There are two ways to view possible outcomes of this weekend’s third and final battle between the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. The first and most common is to simply start with what you know and go from there. Yes, it is true the Rams have lost six straight games to the 49ers. It’s also true that times change. Personnel and situations also change even faster in the NFL. How reliable can past information be? If you’re betting on this wild, wild west showdown, you should stay in the present and read on about NFC Conference Championship odds, analysis, and predictions.
NFC Conference Championship Odds, Analysis, and Predictions: Los Angeles Rams versus San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers (12-7 overall) versus Los Angeles Rams (14-5 overall)
Date: Sunday, January, 30th / Time: 3:40 PM (Pacific), SoFi Stadium – Los Angeles, California
Odds: Rams currently -3.5* (45.5 over/under), *Rams-49ers closing odds of previous two games.
Taking a Look at Los Angeles
It’s easy to jump on a popular opinion and state the obvious, that the 49ers have the Rams number. That Kyle Shanahan out-schemes Sean McVay. San Francisco’s style of play is too physical for what the Rams want to do. In looking closer (and way beyond the numbers), the Rams might actually be in the better position to advance to the Super Bowl.
Here’s the thing— Matthew Stafford is 0-2 against San Francisco as a Ram. What’s more, his first loss to the 49ers was his introduction to them as a full NFC West card-carrying member of the division. He also had yet to know his own team and the playbook, especially on the level this magnitude demands. Suffice to say, Stafford has settled in as he’s taken the Rams this far.
It is foolish—especially when wagering—to make decisions today based on yesterday’s information. When betting on sports, the flow of information is not stagnant. Here, ‘today’ means lately, as in the last few weeks as opposed to Week 10. For instance, take a look at the two previous meetings between these teams.
Rams versus 49ers: Week 10, November 15th, 2021 (Levi Stadium)
The Rams spotted San Francisco 14 points in the first quarter with gift interceptions, including one Jimmie Ward took back for six. In the series following that score, they were able to run the ball eight of ten plays.
In the end, the Rams were outgained on the ground a mind-boggling 44 carries for 156 yards to 10 carries for 56 yards. Time of possession revealed the whole story: 39:03 to 20:57 in San Francisco’s favor. The Rams converted just three of ten third downs to the 49ers eight of 14. It’s no wonder the first quarter or change was so hard for the Rams to recover from.
Still, one thing should be kept in mind. Despite the game occurring in Week 10, it was likely not as hard to recover from for Stafford. That will come later, however.
Final: 49ers, 31-10
Rams versus 49ers: Week 18, January 9th, 2021 (SoFi Stadium)
The final game of the season (just three weeks from NFC Conference Championship day) is significantly more revealing. This is because it was played considerably more similarly to how both teams will likely play in the conference final.
The Rams came out fast. Their timing was better than in Week 10. As McVay might put it, “now we look like us.” The defense was not put in the position of playing back on their heels. There were no first-half turnovers killing drives or spirits. The team jumped to a 17-0 lead before the 49ers managed a field goal on the last play of the first half.
The third quarter was a problem for the Rams. With L.A. unable to match their first half performance, the 49ers posted two touchdowns for a 17-17 tie heading into the fourth quarter. Both teams scored in the fourth but the 49ers won it with a field goal in overtime. The Rams had a chance to respond but did so with an interception to seal their fate.
The 49ers, intentionally or otherwise, appeared to run plays targeting Rams safety Taylor Rapp. Interestingly enough on its own, Eric Weddle was signed out of retirement days after (due to Rapp’s concussion) and the secondary played better in the two games since. This includes Nick Scott, a special teamer who has made his presence known on defense during these playoffs.
It is also worth mentioning the first interception thrown that day by Stafford was intended for fill-in receiver Ben Skowronek. It’s highly bankable that Odell Beckham Jr. and Van Jefferson could see several completions each. This would likely put the score out of reach before Skowronek gets a sniff of the field outside of special teams.
Final: 49ers, 27-24 (O.T.)
Staying in the Moment and Embracing the “Feel” Factor
“Go with the team that has both individual and team upside,” a sentiment from last week’s Divisional Round analysis, looms large. The prediction itself is irrelevant; the same mindset applies here. Upon closer inspection, the 49ers are playing great, yet aren’t in the position of improvement. At this point, they are who they are even if they play their best. Simply put, they have already peaked. On the other hand, when you look at the Rams, there tends to be ebbs and flows. Yes, they can absolutely do things like losing focus with big leads. Coaching brain freezes also threaten to repeat (three straight runs on 1st and 10, 2nd and 13, 3rd and 12 late in the fourth quarter— what was that about?).
As previously mentioned, Week 10 was actually Stafford’s Week 1 against the 49ers as a player in the NFC West. His progress therein appears as follows:
Week 4, versus Arizona Cardinals: Rams lost by 17 (37-20).
Week 5, versus Seattle Seahawks: Rams won by 9 (26-17).
Week 10, versus 49ers: Rams lost by 21 (31-10).
Week 14, versus Cardinals: Rams won by 7 (30-23).
Week 15, versus Seahawks: Rams won by 10 (20-10).
Week 18, versus 49ers: Rams lost by 3 (27-24 in OT).
See the pattern here? Perhaps, Stafford improves with experience after getting a feel for an opposing team.
Recontextualizing NFC Championship Game Odds
Including the two games against the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers might help contextualize these numbers. In Week 3, the Rams beat the Buccaneers by 10 (34-24) with zero turnovers. In the Divisional Round, the Rams won by three (30-27), managing to look more impressive than in Week 3 despite a four-turnover meltdown. These victories speak to Los Angeles’s edge in NFC Conference Championship odds.
Feeling adventurous? Go with upside again this week to beat the spread and especially if you feel strong about the over.
NFC Conference Championship Prediction: Rams 31, 49ers 23
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images