The San Francisco 49ers have proven people wrong all season, recovering from a 2-4 start to find themselves one win away from playing in the Super Bowl. The same, to a lesser degree, might be said about their opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, who are led by a quarterback in Matthew Stafford who has two more playoff wins this month than he did in his entire career before heading West.
It should be a fascinating game, especially with the fact that the 49ers have beaten the Rams in each of their last six meetings and that Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay are former co-workers and longtime friends.
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams
Defenses Will Show Up Early and Often
Even though both the 49ers and Rams have solid overall offenses that are certainly in the top-third in the NFL, this game probably will come down to the defenses. San Francisco gave up the third-fewest yards in the NFL this season and held the explosive offenses of the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers to a combined 27 points in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Los Angeles — thanks to Aaron Donald leading a frighteningly good pass rush — shut down the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card round and essentially shut down Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three quarters last weekend. Put the 49ers’ and Rams’ defenses together and it could lead to a lot of short drives and field-goal attempts.
Any field goal prop bet is a good one to take. Robbie Gould is one of the best playoff kickers in NFL history — he’s 20-for-20 in the postseason — and Matt Gay, despite a rough game in Tampa, was a Pro Bowl kicker this season. They both should get plenty of kicking opportunities all game and will be in SoFi Stadium, so the weather won’t be a factor at all.
Pick: Over 1½ Field Goals In 1st Half (-115)
Pick: Over 3½ Field Goals Total (+140)
Higbee Key Part of Rams’ Offense
As far as NFL predictions go, Tyler Higbee’s yards over is about as reliable as it gets. The tight end has had more than 41 yards in each of his last six games and has gotten pretty consistent targets all season, a sure sign of a skill-position player’s role in an offense. Higbee has had 4+ targets in each of his last nine games.
Plus, Higbee had his best game of the season the last time the Rams played the 49ers, which was in their 27-24 Week 17 overtime loss. Stafford clearly trusts Higbee — he had six catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns in that game — and likely will have room to operate with how much attention San Francisco has to pay to Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr.
Generally speaking, the 49ers’ defense has done well against tight ends but the Rams have so many weapons that it’s easy for Higbee to kind of slip through the cracks of the opposing defense. He’s a worthwhile bet at that pretty low number.
Pick: Tyler Higbee Over 40½ Receiving Yards (-115)
Los Angeles Limits Passing Damage Well
The Rams’ overall defensive numbers aren’t so impressive but they have been elite in two specific areas: passing touchdowns allowed and interceptions. LA has only given up 17 passing touchdowns, the second-fewest in the league and is an indicator of how the Rams do a good job of limiting big scoring plays through the air. It also could be a function of teams being able to do better in short-yardage situations on the ground against the Rams than through the air.
Either way, if you’re betting online, don’t expect the Rams to get beat by multiple Jimmy Garoppolo touchdown passes. He has yet to throw a touchdown pass this postseason and hasn’t had more than one in the same game since Week 12. In the last meeting with the Rams, he had one passing score and was picked off twice. That’s likely how this one will go. If the 49ers pull off this upset, it’ll be because of their running game and defense, not Garoppolo.
Also, you can consider taking the under on Garoppolo’s passing yards too. He has had well under 200 passing yards in both playoff games so far and hasn’t attempted more than 25 passes in either.
Pick: Jimmy Garoppolo Under 1½ TD Passes (-140)
Pick: Jimmy Garoppolo Under 222½ Passing Yards (-115)