Rams (12-3) vs. San Francisco (4-11)
When Rams have the ball
The Rams offense got its groove back in a victory over the struggling Arizona Cardinals and now it will go against another NFC West team limping to the finish. Quarterback Jared Goff broke out of a three-game slump with an efficient performance against the Cardinals that included a play-action touchdown pass to Robert Woods and a touchdown run on a read-option play. Goff might be under pressure from 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner, who has 12 sacks, but a defense that includes cornerback Richard Sherman has intercepted only two passes. Rams star running back Todd Gurley will be sidelined for a second consecutive game because of a left knee injury. C.J. Anderson will start again in his place, with rookie John Kelly as the backup. Anderson, a sixth-year pro who was signed last week to provide depth, rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals. Woods and fellow receiver Brandin Cooks both have more than 1,100 yards receiving, and both are also threats as ballcarriers on fly sweeps. Tight end Gerald Everett also has emerged as a dual threat. Despite their 4-11 record, the 49ers rank 10th in the NFL in total defense, but they are giving up 25.8 points a game, which ranks 24th in the NFL.
When 49ers have the ball
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3, and C.J. Beathardsuffered a wrist injury that opened the door for rookie Nick Mullens, who has gone 3-4 as a starter with victories over the Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. Mullens, signed as an undrafted free agent from Southern Mississippi, has passed for 10 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. Running back Matt Breida and receivers Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin will be sidelined against the Rams because of injuries, so Mullens will probably lean even more heavily on tight end George Kittle, who has 79 catches for 1,228 yards and four touchdowns. Mullens will need to keep an eye out for Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is chasing the NFL record for most sacks in a season. Donald’s three sacks against the Cardinals increased his total to 191/2, three shy of the 221/2 Michael Strahan recorded for the New York Giants in 2001. Donald had four sacks against the 49ers in the Rams’ 39-10 victory on Oct. 21. The Rams defense has played better since the return of cornerback Aqib Talib in Week 13 at Detroit. Safety Lamarcus Joyner is out because of an ankle injury, so Blake Countess and Marqui Christian willfill his spot.
When they kick
In 2017, Rams players were voted to the Pro Bowl at every special teams spot. Punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Greg Zuerlein did not make the initial rosters released last week, but they are still enjoying productive seasons. Hekker has averaged 46.6 yards per kick. Zuerlein has made 25 of 29 field-goal attempts. Robbie Gould has made 32 of 33 field-goal attempts for the 49ers. Punter Bradley Pinion is averaging 43.5 yards per kick.
Gary Klein’s prediction
It’s wait until next year for a real Rams-49ers rivalry game with meaning. The Rams will win the game, clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC and enjoy a bye through the wild-card round of the playoffs.