strong enough to be a real run player. It is a reference to a bygone era. Shanahan will make it his mission to terrorize him with runs and passes.
Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throws almost exclusively between numbers, and the Rams have done nothing to stop it over the years. Los Angeles has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 77 percent of passes for nearly 8 yards per clip this season, according to ESPN. Garoppolo has completed 80 percent of his passes (29 of 36) through the center against the Rams this season for 320 yards and three touchdowns.
I, of all people, think he can put on a big game on Sunday.
If Reader can find the strength to play the best game of his life; If he can stand up to Shanahan’s bullying, the Rams have a chance.
The 49ers will win if: They can impose their will
The Rams will win if: Their trench game is getting better
It’s a simple concept, but an important one: The 49ers have had a significant physical advantage over the Rams in their last six games.
However, margins have narrowed. In Week 18, the Rams were clearly focused on matching the Niners hit by hit, and although they didn’t, this game was as close as they could be due to the intensified hit from Los Angeles.
If the Rams can take their fitness to the next level—if they can get extra yards on offense and dominate the trenches, especially with their defensive line against maybe two second-tier niner tackles—this contest will be in the Los Angeles’ favor. Angeles.”
This game can be played indoors at a perfect 72 degrees, but it’s still January and January football and all the toughness it requires will still win the day.
My extremely specific, 100% correct prediction, which in no way can be wrong:
Jimmy Garoppolo has an outstanding game, throwing two touchdowns and another deep pass through the center to Brandon Aiyuk. San Francisco can handle the absence of Trent Williams and they have Cam Akers in check.
The same can’t be said for Kupp, who has a monstrous game even though Odell Beckham and Higbee score touchdowns for the Rams.
San Francisco trails 23-24 thanks to an extra point missed by Robbie Gould, but they move down the field and Gould hits the game-winning 38-yard field goal with 19 seconds left. The nines hold on for the final seconds and advance to Super Bowl LVI, 26-24.