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Rams-49ers: Bold predictions for the NFC Championship

LA leads by three scores by the half, the offensive line only allows one sack, and other bold predictions for the NFC Championship

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The football gods could not have delivered a less predictable weekend with every matchup coming to the end of regulation. No one could have predicted that the Green Bay Packers would fall to the sixth seeded San Francisco 49ers due to a number of special teams miscues, or that the Cincinnati Bengals would be playing in their first AFC Championship game since 1988. Don’t even get me started on what happened between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills.

One thing that could have been predicted though—Tom Brady was not going to go down without a fight. No lead is too big to overcome with TB12 lining up on the other side of the field. With the Los Angeles Rams in firm control of the game going into the second half with a score of 27-3, there was not one person watching the matchup that thought it was over. The Rams skill players did all they could to hand Brady yet another miraculous comeback.

Despite all their mistakes in the final half of football, Matthew Stafford was not going to let his chances of playing in an NFC Championship slip away. The soul stealer had every reason to believe that he would lead his team to victory with just 42 seconds left in the game in a hostile environment against the reigning Super Bowl champs. Brady’s comeback may have been predictable, but the pass from the Rams veteran quarterback to triple crown winner Cooper Kupp was not.

The only thing standing in front of Stafford and his first Super Bowl appearance is a 49ers team that has bullied LA six times in a row. Even though they haven fallen to them twice already, DraftKings Sportsbook still has the Rams as 3.5-point favorites over what many believe to be their kryptonite. Here are my bold predictions for the NFC Championship game.

Los Angeles leads by three scores by the half

In their last three games the Rams have outscored their opponent 58-6 in the first half, though two of those games have been decided by field goals. LA had a 17-3 point lead in Week 18 against the 49ers before giving it up in the final seconds of regulation and ultimately losing the match in overtime.

A balanced attack by the offense with incorporation from other weapons not named Cooper Kupp has allowed Los Angeles to get going quickly. With a lot of attention garnered by the Rams number one receiving threat, Stafford has found other weapons such as Tyler Higbee and Odell Beckham Jr. for big gains early. Although Cam Akers could not get anything going against the Bucs stout run defense last week, he is enough of a weapon to scare the opposing line. The fear of the run has allowed Sean McVay to get to play-action faster—setting up big plays early on in the game.

On the other side of the ball, the defense has gotten out to quick starts as well. Against Arizona, the Rams defense held Kyler Murray and his dynamic pass-catchers and running backs to just 40 total yards. They also intercepted him twice with one going for a pick-six. Against Tampa, Aaron Donald and his fierce group of pass rushers made Tom Brady look his age. Even in Week 18, LA held strong against the 49ers run offense for much of the first half before blowing up in the second.

I believe the trend will continue this week in the NFC Championship game. I predict that an elite performance from the defense and offense early on gives the Rams a three-score advantage going into the second half.

No turnovers

If I would have told you before the game last week that the Rams would have four turnovers, most of you would immediately think it was at the fault of Stafford—yet it was everyone but him. The skill players on offense did all they could to lose the game for the Rams with Cooper Kupp, Cam Akers, and Brian Allen all at fault. Four turnovers were more than enough to allow Brady to tie the game with just 42 seconds left, but not enough for Los Angeles to give away the win.

The same story was had in Week 18, but this time at the fault of Stafford. He was picked off twice in the second half with one being the game sealer in overtime. Turnovers have plagued LA late in games, but when they are playing their cleanest football they seem to be unstoppable—look no further than the game against Arizona in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

Stafford is playing some of his best football of the year in the playoffs and has yet to throw an interception and after an heavy emphasis on ball control during practice this week, I do not believe we will see any of the Rams other skill players attempting to fumble away the game. I predict that the Rams offense will finish without a single turnover.

Jimmy Garoppolo has over 40 attempts

The key to victory for Kyle Shanahan is simple—run the ball 40 times and control the time of possession battle while taking the game out of the hands of his biggest weakness. They did just that in a Week 10 matchup against LA, finishing with 44 attempts for 156 yards on the ground. Garoppolo only had 17 attempts through the air and the Rams fell to San Francisco 31-10 in one of their biggest letdowns of the season.

The formula has been the same throughout the playoffs. They had 38 rushing attempts against the Dallas Cowboys in their first playoff win and followed that up with a 29 attempt effort against the Green Bay Packers—though frigid conditions would skew those numbers just a tad. In both those games, Garoppolo's attempts were far outnumbered by his run game.

The Rams offense has come along way since Week 18 of the regular season and appear to be a whole new animal in the playoffs. If they score early and often, the 49ers will have to deviate from their game plan and put the game on Garoppolo’s shoulders as they play catch-up. I predict that he has over 40 attempts passing, a threshold that he has only surpassed three times this season.

The offensive line only allows one sack

The Buccaneers had all of their defensive weapons for the first time all season long after a slew of injuries plagued their line. That meant Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, and Vita Vea were all set to line up across from a Rams offensive line that did not have Andrew Whitworth. That squad of big names playing on even bigger contracts only got to Stafford once.

The 49ers also have some highly-regarded pass rushers on their defense with Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and ex-Ram Samson Ebukam on their roster. In Week 18 they combined for a total of five sacks against the Rams and have continued that trend throughout the playoffs—sacking both Dak Prescott and Aaron Rodgers five times. The talented group of rushers are able to get to the quarterback often with just a four man-set—making them a deadly unit for any opposing offense.

LA will get some reinforcements with Andrew Whitworth designated to return from injury, though Joe Noteboom had his game of the season in relief of the veteran.

The offensive line knows just how the 49ers will want to attack them after two previous matchups. After fighting off a relentless rush by Todd Bowles’ defensive last week, they should be up to the task. I believe that McVay will also have a plan to keep his quarterback healthy after watching him fall to the turf five times in the previous matchup. I predict that the offensive line for the Rams only allows a single sack.