NFC Championship Preview

Chip Bayless
By Chip Bayless

 

 

 

This year’s NFC Championship is set to be a thrilling matchup and will likely come down to the wire. While the Rams have looked unstoppable at times with the Matthew Stafford / Cooper Kupp connection, the 49ers have the perfect recipe for their kryptonite — or at least making for making this a tough battle.

Deebo Samuel and George Kittle both have distinctive skillsets that will create problems for the Rams in terms of having to constantly deal with athletes that have a terrifying combination of strength and explosiveness.

Deebo Samuel in particular has emerged with a fascinatingly smooth running style and displays rare physicality for a receiver when toting the rock. The Niners have been putting the dynamic WR in the backfield as a running back more often as a result, and you can expect a few carries in this one.

While both teams are known for their offensive talent, Aaron Donald, Nick Bosa, and plenty of other talented names on both teams have earned and deserve their own respect.

The stat sheet reflects the impact of Donald and Bosa as the Rams currently rank as the top pass-rushing unit in the NFL while the 49ers are 5th.

Aaron Donald and Von Miller lead a Rams front that tallied 50 sacks during the regular season, 3rd-most in the NFL, and were 13th in the league in quarterback hits.

But Trent Williams and the Niners offensive line is the unit for the task. San Francisco’s offense slowed down Donald and minimized his impact as well as any team could hope when the teams have met this year.

During their first 2 meetings in the regular season, the All-Pro defensive tackle managed just 3 pressures while grading 30 points lower than his regular season mark (per Pro Football Focus).




Keeping Donald bottled up will be critical if the 49ers intend on getting their offense going at all, which has admittedly been ineffective in glaring moments in past weeks.

Meanwhile, the 49ers defense has stepped up in spectacular fashion in their last 3 contests as the squad has not allowed a passer rating over 100 and no QB has thrown for more than 238 yards.

In his 2 meetings against the 49ers this season, Matthew Stafford has had his own struggles. The former #1 pick has been sacked 7 times, including 5 in Week 18 and was hit a total of 18 times.

The QB has also tossed 4 interceptions to 4 touchdowns during those contests. If the Niners can keep those pedestrian numbers coming from Stafford, they’ll win the game.




The Rams will have an underrated pass-rush problem to combat as well. At this point, most casual fans know Nick Bosa’s dominance, but Arik Armstead’s performance has been critical for balancing offensive attention and avoiding letting teams double-team Bosa. Armstead has a staggering 6 sacks in the 49ers last 4 games.

Impressively enough, the 49ers have also managed to manufacture impressive pressure without blitzing. Per NFL.com, San Francisco led the NFL during the regular season with a 30.5% pressure rate when using 4 or less pass rushers.

The pass rush has resulted in many QBs getting the football ripped or punched from their hands as the Niners led the NFL in forced fumbles this season with 22 — 7 more than the Rams it might be worth noting. San Fran also had the 6th-most fumble recoveries in the league while Los Angeles had the 3rd-most interceptions on the year.

While most fans are likely hoping for a shootout full of Deebo/Kittle and Kupp/Odell TDs, this game could easily be a low-scoring turnover fest with both defenses creating havoc for the opposing offenses.

Pick: 49ers. They win by a TD or less and the game is a battle until the final moments.

Hopefully, as the close and impressive stats and recent performances by both teams should indicate, this game will be a fun watch regardless of the victor with plenty of marquee names playing like all the chips are on the table.

Final interesting stat to note: The 49ers led the NFL in YPA with 6.1 while the Rams were second with 6.0.




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