San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams: Who Will Reign Supreme in NFC West?

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San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams: Who Will Reign Supreme in NFC West?
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams

Sunday December 26th, 2010 1:00 PM EST

Line: St. Louis -3

Overview:

This is the most important game this season for the NFC West. The division is quite possibly the worst in NFL history, but in Week 16, the division is still a three horse race, which makes it compelling nevertheless. The 49ers are one game out of first place, but hold the tie breaker over every team in the division. A victory over St. Louis this week coupled with a Seattle loss to Tampa Bay would put them in the drivers seat headed into a home game Vs. the Cardinals.

A loss would mean St. Louis would still need a Week 17 victory against the Seahawks, but it would also knock the 49ers out of contention. While the 49ers beat the Rams in their last outing, the game was very close throughout. The Rams play much better at home and that could account for the few points that could have swung the game in the Rams’ favor.

Keys to the Game:

  • The 49ers have to run the ball. Troy Smith is getting the nod over Alex Smith this week, so the 49ers need to make sure he ahs a threat behind him in the backfield. Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and a hot handed Josh Morgan are wonderful targets, but if Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon remain stagnant, the 49ers are not going to be able to get anything moving down the field. Troy Smith is going to need all the help he can get and if the Rams are able do seal the edge and remain solid up front, there could be a quarterback change at some point during the game.
  • Sam Bradford might not be quite at the level of Philip Rivers, but the Chargers showed exactly to what extent the 49ers’ secondary can be exposed. While the Rams don’t have all of the targets that the Chargers do, Nate Clements struggled mightily in man coverage. Clements might be too experienced to be picked on by Danny Amendola, but the 49ers have holes throughout their secondary that could be taken advantage of if Bradford gets protection. Hopefully for the sake of San Francisco, Justin Smith does not assault another referee.

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Key Matchup:

The Trenches

  • The Rams have a defensive line that can be the difference in ball games. Most of their pressure comes from their defense comes from their front four. If the 49ers can manage to get solid push with their young, injured offensive line, it would get the run game going. Troy Smith holds onto the ball entirely too long and if he doesn’t get all day to throw, the Rams could rack up coverage sacks.
  • The 49ers have a linebacker corp whose success is predicated off of the play of their defensive line. The Rams have a solid offensive line who has given Sam Bradford an opportunity to succeed in his rookie campaign. The Rams are better at pass blocking, but Steven Jackson has the potential to make up for any short comings the offensive line may have at run blocking.

Wrap Up:

I like the 49ers in this game. While both teams are heavily invested in the outcome of this game, the 49ers will have their playoff hopes completely shattered, should they lose. They already beat the Rams earlier in the season, and while the Rams are better at home, the 49ers are in panic mode. They should be able to win this one outright, but it will remain within in a field goal regardless of the outcome.

Free NFL Pick: San Francisco +3

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