The last game on the board by rotation order for the NFL in 2017 is the NFC West showdown between the surging San Francisco Jimmy Garoppolos and the Los Angeles Rams. The JG’s are a four-point underdog against a Rams team locked into a home game in the Wild Card Round with either the #3 seed or the #4 seed. How will rookie head coach Sean McVay play this one out? Todd Gurley seems like a lock to sit, but what about the rest of the team? It might be worth speculating on the 49ers in case this line really swings the other way depending on what gets announced between now and the game.
The future is now in San Francisco and the future looks pretty bright. The 49ers and Garoppolo totally took apart Jacksonville’s top-ranked pass defense and won 44-33 in Week 16. With a win, San Francisco would get to six victories, the most since 2014. It would also be the team’s first five-game winning streak since the 2013 season. Kyle Shanahan has his man. The 49ers are 3-1 ATS since Garoppolo took over. The Rams are 11-4 on the season straight up and 9-6 ATS. Last week’s ugly win in Tennessee secured the NFC West crown. This will be a much different Rams team from a personnel standpoint and we’ll see some more of backup Sean Mannion, who has thrown as many passes as punter Johnny Hekker this season.
Jimmy Garoppolo jerseys are flying off of the shelves in the Bay Area. They certainly had to be a popular holiday gift. And why not? Garoppolo has completed 69 percent of his passes with a nice debut for the 49ers this season. He only has a 5/3 TD/INT ratio, but he has been a clear upgrade to CJ Beathard and Brian Hoyer. Garoppolo just has this aura of confidence around him and it seems to be rubbing off on others. Marquise Goodwin looks like a different player. Trent Taylor has been more engaged. The running game still needs work, as Carlos Hyde’s second half of the season has been rather unproductive, but the biggest question mark going into the offseason has been answered. Now, the 49ers can find skill position talent to help Garoppolo, who had nearly eight adjusted yards gained per pass attempt against the best pass defense in the NFL.
While the Garoppolo hype train is rolling down the tracks, the defense has fallen back into some of its bad habits. This is a defense that allowed 472 yards last week to Jacksonville, though a good chunk of it came in garbage time. The Jaguars had 380 passing yards while trailing by a lot. Still, the 49ers defense is 29th in third-down conversion rate against and one of the worst at defending in the red zone. This isn’t a bad defense, with 5.4 yards per play allowed, but the defense does need to generate some more turnovers next season. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was highly-regarded when Shanahan added him to his staff and there will be high hopes for this team next season.
This is such a weird place for the Rams. The franchise is in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been through this before, but head coach Sean McVay and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur have not. Will the Rams play everybody not named Todd Gurley? Will others sit? Will offensive linemen that have been dealing with injuries get a blow? This is the top offense in points in the NFL and the Rams rank fifth in yards per play at 5.9, but how many guys will play in this game? You’ll have to wait and get some of those answers as we get later in the week. We can assume that Malcolm Brown, who has 3.9 yards per carry, will get the majority of the running back work. Beyond that, we don’t know. Is it in Los Angeles’s best interest to keep Jared Goff sharp? If so, how long does he play? That’s why it may be worthwhile to speculate on the 49ers side in case the Rams start resting guys. The Rams should certainly want to play the Falcons instead of the Panthers or Saints, which would require a win.
The Rams defense has been overshadowed by the offense, but this is quite a strong group as well. The Rams have allowed just 5.2 yards per play this season, which ranks 12th. They’ve had problems defending the run, with 4.6 yards per carry against, but Wade Phillips has made it a point to defend the pass. Only the Jaguars, Ravens, Vikings, and Chargers have lowered adjusted net yards per pass attempt against, as the Rams sit with 5.0. The Rams rank in the top 10 on third down and rank fifth in takeaways with 25. We saw Jimmy G ace his first big test against a really good Jacksonville defense. What will he do with a solid Rams defense? Then again, how many of those really good players will he face?
Free NFL Picks: San Francisco 49ers +4
This is a tough spot to be in. Trendy, public underdogs are generally not a good way to look in any sport. But, with so much uncertainty on the Rams side in terms of who will play and for how long, the 49ers have to be the preferred side. They’re in a nice groove right now and have nothing to lose, so they’ll play everybody. Kyle Shanahan can use this game as another good barometer for his team and can get that across to his players. The Rams just want to smooth any rough edges and stay healthy. That means that these two teams are in very different places.