The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers have both already played on Sunday Night Football this season, but we’ll get another look at the last two NFC champions in prime time.
Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, October 18, 2020 – 08:20 PM EDT at Levi’s Stadium
The Rams are 4-0 against the lowly NFC East and 0-1 against Buffalo (and the referees on fourth-down penalties) this season. After San Francisco's shocking 43-17 loss to the Dolphins last week to fall to 2-3, it's no wonder the Rams have opened as 3.5-point favorites with a total of 51 points at most betting sites. The Rams are 2-3 vs. O/U and the 49ers are 3-2 vs. O/U this season. This is an important game in the NFC West race so let's preview the matchup and make our best NFL picks.
The Rams Are Unpredictable
Head coach Sean McVay was not happy with the NFL's lack of standards for crowd sizes during this pandemic season, but he should be happy with the schedule makers. The Rams have already swept through the entire NFC East in five weeks to collect their first four wins this season. The NFC East looks like it will be in the running for the worst division in the modern era, so that was a real gift to get the Rams off to a good start.
With that said, it's been anything but easy to predict the final scores of games involving McVay's Rams. Remember the 54-51 shootout against the Chiefs in 2018? That season ended with the Rams losing the Super Bowl to the Patriots in a 13-3 snoozer. Last year, the Rams lost 55-40 to Tampa Bay and 30-29 to the Seahawks in games where Jared Goff passed for over 900 yards. The next week against the 49ers, the Rams had 48 net passing yards in a 20-7 defeat. When the teams matched up again in Week 16, the Rams lost 34-31 in a far different game.
The 2019 Rams saw their games end with a total score that differed by 14.5 points from the Vegas projected total, the 20th-highest difference among all teams since 2001.
This year hasn't been as extreme, but the Rams have been hard to predict. They opened with a low-scoring 20-17 win against Dallas before pouring it on late in Philadelphia to win 37-19. After falling behind 28-3 in Buffalo, the Rams rallied to a late lead before losing 35-32 after the aforementioned bad call on fourth down extended the game for the Bills. The Rams were expected to score more than 17 points against the Giants but settled for a 17-9 win there before crushing the Football Team 30-10 on Sunday.
It's hard to take this team's statistics at face value when 80% of the schedule has been against a terrible division and the other 20% was a 25-point comeback that ultimately failed.
What we can rely on is that Goff has been better this season, the running game is more fluid without Todd Gurley, and Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are one of the better wide receiver duos in the league. Aaron Donald also continues to be a monster on defense with a league-leading 7.5 sacks. The defense has been even better than the offense, but again, they've played three of the worst offenses in the league in the Eagles, Giants, and Football Team.
San Francisco: Ouch and Uh-Oh
The 49ers (2-3) have a quarterback problem. While Jimmy Garoppolo is the clear-cut choice to be the starter, his return from a high-ankle sprain on Sunday against Miami went so poorly with ill-advised interceptions that he was benched. He should be under center on Sunday night, but it's not a position brimming with confidence for the team right now.
San Francisco has been decimated by injuries this season, losing defenders Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, and Solomon Thomas while also suffering games missed by George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Raheem Mostert among others. It's made things difficult on both sides of the ball with the team's only wins coming against the embarrassing Jets and Giants, who can't score this year. The 49ers have already matched their loss total from 2019 and have blown two fourth-quarter leads.
While Kittle has returned, the 49ers have yet to get Samuel on track as he has 67 scrimmage yards in two games. The 49ers have turned the ball over six times over the last two losses. They need to protect the ball better and play more of a defensive grind game against the Rams. The 49ers are averaging 5.0 yards per carry so that part of the offense still functions. It's just the passing game that has taken a step back.
Worse, Donald and the Rams will be looking to pounce on a San Francisco offensive line that has allowed the second-most quarterback hits (48) this season. The Rams (34) have the fifth-most quarterback hits among defenses.
Division games can be harder to beat the NFL odds, but it's hard not to say the Rams look like the better team on both sides of the ball right now. They're also the best team the 49ers will have faced so far in 2020. The Rams should be able to get this win on the road in what I expect to be a game that looks sloppy at times and will fall Under 51 points.