The model is a picky bastard. It likes a Cheesecake sized menu, where it can discard those dumb correctly priced games and order up course after course of the mispriced games. When there's a selection of 2 games, there's a decent chance it's going to give a hard no on both of them, and that's exactly what we have here. Typically speaking, I write about the games we bet on in case people want to learn more about the game they're about to sweat, but at this stage everyone is watching everything, so why not preview them anyway. Without further ado..
San Francisco @ LA Rams
Power rankings: LA Rams 6, San Francisco 8
Spread: The Rams are 3.5 point favorites. The model prefers San Fran with the points, but the strength is only at 1.54, which is below the 1.89 threshold that we require before taking a wager (why 1.89? Read all about that here). The spread is perfect, and you should only bet it if you hate money.
When San Francisco has the ball:
The 49ers on offense are 5th in DVOA and 6th in EPA/play. Jimmy Garoppolo -- forever handsome -- sits at 16th in PFF passing grades (72.6), completes 67.6% of his passes (1.2% above expectation), and gains 8.5 yards per attempt. Garoppolo orchestrates a quick passing game, averaging 2.55 seconds to throw, 4th fastest in the league. His average depth of target is 7.7, 10th lowest in the league. He's 36th/37 in deep passing (20+ yards in the air) rate at 7.4%, but throws the ball in the intermediate range (10-20 yards) 2nd most often (25.2%). Garoppolo's kryptonite is pressure -- he has the 2nd worst PFF passing grade under pressure at 29.4%. He's also noticeably better when getting rid of the ball quickly -- when his time to throw is under 2.5 seconds, he has a PFF grade of 80.1, but it falls to 61.4 when he holds onto the ball for more than 2.5 seconds. The keys to defeating Garoppolo: generate pressure, make him hold onto the ball, and take advantage of his deficiencies, is easier said than done. You can't do it by blitzing, Garoppolo has the 8th highest PFF grade when blitzed, and he's under pressure just 29.7% of the time, 9th least in the league. Pressure is difficult both because Garoppolo gets rid of the ball quickly and because the 49ers have an above average offensive line. The line is anchored by LT Trent Williams, arguably the best offensive lineman in all of football. Last week, Kyle Shanahan debuted a nasty concept where he lined Williams up as a tight end, allowing him to go in motion, get a running start, and send opposing lineman half way across the field.
This was such an incredible and straight forward concept that I'm generally stunned we don't see it more often. Unfortunately, we may not see it Sunday, as Williams has an ankle injury that has held him out of practice. He's certainly going to play, but he may have difficulties moving. On the right side, Tom Compton got his lunch handed to him by Rashad Gary last week, but has otherwise been an immoveable object since filling in for Mike McGlinchey. Brandon Ayiuk, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle will see the bulk of the targets -- they're a collection of truly unique receivers that are difficult to prepare for. Ayiuk is a deep threat with size, Samuel is a hybrid running back/receiver, and Kittle is dangerous both as a receiver and blocker. On the ground, Eli Mitchell had 10 carries last week to Samuel's 7, and I'd expect a similar split moving forward. The weaponry is chalk full of tackle breaking machines, as the 49ers lead the league in yards after the catch. They're equally impressive in both the run game (5th in DVOA) and pass game (also 5th), but are a run-first team -- they rank 30th in the NFL in early-down situation neutral pass rate. The Rams on defense are 5th in DVOA and 9th in EPA/play. They're led by the best defensive line in football -- they rank 1st in both ESPN's pass rush win rate and run block win rate. Between Aaron Donald, Von Miller, Leonard Floyd, and Greg Gains, you essentially have to choose which Ram will be entering your backfield. The battle in the trenches should be a fun one, and could very well decide the game by itself if things go poorly for the 49ers. They're relatively weak at linebacker -- even though they'll have a chance to return Earnest Jones (ankle) off IR, I don't expect it to help much. The secondary is led by Jalen Ramsey, the highest graded CB in PFF's system. Outside of Ramsey, Darious Williams (outside) and David Long Jr (slot) will see significant playing time, and both are quite beatable. The safeties have also been banged up -- Jordan Fuller is on IR with an ankle injury and Taylor Rapp has been out with a concussion. Rapp is officially questionable, but was limited in practice everyday and has a good chance to return. Assuming Rapp can play, Nick Scott will start opposite him. Scott turned in by far his strongest performance last week in coverage -- he was targeted twice, gave up zero catches, had a pass breakup, and an interception. If Rapp can't go, 37 year old Eric Weddle will start. Weddle was signed off the couch for the playoffs when Rapp and Fuller went down -- he's old as dirt and has lost a step, but he's at least a solid veteran presence who knows the system (he played for the Rams in 2019 full time). The Rams are one of the more zone heavy defenses in all of football, and as such do a much better job against deep passes (2nd in DVOA) compared to short passes (22nd). Of the big 3 receivers, Samuel (8.1 average depth of target) and Kittle (8.5) run the shorter routes, but it's far from a slam dunk matchup against Kittle -- the Rams are 4th in DVOA against tight ends. The matchup comes down to the 49ers ability to keep Jimmy clean and the non Ramsey secondary holding up against the 49ers receivers and limiting their yards after the catch.
When the Rams have the ball:
The Rams on offense are 8th in DVOA and 7th in EPA/play. Matt Stafford has the 9th highest PFF grade (81.8), completes 67.8% of his passes (0.6% below expectation), and gains 8.3 yards per attempt. Stylistically, he has the 8th highest average depth of target (8.8 yards), but still gets rid of the ball quickly, averaging 2.66 seconds to throw (12th fastest). He plays behind an offensive line that ranks 1st in ESPN's pass block win rate metric and 12th in run block win rate. As a result, he's rarely under pressure -- 26.8% of the time to be exact, which is 4th lowest in the league. Teams also blitz Stafford at a rate of 22.9%, which is 6th lowest in the league. That's for a good reason too, Stafford owns the 4th best PFF grade against the blitz at 87.9 -- you may have noticed that Kupp's long catch to put the Rams in FG range to win it last week was against a 0-blitz. The offensive line should get back LT Andrew Whitworth, who missed last weeks game with a knee injury. Whitworth, at 40 years young, is practicing in full and is one of the top tackles in football. It's a timely recovery considering backup LT Joe Noteboom is doubtful with a chest injury. RT Rob Havenstein and C Brian Allen are both at the top of the league at their positions, and guards David Edwards and Austin Corbett are good enough to not be liabilities. Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr, Tyler Higbee, Van Jefferson, and Cam Akers will be the most targeted receivers. Kupp's season has been written about ad nauseam, and I therefore find it unnecessary to expand further outside of pointing out that he's really fucking good. OBJ has turned out to be a fantastic addition, particularly with Robert Woods tearing his ACL (Woods tore his ACL after they traded for Beckham), hoping to show that it was the Browns being the Browns that ruined him, not the other way around. Van Jefferson serves as the deep threat -- he's not a particularly good one, but the Rams can be happy with his production considering he's your third receiver. Akers tore his Achilles in July and is now playing a full time role (he is tougher than you are), carrying the ball 24 times last week to Sony Michel's 1 and running a route on 24 of 42 dropbacks (Michel only ran 11 routes). It is worth noting that Akers has struggled in limited playing time, gaining just 2.3 yards per attempt. The Rams are a pass first team, ranking 5th in early-down situation neutral pass rate. They're 7th in DVOA throwing the ball and 12th running it. The 49ers defense is 7th in DVOA and 15th in EPA/play. Their defensive line is a strong point, ranking 5th in ESPN's pass rush win rate metric and 3rd in run stop win rate. They're led by edge rusher Nick Bosa and interior rushers Arik Armstead and Arden Key, the latter who has come on strong to compliment Bosa and Armstead. Fred Warner is a do it all linebacker, capable of covering, rushing the passer, and defending the run at high levels. The questions about how Warner would play last week with an ankle issues was answered by playing all 56 snaps, giving up 1 catch for 0 yards on 3 targets, making 3 stops in the run game, and forcing a fumble while earning a 94.2 PFF grade (again, these guys are tougher than you). The weakness of the defense is the secondary, where they struggle outside of CB Emmanuel Moseley and S Jimmie Ward. Poor corner play has led to a ranking of 31st in DVOA against #1 receivers, but they're far better against tight ends (5th in DVOA) and RBs as receivers (4th). They're also 31st in DOVA in deep passing, which could be promising for Van Jefferson (14.0 average depth of target) and Beckham (13.4). They're DVOA against short passes is 4th best in the league. The 49ers rely on their pass rush to get home before their secondary falls apart, but that's a tall task against an offense that excels in pass protection and has a quarterback that throws a solid deep ball. The only question left is which Matt Stafford will show up. To find out, you'll have to simply watch the game.