The stage is set for two NFC West rivals to square off in the 2021-22 NFC Championship Game, with a trip to Super Bowl 56 on the line. While Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers and Tom Brady’s defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were heavily favored to reach this round, the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers defied the odds to set up this rather unlikely NFC Championship Game matchup.
Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and the Rams handled the Arizona Cardinals with ease on Wildcard Weekend, and then dispatched Brady and the Buccaneers 30-27 last week despite blowing a 24-point lead. With the Packers and Buccaneers both eliminated, Los Angeles gets to host the NFC Championship, and then potentially could play the Super Bowl in the same site.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Deebo Samuel, and the 49ers didn’t look like a playoff team early-to-mid season, but caught fire in the season’s second half to secure the sixth seed in the NFC. The 49ers first knocked off Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys as 3.0-point underdogs in the Wildcard Round, before upsetting the Packers 13-10 as an even bigger underdog in the Divisional Round.
On paper, the Rams are the better team, but these games aren’t played on paper, or else the Buccaneers and Packers might still be alive. The 49ers took both regular season matchups from Los Angeles, winning 31-10 to hand the Rams their third loss of the season and then winning 27-24 in Week 18 in order to secure their playoff position.
Can the 49ers win for a third time and get back to the Super Bowl, after making it just two seasons ago to Super Bowl 54? Can Odell Beckham Jr. reach his first career Super Bowl? Or will the Rams overpower San Francisco, also making a relatively quick return to the game’s biggest stage after appearing in Super Bowl 53?
Read on for my NFC Championship Game, and if you’d like to debate or discuss, join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.
#6 San Francisco 49ers (12-7) at #3 Los Angeles Rams (14-5)
Line: Los Angeles Rams (-3.5)
Time: 6:30 PM ET/ 3:30 PM PT
While Los Angeles isn’t a particularly heavy favorite, getting just 3.5 points at home, the story of this game will come down to how San Francisco plans to handle the Rams superior offense and defense. The Rams aren’t perfect in either of these categories: just look at Los Angeles’ 31-10 regular season loss to the 49ers, or the fact their defense gave up 24 straight points last week while the offense went cold at the same time.
But barring an unexpected hot start for the 49ers, this game will likely belong to Stafford, Cam Akers, and the Rams to control. Can Los Angeles learn from last week’s mistakes, as well as hold on to the football, in the Conference Championship?
For Garoppolo and the 49ers to keep up, they will likely have to score a few touchdowns throughout the night. San Francisco had no offensive touchdowns and just two field goals against the Packers last week, emerging victorious thanks to a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. While the 49ers defense can probably stop the Rams from scoring in bunches, they won’t be able to stop Los Angeles from scoring at least 20-23 points. So can the 49ers keep up? Garoppolo would also have to play better than he dis last week, when he completed 11-of-19 passes for 131 yards and an interception.
But if I was rooting for the 49ers, I would be more concerned about the Rams defense. San Francisco has a solid offensive line, but Aaron Donald can still wreak havoc in both rush and pass defense. Throw in Leonard Floyd, Von Miler, Jalen Ramsey, and Eric Weddle, and the Rams have stars all over the defensive side of the ball.
Of course, the 49ers have defensive studs of their own, with Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead headlining things up front. If the 49ers pass rush can bother Stafford early and alter his passing game, San Francisco could be in business.
But again, that comes down to the 49ers moving the ball, and even with weapons like Deebo Samuel, Elijah Mitchell, and George Kittle, its been a bit of struggle to keep a consistent offense over the past few games for San Francisco. If the 49ers can keep this game low-scoring, they could certainly have a chance. But if the Rams pass 20-23 points, those odds start to go down, and if Los Angeles can hit 28 points, scoring four touchdowns or more, I just can’t say the 49ers keeping up.
With Akers, Kupp, Beckham Jr, Tyler Higbee, Van Jefferson, and Sony Michel all in his arsenal, and a scary defense to boot, this should be Matthew Stafford’s game to lose. After suffering for years with the Detroit Lions franchise, Stafford just has to win one game to reach Super Bowl 56: and I think he’ll do it.
Rams win 27-17, Rams win ATS
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Header Photo: Rams Wire/USA Today