The NFC West figures to be one of the best divisions in football this season with the Seahawks and Cardinals expected to be Super Bowl contenders. The other two teams, the Rams and 49ers, don’t have the highest of expectations as they’re both in rebuilding mode, but fans will get a glimpse at both teams on Monday night as they square off at 10:20 p.m. ET. The division matchup features two young running backs in Todd Gurley and Carlos Hyde, but they’ll be facing very different levels of talent when carrying the ball. As a result, the Rams (-2.5) are going to squeak out a victory over the 49ers on the road.
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San Francisco’s terrible wide receivers
There may not be a worse position unit in the NFL than the 49ers’ wide receivers. They’re terrible and are by far the worst pass catchers in football. Torrey Smith isn’t the player he once was in Baltimore, and Jeremy Kerley could barely get on the field for the Jets last season. Quinton Patton, too, is far from a game-changer. Now, the Rams don’t have the best cornerbacks in the league, but Trumaine Johnson can undoubtedly handle any one of those coverage assignments and take his receiver out of the game. That leaves Coty Sensabaugh, Lamarcus Joyner and E.J. Gaines to handle the other wideouts. Needless to say, it won’t be much of a task. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers are going to struggle to move the ball against the Rams and won’t be able to put up enough points to keep pace with Los Angeles – and that’s saying something given that the Rams aren't expected to be a high-scoring team.
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Relentless defense will rattle Blaine Gabbert
Gabbert won the 49ers’ starting quarterback job in the preseason, outplaying Colin Kaepernick in Chip Kelly’s eyes. That doesn’t necessarily mean he deserves to be a starter in the NFL, and that will become evident against the Rams’ defense. Los Angeles may not boast the best offense in the league, but the defense is swarming and not easy to air it out against. Aaron Donald is going to get pressure on Gabbert up the middle and force him into making poor decisions. And if it’s not Donald getting to the quarterback, it’ll be Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Dominque Easley or William Hayes pressuring Gabbert. The Rams’ defense is better than it gets credit for, particularly along the defensive line. And when receivers or running backs do get to the second and third levels, the Rams have good tacklers who rally to the ball. There’s no lack of effort on the part of Los Angeles’ defense, particularly up front.
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Todd Gurley will run all over San Francisco
If the Rams are going to make any noise out West this season, it’ll be on the back of Gurley. He’s the team’s best player on offense, and it’s not even close. The Rams lack talent at quarterback and wide receiver and have holes on the offensive line, but Gurley has the ability to overcome those deficiencies. He’s going to touch the ball early and often against the 49ers, just as he should. And as a result, the Rams are going to put up points despite fielding a lackluster offense. San Francisco was one of the worst teams against the run last season, ranking 29th in that department. The 49ers also allowed a league-high 20 touchdowns on the ground, which is an area where Gurley thrives: goal line carries. He’ll find the end zone at least once and will more than likely score two total touchdowns. Having a running back like Gurley is a quarterback’s best friend, so expect Case Keenum to check down to him regularly when the Rams’ receivers fail to get open. He’s the biggest difference-maker in this game.