Over the last three seasons, there isn’t one team who has given the Los Angeles Rams more trouble than the San Francisco 49ers. After sweeping the division rival in 2017 and 2018, the Rams have now gone two and a half years since beating the 49ers. The two teams will play on Sunday and the Rams will look to avoid their third consecutive sweep.
A lot rides on Sunday’s game. With a win, the Rams will clinch the NFC West and the NFC’s number two seed. However, a loss could mean dropping as far down as the fifth and not hosting a playoff game.
The 49ers have always been a thorn in the Rams’ side. The Rams lost 17 straight in the series from 1990-1998. In the 1989 NFC Championship Game, the Rams led 3-0 after the first quarter, before giving up 30 straight points to lose 30-3. After dominating the first 20 years of the rivalry, the 49ers now lead the all-time series.
The Los Angeles Rams have lost five in a row to the 49ers. The last time the Rams lost five in a row was between 2008 and 2010. Steven Spagnuolo was the Rams head coach. The Rams haven’t lost more than five in a row since the infamous 17-game losing streak.
Early on in the Sean McVay era, the Rams dominated the 49ers. In 2017, the two teams split, but the Rams were playing their backups in a Week 17 game that meant nothing. The Rams then swept the series in 2018, winning by an average of 23.5 points.
That’s when the current losing streak began. A last second field goal by Robbie Gould beat the Rams in the second meeting in 2019 – a season in which the 49ers made the Super Bowl. The Rams trailed 17-6 in the second meeting last year before fighting back to take a 20-17 lead. However, it was yet again a final second Robbie Gould field goal that sent the Rams home with a loss.
Over the last 2.5 years, it’s been heartbreak after heartbreak for the Los Angeles Rams when it comes to the 49ers.
On Sunday, the Rams have a chance to flip that heartbreak.
The Rams will need to flip that heartbreak if they want to go on a deep postseason run. That’s not necessarily even because of the playoff implications that could happen with a loss. As mentioned, with a loss, the Rams could lose the NFC West and drop down to the five seed. With a win against the 49ers, the Rams could send their rivals packing if the Saints were to also win against the Atlanta Falcons.
While that’s all important, the mental aspect of what a win against the 49ers could mean would be unmeasured. The amount of confidence that the Rams as a team would gain, could be enough to push them to the Super Bowl.
After losing 17 straight, it was a win against the 49ers that allowed the Los Angeles Rams to believe that they were the real deal in 1999. Hearing echoes of “same old sorry ass Rams” all week, Warner threw for 323 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-20 win. That victory gave the Rams confidence and let them know that they were legit.
In the all-time great rivalries, one always needs the others’ approval. Batman needs Joker’s approval to be a great super hero and Joker needs Batman’s acknowledgement to be a great villain.
Last season, after getting swept in the regular season, it was a divisional round win over the New Orleans Saints on the road that propelled the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl. In 2013, after losing to the Rams earlier in the season, the Seahawks won in Week 17 and it propelled them to winning three straight on their way to their first Super Bowl.
A win against the 49ers on Sunday could do the same for the Rams.
Getting over the 49ers hump won’t be easy. This is a team that has had the Rams’ number for the last three years. They matchup extremely well on both sides of the ball. It’s a coaching matchup that Kyle Shanahan has owned. However, it’s an opportunity for the Rams to show that they belong and can knock off and knock out their fellow rival.
The Los Angeles Rams are on a five game win streak and have shown during that run that they can win in different ways. The spread the ball out and win in the air like they did against Arizona. However, they can also run the ball 25+ times and beat teams that way as well. Early turnovers? No problem. The Rams can come back and win in the fourth quarter.
In Week 10, the Rams ran 96% of their plays from 11 personnel. The Rams have rarely been that heavy in 11 personnel since. Since Week 10, the Rams have run 90% or more of their plays from 11 personnel just three times. Two of those came in the last three weeks as the team was dealing with injuries on the offensive line.
Since Week 12, the Los Angeles Rams have been 59% pass which is down two percent from Weeks 1-10. This is a team that runs the ball more and finding success.
This is a much more cohesive and confident group than the one that was limping into the bye week earlier in the season. With Cam Akers back in the fold, they might be the healthiest that they’ve been since Week 1. You can also add Von Miller who looks to be finding his stride and Odell Beckham Jr. As mentioned Sony Michel has revitalized the run game.
A win or loss against the 49ers isn’t the difference in making or missing the postseason. However, the effect that it could have could be instrumental to a deep postseason run. The Rams will need to get over the 49ers hump.