Tonight, on Monday Night Football, the San Francisco 49ers (3-2, 1-1 road) can inch past their arch rival, the Seattle Seahawks, into second place in the vaunted NFC West. Standing in their way, however, is another division foe, the St. Louis Rams (1-3, 0-2 home).
The Rams have had to contend with a great deal of adversity at the quarterback position this year. After losing Sam Bradford to another injury in the pre-season, the Rams tabbed Shaun Hill as his interim replacement. Due to injuries and poor play, Hill has been relegated to the bench, and the Rams are now starting second-year QB Austin Davis – a former walk-on at Southern Mississippi. Understandably, Davis looked shaky to start the season. Of late, though, he has steadied the Rams offense. Two weeks ago, he had the Rams up big on Dallas, only to see that lead slip away in the second half and lose 34-31. It was the converse last week against Philadelphia, as the Rams almost came back from 34-7 down, ultimately losing 34-28.
While Davis has done an admirable job under center of late, the run game has been disappointing. Leading rusher, Zac Stacy, is averaging only 55 yards per game this season (though he has managed a decent 4.2 yards per carry). The road doesn’t get easier tonight, as the 49ers are giving up a scant 77 yards per game on the ground, fifth best in the NFL.
San Francisco has been an up-and-down team this year. After a dominating week 1 performance against Dallas, the Niners blew first half leads to the Bears and Cardinals in successive weeks to fall below .500. They bounced back in weeks 4 and 5 with quality wins over the Eagles and Chiefs – two playoff teams from last season – and will be looking for their third straight W tonight.
Frank Gore will likely see a heavy workload against the Rams. San Francisco has a strong offensive line and averages 145 yards per game on the ground. The Rams defense, on the other hand, is second worst in the league against the run, giving up 152 yards per game. Gore, personally, has been on a tear with two straight 100-yard games; a third seems very doable tonight.
Looking at the betting trends, the Niners are 2-3 ATS this season, and 1-1 on the road. The Rams are 1-3 ATS and 0-2 at home, mirroring their overall record. San Francisco games have reached the over just once in five tries, while St. Louis games have done so twice in four attempts. The 49ers won both games against the Rams last year, including a 35-11 rout in St. Louis.
For myriad reasons, taking the 49ers seems like the play: the Niners have looked more like their 2013 selves the last two weeks; they will be hungry to capitalize on a rare home loss by the Seahawks; they run the ball well and St. Louis has problems on the ground defensively; and, last but not least, the Rams have not been good at home this year, save for one half against the Cowboys. That said, the Rams were a good home team in 2013 (going 5-3) and figure to get their first home win eventually. This will be a tough week for it, though.