The Los Angeles Rams control their own destiny in the final game of the season as they prepare to take on the San Francisco 49ers, who as we all know, have come away with the last five victories against Sean McVay’s squad. LA currently sits as 4.5 favorites over the 49ers according to DraftKing Sportsbook — even with the quarterback position in question going into Sunday for SF.
While the Rams have enjoyed continuous success this season, other than a three game lull at midseason, the 49ers have been slowly crawling out of the NFC West basement. At one point their season seemed to be over after just two wins in the first six games, but have since turned up the heat and are on the cusp of getting into the playoffs.
The stage could not be any more perfect for Sunday’s matchup—a classic rivalry in the final game of the season with plenty of playoff implications for both teams. Will the Rams secure the NFC West championship? Or will the 49ers punch in their ticket to the playoffs? Here are my bold predictions for what is to come in the season finale.
Cooper Kupp breaks multiple NFL records
The Rams will be looking for a victory on Sunday, but in the back of everyone’s minds is Cooper Kupp’s potential record-breaking day. Kupp is on pace to not only beat out Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving yard record, but also Michael Thomas’ record for most receptions in a season, as well as finish as the triple-crown winner for the first time since 2005. If he can do all that, Kupp should be heavily favored to win the Offensive Player of the Year award and gain more attention as a possible dark horse candidate for MVP.
Could a great performance in Week 18 decide the MVP race?— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) January 7, 2022
San Francisco will do every thing they can to stop that from happening, however. The Rams long-time rival has been stout on the defensive side of the ball in their last four games. In that time period, no opponent has put up over 23 points on offense against them—that’s including a matchup against the high-flying Cincinnati Bengals.
That's a PICK @MarcellJHarris! #HOUvsSF on CBS/49ers App pic.twitter.com/gN2R3NeORn— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) January 2, 2022
The 49ers will also attempt to control the time of possession with their bruising run game that rushed for 175 yards against the Houston Texans just last week. If they can limit their opposition’s total drives in the match, it will be that much harder for Kupp to get opportunities.
For much of the season teams have been trying their hardest to halt Kupp’s impact on the offensive side of the ball to no avail. Though Los Angeles was embarrassed in their last matchup, their star receiver may have been the one bright spot in their defeat. He finished with 122 yards on 13 targets, but was held without a touchdown. Kupp will have to piece together an even more dominating performance this weekend to officially have the greatest year by a receiver in league history. I predict he finishes with 13 receptions that go for 140 yards receiving and two touchdowns—just enough to beat Michael Thomas’ reception record by two, and surpass Johnson’s record by five yards.
Cam Akers comes out of the gate running
After critical setbacks due to a long list of injuries in the 2021 season, the Rams are finally getting back to their optimal roster with Cam Akers making his first appearance of the season. It is likely that Sony Michel will continue to see a large chunk of the carries come gameday, but it will be a sight for sore eyes when #23 gets his first piece of the action.
Cam Akers at Thursday’s practice. He’s expected to make his season debut against the 49ers on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/XrUWWWVbhq— x - Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) January 6, 2022
What Akers has done is short of miraculous after recovering from a blown Achilles before the season had even started—an injury that many thought was season-ending.
(2:56) “He sure looks good,” McVay exclaimed in a press conference on Wednesday, “He looks like he could play a lot of plays, but I do think you want to be smart with an incremental approach... Definitely want to get him involved.”
In a season that could easily be summed up as “adversity-stricken,” the NFL will finally get to see what many envisioned at the beginning of the season—Matthew Stafford paired up with a blossoming star at the running back position. The game plan might be to bring Akers back slowly, but after sitting out 17 weeks he will be antsy to make a huge impact right away. I predict that Akers finishes the game with 75 yards and a touchdown.
Aaron Donald wrecks the game
For the first time in two years the Defensive Player of the Year award will likely not go to Aaron Donald, but this team and its players are not worried about personal accolades—they are chasing a Super Bowl. The best defender in football will have plenty of motivation going into Sunday’s game and every reason to put on a show, because the last time Donald saw the 49ers offense, him and his fellow pass-rushers walked away without a single sack on Jimmy Garoppolo.
As long as Aaron Donald is playing football, he should be the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year. pic.twitter.com/BPYSBK4yDW— DRF Sports (@DRF_Sports) December 26, 2021
Since that matchup, LA’s defense has come a long way—they have fully integrated Von Miller into their scheme, Greg Gaines has become a premier defensive lineman, and on the backside Dont’e Deayon has elevated himself above the practice squad while Jalen Ramsey continues to play at an all-pro level.
Ghost rush by @vonmiller to seal the win for the #Rams.— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) January 3, 2022
Feints with the inside hand, then dips underneath the blocker’s punch! #passrush #larams pic.twitter.com/vRTsH7Xnzs
While it is no surprise the stars are shining in LA, their reserves have proven to be capable in their time of need. There is no team in the league better at representing the “next-man-up” mentality than the Rams this season. With the defense playing its best football, Donald has a chance to make his squad legendary.
The stage could not be any better for Donald to completely destroy any game plan the 49ers thought they could run against the Rams. A win earns the NFC West Championship, it very well could kick San Francisco out of the playoffs, and it sends the Rams into post season with plenty of confidence after a six game win streak. I predict that Donald ends the game with three sacks and four tackles for loss in an effort that utterly destroys the 49ers hopes of a sneaky playoff run.
Deebo Samuel runs amuck
Los Angeles will attempt to give it their all to stop Deebo Samuel on Sunday, but it is not an easy task. Samuel is enjoying his best year as NFL receiver this year and has proven to be a dual threat that requires a lot of attention. Against the Tennessee Titans in a Week 16 defeat, Samuel had 159 yards on nine receptions and added 32 yards on the ground on five attempts. What Kupp is to the Rams, Samuel is to the 49ers.
Introducing the Trey Lance to Deebo Samuel connection pic.twitter.com/7Rsgcc0zyM— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) January 2, 2022
It would be expected that Ramsey will be draped all over the elusive receiver on Sunday after he burned LA for 97 yards on five attempts, including a 40-yard touchdown catch that was the final dagger in the match. Covering Samuel may be easier said than done, however, as Kyle Shanahan does a great job at implementing offensive concepts that allows Samuel to get ideal coverage.
Interesting words from WR Deebo Samuel.— - - 12-4 (@SonyToJalenToAD) January 7, 2022
Talks about Aaron Donald and says the Rams haven’t changed anything defensively. pic.twitter.com/j2Y0lke7XP
The 49ers are fighting for their playoff lives in the final week of the 2021-2022 season. It would not and should not surprise anyone that they will put the ball in their best playmakers hands—even if it means force-feeding him attempts. I predict that Samuel finishes the game with 120 yards receiving, pairing that with 40 yards on the ground and a touchdown in his best attempt to carry his team to the postseason.
What are your bold predictions? Let me know in the comments below!