The Los Angeles Rams are gearing up for a pivotal matchup with the San Francisco 49ers in Week 18. The Rams, who have already clinched a playoff berth at 12-4, could clinch the NFC West with a win or tie against the 49ers, or with a loss or tie from the Arizona Cardinals.
Los Angeles would also prefer to remain the No. 2 seed in the NFC, so it has plenty to play for in the final week of the regular season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are also 12-4, but the Rams hold the tie-breaker over them after beating them earlier in the season.
Even though Los Angeles has struggled to beat San Francisco in recent years, (losing five straight to them) this is a perfect time for the Rams to end the losing streak to their division rivals. With the Rams looking to end the regular season on a high note, here are four players to watch in Sunday’s showdown with the 49ers.
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
It still feels surreal to write out that Cam Akers is going to make his season debut for the Rams on Sunday. Akers sustained a torn Achilles back in July, with the belief that he’d miss the entire 2021 campaign.
While the timeline to return from a torn Achilles has typically been around nine-to-12 months, Akers disregarded that timeline to return in only five months. Despite making his season debut versus the 49ers, Sean McVay admitted that he’s unsure of what Akers’ workload will look like in his first game back since last January.
Given how well Sony Michel has performed as the starting running back, it will be interesting to see how McVay divvies up the touches for Michel, Akers, and Darrell Henderson. Regardless of how much we see Akers play in Week 18, it’s nothing short of remarkable to see him back on the field again this quickly.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
There would likely be even more media attention on Akers’ return if Cooper Kupp wasn’t on record-watch for the Rams. Kupp enters the final week of the regular season with 138 receptions, 1,829 yards, and 15 touchdowns, putting him in a position to potentially become the fourth wide receiver in NFL history to lead the league in all three categories.
The former third-round pick out of Eastern Washington is also only 12 receptions away from surpassing Michael Thomas for the single-season receptions record. He’s also just 136 yards shy from eclipsing Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving yards record.
Taking all of that into account, the Rams could lean on Kupp even more on Sunday to ensure he achieves both records. There’s no doubt that the 49ers will do their best to prevent Kupp from taking over the game, but that is easier said than done with how he’s played this season.
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Troy Reeder isn’t the strongest in coverage at the inside linebacker position and teams realize that when facing the Rams. Mark Andrews finished with six receptions for 89 yards in Los Angeles’ narrow victory on the road in Week 17, proving that tight ends can be effective against him.
Just a week after facing a premier tight end like Andrews, the Rams will be tasked with trying to contain a supreme talent like George Kittle. Throughout his career, Kittle has accrued 44 receptions (5.5 receptions per game), 696 receiving yards (87 receiving yards per game), and five touchdowns in eight meetings with Los Angeles, which are the most versus any team in the NFC West.
Whether it is Trey Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo under center on Sunday, the 49ers love to attack the middle of the field through the air. Back in Week 10, the Rams had a linebacker covering Kittle on three of his six targets. So I expect Reeder to be among the defenders tasked with covering Kittle in Week 18, which is something that San Francisco should attempt to take advantage of.
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Will the Rams finally discover a game plan to slow down Deebo Samuel this week? In his five matchups with Los Angeles, Samuel has been nearly unstoppable with 29 receptions, 345 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns.
Samuel has also helped the 49ers implement a physical rushing attack against the Rams, carrying the ball 10 times for 59 yards and another two scores. With Samuel being a thorn in Los Angeles’ side in recent years, this is a perfect time as any to line Jalen Ramsey across from him as much as possible.
Ramsey can match Samuel’s physicality and Darious Williams is capable of covering Brandon Aiyuk on the other side of the field. Even though we didn’t see Ramsey shadow Samuel back in Week 10, it would be wise to have No. 5 follow Samuel whenever the opportunity presents itself to make the 49ers look elsewhere for production.