The San Francisco 49ers were in complete control of the NFC West heading into Week 15 action. They had just defeated the New Orleans Saints and a game against the visiting–and often bumbling–Atlanta Falcons was viewed as almost an afterthought. Of course, you don’t need to be a NFL handicapping expert to know that’s a dangerous mindset. The Falcons beat San Francisco 29-22 as +10 road underdogs and that defeat combined with Seattle’s win at Carolina has created a tie atop the NFC West. Also in the mix are the 8-6 Rams who travel North to take on the 49ers in the nightcap of a short slate of Saturday games.
The Niners will head to the ‘Jet City’ to conclude the regular season on 12/29 and that game could be a ‘winner take all’ battle for the divisional title. Seattle will host the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday and unless San Francisco can defeat the Rams here a Seahawks win could make the season finale very anticlimactic. The good news for the Niners is that they should have a good deal of confidence heading into this matchup after they took care of the Rams with ease earlier this season. San Francisco beat the Rams 20-7 in Los Angeles on October 13 as a +3 road underdog. That game was played before quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners offense really came to life so the degree of difficulty for a Rams win is greater then than it was in October.
It’s pretty obvious that the Rams just don’t have the same edge that they did last year. There’s a longstanding tendency for Super Bowl losers to struggle the following season and that could be at least part of the problem with Los Angeles. Todd Gurley has played hurt all season long and just hasn’t been as dominating as last season. He’s also been hampered by an offensive line that isn’t up to last season’s standard. The Rams could miss the playoffs even if they should win here. Another concern with the Rams is their recent poor performances when stepping up in class as evidenced by ugly losses at Dallas last weekend (44-21) and at home against Baltimore on 11/25 (45-6).
Los Angeles’ best chance was for the Niners to win with a pedestrian effort over the Falcons last weekend. Now that they’ve been the victim of an upset by a 5-9 team that won’t come anywhere close to the playoffs they’ll have plenty of focus on the task at hand. San Francisco has been at their best against top flight opponents this year and they have a 5-1 ATS record (4-2 SU) against winning teams. Look for a strong effort and a decisive San Francisco win here.