What to know
When the Rams host the 49ers in Sunday’s NFC championship game, they will be trying to advance to play in Super Bowl 56, also in their home SoFi Stadium. The 49ers won both regular-season meetings, 31-10 in Week 10 in San Francisco and 27-24 in overtime in Week 17 in Los Angeles.
The 49ers have defeated the Rams six consecutive times with three straight season sweeps. Kyle Shanahan has outcoached Sean McVay in each game, with his team executing better in every phase through all four quarters.
Why the Rams can cover
Stafford’s connection with Cooper Kupp is hard to contain anywhere. In addition, the 49ers are limited at cornerback and will have their share of issues there while also worrying about new No. 2 wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and tight end Tyler Higbee.
The Rams need to be more dedicated to the run this week. The 49ers are middle of the pack in that area. The balance would help take pressure off Stafford and not subject him more of the edge pass rush from Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. Stafford also needs to be wary of red-hot cover linebacker Fred Warner when looking to the short-to-intermediate middle.
McVay makes suitable adjustments and will see some matchups he likes. The offensive line helps protect and keep its head down well in run blocking.
Cooper Kupp has garnered consideration for the NFL MVP Award, and with good reason. The 28-year-old wideout from Eastern Washington became the fourth player in history to lead the league in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947), and touchdown catches (16). Kupp recorded 11 100-yard performances, including two against the 49ers, during the regular season and added another in last Sunday’s 27-24 victory over the Tamba Bay Buccaneers, when he hauled in nine passes for 183 yards and a TD.
Matthew Stafford has followed one of the best regular seasons with a pair of solid performances in the NFL playoffs 2022. The 33-year-old quarterback has completed 41-of-55 pass attempts for 568 yards and four touchdown tosses and rushed for two scores in the victories over Arizona and Tampa Bay.
Why the 49ers can cover
The 49ers are a dedicated running team with rookie Elijah Mitchell. They are always effective because of an elite offensive line powered by left tackle rock Trent Williams. They also are a diverse quick passing team who mix big pass plays from Garoppolo via deep shots and setting up receivers to run well after the catch in open field, led by hybrid wideout Deebo Samuel. Second wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle also create matchup problems with their quickness and size, respectively.
The 49ers tend to neutralize the impact of the Rams’ pass rush, either inside with Aaron Donald or now outside with Von Miller. They also don’t force passes in the direction of Jalen Ramsey, given they move around their receivers in the formation, and Ramsey can only cover one player.
San Francisco struggled offensively at Green Bay in last Saturday’s 13-10 win but was strong on defense and special teams. After allowing the Packers to drive 69 yards for a touchdown on the game’s opening possession, the 49ers clamped down, forcing a fumble on Green Bay’s next series and giving up just one field goal while blocking another attempt. They forced the Packers to punt six times and blocked one of the kicks before returning it for the game-tying touchdown with less than five minutes remaining.
NFC Championship Pick of the game: 49ers +3.5
The 49ers have a great handle on this matchup for a reason. Their key personnel and overall philosophy are more effective than what the Rams try to do. Stafford is the better overall QB than Garoppolo, but the defensive scheming will affect him more than Garoppolo. In addition, the 49ers can win on special teams and make an unexpected clutch play. Samuel and Mitchell are essential in the running game, while Los Angeles doesn’t run enough to help Stafford.