With the Green Bay Packers clinching the National Football Conference top seed and the Los Angeles Rams assured of a playoff berth, one might think the Rams have little to play for this Sunday when they host the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers, by the way, have everything to play for. Lose, and if the New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco will miss making the playoff field. The Niners either have to win or have the Saints lose, to slip into one of the seven NFC postseason slots.
Does this give the 49ers an advantage?
Do the Rams have nothing to play for?
If the Rams lose and the Arizona Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks, then the Rams enter the postseason as a Wild Card and the Cardinals win the NFC West. Winning or losing for the Rams could also make a difference if the Packers lose their Divisional playoff game when they open postseason play, then a victory here by Sean McVay’s Rams could be the ticket for Los Angeles hosting the NFC Championship Game. Is that important?
Is it more important than what the 49ers have at stake in this NFC West showdown?
The motivation to improve a playoff position doesn’t compare to the edge a team gets needing a win to advance. The 49ers, by the way, have had great success against their NFC West rivals. The 49ers have downed the Rams in 12 of the most recent 17 meetings both straight up and against the point spread.
The 49ers gained their fifth straight win over Los Angeles on a Monday night eight weeks ago that saved their season. In that game, San Francisco limped in following losses in five of their previous six games including a crushing home loss the week before to the Arizona Cardinals. A loss in that Monday night contest would have put the 49ers postseason hopes on life support.
The win, enlivened San Francisco who went on to win five of their next six games. The 49ers climbed back into contention for the NFC West title while the Cardinals faded and the Rams lost a pair of games in their next three starts following the Monday night setback to San Francisco.
The title hopes were lost with San Francisco defeats to the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans down the stretch, but the Wild Card was always in play.
Who will start at quarterback for the 49ers on Sunday is unknown. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, who is refreshingly honest in his press conferences, admitted the same. If healthy, Jimmy Garoppolo will be behind center this week. He missed the 49ers victory over the Houston Texans last week, a contest won by rookie Trey Lance.
“It F…ing hurts,” Garoppolo honestly admitted on Wednesday while explaining how his injured finger feels when he passes the ball. He also said that he wants to go but if he's not ready and concludes it is not the best thing for the team for him to play, he will step aside and turn the 49ers playoff hopes over to his rookie backup.
Rookie or veteran, the 49ers needing a win to earn a playoff spot while the Rams have already clinched a postseason berth is the key factor motivationally … and enough to expect a 49ers victory and Wild Card playoff berth.
Qoxhi Picks: San Francisco 49ers (+4½) over Los Angeles Rams