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The Rams (2-13) will finally conclude their fifth consecutive losing season when they host the San Francisco 49ers (12-3), the 2011 NFC West Division Champions, on New Years Day. The Sunday noon kickoff will mark the 123rd all-time meeting between these rival franchises. If they win for the second straight time, the 49ers can actually tie the series at 61-61-2. Since arriving in St. Louis, the Rams have gone 13-20 against San Francisco.
Looking at the Rams:
The Rams get to be relevant heading into 2012 based on the draft pick they earn along with the decisions that need to be made by owner E. Stanley Kroenke regarding the head coach plus front office positions. Most of the fans and media that regularly cover the team are expecting head coach Steve Spagnuolo to lose his job on what is referred to as ‘black Monday’, the first weekday following Week 17 of the NFL regular season if he is not given his dismissal on Sunday night. The lack of action and the time it has taken to make decisions by Rams ownership will hopefully not lead to more unsuccessful seasons. Maybe there has been no action taken because there’s nothing planned, and the current regime will get one more shot. All these questions, or theories, will be answered over the next couple days.
As for the game, the Rams may have their best shot to compete if the 49ers make the decision to rest their players, but that does not seem altogether likely because of pending playoff seedings. Probably their best hope is to have a big day from a playmaker like running back Steve Jackson or wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. The Rams will have quarterback Kellen Clemens make his third straight start to end the season. The veteran QB may be making his case to be Sam Bradford’s future backup since A.J. Feeley’s two-year contract is expiring. Clemens is six years younger than Feeley and would like to settle in one spot since he’s been quite the journey-man over the past two years.
The Rams actually have a turnover margin of +2 over the last two losses. Just like they need big plays on the offensive side, takeaways would be just as valuable from the defense. The 49ers, who lead all teams with a +26 turnover margin, have not thrown an interception or lost a fumble since their 16-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving Day.
Looking at the 49ers:
The division champion 49ers need to win or get a loss from the New Orleans Saints, who are also 12-3, to lock up a first-round bye for the NFL playoffs. Head coach Jim Harbaugh plans on playing his key guys in this game based on his teleconference from earlier this week. If they can lock up the playoff advantage unscathed, then they have plenty of time to rest before their next opponent.
The 49ers do not blow out teams, but just wear other teams down over four quarters with a bruising defense and rushing attack led by running back Frank Gore. Also expect rookie Kendall Hunter to get some of the work load as he got a season-high 13 touches last week in their 19-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Overall, they average 128.5 yards on the ground per game. Their pass game has generated 250-plus yards twice this season, and fell just short of that mark against the Rams with 245 pass yards on December 4. For some reason receiver Michael Crabtree, the former Big 12 Conference star, owns the Rams with 17 receptions, 337 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns over 4 career games. The only other team he does well against is the Arizona Cardinals.
San Francisco’s defense, which ranks fourth overall in total defense, is considered by most on the Rams team to be the best in the NFL this season. The Rams will certainly be able to vouch for that compliment since they have faced other top ranked defenses in the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Up until last week, the 49ers defense had not given up a rushing touchdowns for nearly 66 straight quarters when Steven Jackson scored a TD in the first quarter of the Rams 25-17 victory on December 26, 2010. The best they can do lock up their 13th win is to stop the Rams run game and former Missouri Tigers Justin Smith and Aldon Smith go after the quarterback on third and long. Justin is among the top pass rushers in combined pressures and sacks while Aldon will probably earn NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with his 14.0 sacks.
Tom Ackerman (9-5): 24-13, SF; Rams get #1 draft pick
Ron Jacober (9-5): 28-10, SF; Rams get #2 draft pick
Scott Warmann (12-2): 23-13, SF; Rams get #2 draft pick
Willie Springer(9-6): 24-10, SF; Rams get #1 draft pick
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