I guarantee you are going to hear how tough it is for a team to beat an opponent three times in the same season while the discussion is centering on the NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.
Forget that the Niners have beaten their division rival six straight times, including twice this season. Once, in November by a convincing score that was the turning point in Kyle Shanahan’s team’s season. Before that Monday night game at Levi’s Stadium against the Rams, the 49ers had lost five of their prior six games including a crushing blow the week before against the Arizona Cardinals who were forced to play backup quarterback Colt McCoy with Kyler Murray sidelined with an injury.
The loss to the Cardinals seemed to begin the process of putting the final nails in the 49ers 2021 season. But, that resounding win over Los Angeles, 31-10, in a game not nearly as close as the final score, the 49ers ran over the visitors like a Karate punch through Balsa Wood and began a resurgence that has brought them to the doorstep of Super Bowl LVI.
When the 49ers next met their NFC West rivals to close out the regular season, the 49ers needed a win to earn a Wild Card berth. The Rams were in position to win the division with a victory over their Northern California invaders who seemed to bring more fans with them than the home team had represented at SoFi Stadium. One thing for sure, the fans wearing red were a lot louder and their volume increased as Jimmy Garopollo led the 49ers back from a 17-0 second quarter deficit to a thrilling overtime win.
Now, these two longtime teams that don’t much like each other are ready to square off in the final of their three game season set, with the winner earning a date to play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in two weeks.
The 49ers had more to play for the past two times these two squads squared off. They were looking to save a wilting season the first time they met, and the Rams got their division title even in defeat three weeks ago when the Cardinals lost their chance to pull ahead with a home loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Now, the 49ers do not have a decided motivational edge, their desire to advance to the Super Bowl on an exact par with what the Rams are fighting for.
Does that help the Rams motivation over what they confronted in their first two contests against San Francisco?
Does that mean the Rams are going to win because the 49ers are not good enough to beat them a third time?
First of all, let's get our facts straight on that old tale about how hard it is to beat the same team three times in the same season. It only happens when division opponents who met twice in the regular season meet again in the playoffs. Since 1970, when the American Football League and National Football League merged into one league with divisions in two conferences, the American and National, 74 times division opponents who played each other twice in the regular season have met in the playoffs.
Fifty-three of those postseason games featured division opponents who split their regular season series. Evidence that it is tough to beat a playoff team twice; 53 times out of 74 opportunities, teams that lost the first meeting during the regular season got a win in the second game played.
What happened in the 21 games that were played in the postseason for the team that lost the first two games? Only seven times they got a win on their third try, leaving 67% of the time the team that won both regular season games went on to win in the postseason.
Which means this, it is a lot tougher for a team to win a game against a team that has already beaten them twice, than it is an obstacle for the team looking for the three game sweep to get it.
Does that mean the 49ers are going to beat the Rams this week?
It doesn’t hurt their chances that they have won both games this year and six in a row over the Rams … especially when the 49ers are underdogs. San Francisco is on the same postseason path that the 1999 Tennessee Titans took when they won three games over the Jacksonville Jaguars as underdogs on their way to Super Bowl XXXIV.