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Column: Rams vs. 49ers will end like Dodgers vs. Giants — with an L.A. triumph

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp celebrates with receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, left, celebrates with receiver Odell Beckham Jr., right, and quarterback Matthew Stafford after catching a touchdown pass against the Arizona Cardinals on Jan. 17.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

One team is known for its grit, its resilience, a hearty group of regular dudes who have been scrapping and shocking.

The other team is known for its glamour, its glitz, a stately collection of renowned stars that have been swaggering and steamrolling.

Three months ago, this described the playoff duel between the San Francisco Giants and Dodgers.

Today, it describes Sunday’s NFC championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Rams.

The 49ers, like the Giants, are the gutsy overachievers. The Rams, like the Dodgers, are the gifted rock stars.

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With a Super Bowl victory, Rams’ Aaron Donald can finally have a resume worthy of who he is on and off the field, writes columnist Dylan Hernández.

Same differing styles. Same dissimilar cultures. Same regional disparities.

And, yes, absolutely, the same ending.

The Rams will beat the 49ers like the Dodgers beat the Giants, only it will be decided long before the final pitch, and there will be no whiny finish.

No check swings here, only one big hit.

Rams 30, 49ers 17.

The 49ers fans can fill the entirety of SoFi Stadium with every available Ronnie Lott jersey and it won’t matter. Kyle Shanahan can pin Sean McVay at midfield during a halftime throwdown and it won’t matter. More outlandish than all that, Jimmy Garoppolo can play a clean game and it won’t matter.

The Rams will win because they have a vastly superior roster in vastly better physical condition. The Rams will win because they are peaking while the valiant 49ers are finally gasping.

The Rams will win because they are just better, period.

The Rams have Matthew Stafford. The 49ers do not. The Rams have Cooper Kupp. The 49ers do not. The Rams have a defensive trio of Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Jalen Ramsey. The 49ers do not.

Rams outside linebacker Von Miller holds up his helmet near the field.
Rams outside linebacker Von Miller celebrates after a win Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC divisional playoffs.
(Jason Behnken / Associated Press)

The 49ers will have to win despite being led by Garoppolo and his 63.0 playoff passer rating. The 49ers will have to win while playing their third consecutive road game after nail-biting victories in the previous two. The 49ers will have to beat a hungry, healthy team that has been waiting all season for this chance to qualify for a Super Bowl on its home field.

“I feel like there’s no better stage than this,” Donald said. “This is the type of game you train for during the offseason. All that extra grind, all that extra film is to play in big games like this. I feel like there’s no better stage than what we have right now.”

Of course, the 49ers have won six straight against the Rams, and certainly, they have physically overpowered the Rams every time on both sides of the ball, but, goodness, things have dramatically changed since they last played earlier this month.

Cam Akers was just returning from an Achilles injury in that last game. He is at full strength now. If he can hold on to the football, he can do much to negate the 49ers’ harassing defense.

“A lot of confidence in Cam’s ability to be resilient,” said Rams coach Sean McVay.

Odell Beckham Jr. caught only two passes in that last game. He has since found a playoff groove —10 catches, 12 targets, 123 yards and a touchdown — and will be a big complementary weapon against a 49ers’ secondary that has been torched by Kupp for 240 yards. Contrary to what was predicted in this space at the time of his midseason acquisition, Beckham has been a reasonably humble source of good.

Rams linebacker Von Miller read Kobe Bryant’s book, watched his documentaries and gained inspiration to become an even greater football player.

“I feel like I’m affecting the game and being able to just give a spark when you need,” he said.

Also in that last 49ers game, Stafford was mired in a slump. He has since found himself with two clean playoff starts featuring four touchdown passes while completing 75% of his attempts for a 131.5 passer rating.

“Not a bunch of secrets, just who can step up to the plate and make the plays when we need to make them,” said Stafford.

The Rams have been stepping up to the cliché plate and hitting it out of the cliché park, entering Sunday with the momentum of two tremendous offensive playoff performances. At separate points in the last two playoff weeks, the Rams led their opponents by a combined 55-3. The offense has been matched by a Rams defense that has not allowed a first-half touchdown in either postseason game.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford hands the ball off to running back Cam Akers.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford hands the ball off to running back Cam Akers during an NFC divisional playoff win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
(Alex Menendez / Associated Press)

The 49ers, meanwhile, have been offensively striking out, having not scored a touchdown in their last five quarters. They needed a Dallas Cowboys’ brain cramp to win one game, and a Green Bay Packers’ special teams’ meltdown to win the other game.

“There’s a lot of belief in our team, a lot of belief in the guys in that locker room,” said Stafford. “When we step on the field, no matter what the situation is, we’re going to have a chance to go out there and get the thing done.”

There’s increasing strength in that step. The Rams have rarely been healthier, while the 49ers staggered off Green Bay’s Lambeau Field last week with apparent leg injuries to their two most important offensive players, left tackle Trent Williams and all-purpose weapon Deebo Samuel. While Williams missed the 49ers last victory against the Rams and it didn’t seem to matter, and while Samuel isn’t even on this week’s injury list, both players are desperately needed now at full strength against a Rams defense that barely blinked against Kyler Murray and Tom Brady.

“I think as the season goes, they’re playing their best ball right now,” said McVay of the 49ers.

Maybe they are. But Sunday will be an entirely new game against a different Rams team resulting in a completely changed outcome.

The 49ers fans will surely fill SoFi with chants of, “Beat L.A.”

But they won’t. Again.

The pressure is on coach Sean McVay, the “Wonder Boy” who hasn’t lifted many eyebrows since his Super Bowl loss to Bill Belichick and the Patriots.


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