Thu Jan 27 2:22pm ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
San Francisco 49ers' Deebo Samuel runs during the second half of an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
San Francisco 49ers' Robbie Gould celebrates after making the game-winning field goal during the second half of an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis. The 49ers won 13-10 to advance to the NFC Chasmpionship game. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) pulls in a pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) sacks Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) celebrates as he leaves the field after the team defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle and Fred Warner celebrate after an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis. The 49ers won 13-10 to advance to the NFC Chasmpionship game. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
They have gone at each other 145 times. The 49ers have owned the Rams in the past six meetings, and have a 75-67-3 mark against their California rivals.
Until Sunday, only one of all those confrontations was in the postseason - the Niners won that one, too, 30-3 in 1989 on the way to the most lopsided Super Bowl victory.
Now, San Francisco goes for a three-game sweep of Los Angeles, though the Rams will be at home and favored.
Each team comes off last-second victories on field goals, the Niners on the Lambeau Field tundra, the Rams in balmy Tampa against Tom Brady and the Bucs. They know one another so well their coaches probably could swap sides and be comfortable.
Here's how the 49ers and Rams match up:
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL:
Just give it to Deebo Samuel (19) in some manner.
A true flex player, for all your fantasy gurus, the All-Pro receiver turned running back on occasion has become as dynamic as any NFL player. Samuel will test everyone on LA's defense, from fellow All-Pro Jalen Ramsey (5) at cornerback, yet another All-Pro - unanimous, no less - DT Aaron Donald (99) - or some of the other studs on that unit. Samuel could be the wild card the Rams can't match.
He also can't be a one-man gang. QB Jimmy Garoppolo (10) needs to avoid forcing passes; he tends to be good, make that bad, for one turnover a game. He also must feed the ball often to RB Elijah Mitchell (25), a real find, and keep versatile FB Kyle Juszczyk involved.
Niners TE George Kittle (85) hasn't been his usual brilliant self, but LA is weak at safety and the LBs don't do much in coverage. But the Rams have another potential offense wrecker in LB Leonard Floyd (54), plus the revitalized Von Miller (40).
How well the 49ers hold up on the offensive line might be critical. All-Pro Trent Williams (71), dealing with ankle issues, is the best left tackle in the game, though the keys could be center Alex Mack (50) and guards Laken Tomlinson (75) and Daniel Brunskill (60), who get the pleasure of dealing with Donald all day. But the Niners have minimized him this season: Donald has only three pressures and zero sacks in the two games during the regular season.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL:
As Samuel should be the focal point for San Francisco, so too must WR Cooper Kupp (10) for LA. Kupp, another unanimous All-Pro, pulled off the hat trick of leading the NFL in receptions, yards and touchdown catches; made the biggest play last week after Tampa Bay stormed back to nearly steal the game; and has a unique connection with QB Matthew Stafford (9).
Kupp is far from the only playmakers 49ers DBs must account for. Odell Beckham Jr. (3), Van Jefferson (12) and TE Tyler Higbee (89) can't be given minimal attention by safeties Jaquiski Tartt (3) and Jimmie Ward (1), CBs K'Waun Williams (24) and, if healthy, Ambry Thomas (20).
LA has a two-pronged running game with Sony Michel (25) and Cam Akers (23). They must avoid turnovers; the Rams fumbled four times at Tampa. And they must avoid the likes of DEs Nick Bosa (97) and Samson Ebukam (56), DT Arik Armstead (91), plus standout linebacker Fred Warner (54), who has been battling a balky ankle.
The Rams could have a difficult time protecting the revitalized Stafford if LT Andrew Whitworth (77) remains sidelined by knee issues. His sub, Joseph Noteboom (70) is a level down. Center Brian Allen (55) could have his hands full with defenders in the middle.
Robbie Gould (9) has been spectacular in his, uh, Goulden years. The 40-year-old placekicker made two field goals, including a 45-yarder in the snow as time expired to beat Green Bay, making him 20 for 20 in his career on field-goal attempts in the playoffs. His range doesn't match that of the Rams' Matt Gay (8), but Gould is extremely reliable.
Gay is no slouch, though, and the way three of last weekend's four games came down to last-season field goals, his role could be vital.
P Johnny Hekker (6) has been one of the league's best punters for a decade, also is a threat on fake punts. His counterpart, Mitch Wishnowsky (18), has had a mediocre season.
Neither team is particularly dangerous on kick returns.
Kyle Shanahan simply doesn't lose to the Rams, who have dropped the past six games to the Niners. The first four, though, came without Stafford, an immeasurable upgrade from Jared Goff.
Shanahan and Sean McVay are leaders of the youth wave among offense-minded coaches. They're aggressive to a fault, highly popular with their players, and have a deep trust in their schemes.
Where both have struggled is late in games - see Rams at Bucs last weekend, 49ers at Cowboys in the wild-card round.
LA's Raheem Morris is a respected defensive coordinator in the mix for a second head coaching job. DeMeco Ryans is much more a newbie to the position in San Francisco, but his unit has been stellar for all but one period against Dallas in these playoffs.
San Francisco's mastery of its longtime rival has to raise the confidence level of the 49ers, while ticking off the Rams. Not to be overlooked is how the 49ers rallied to beat the Rams in the season finale, which SF needed to qualify for the playoffs.
That said, the Rams are playing at home - SoFi Stadium will stage the Super Bowl, and the five-plus decade run of teams not hosting the big game ended in Tampa last year.
Los Angeles added stars in Stafford, Miller and Beckham with one thing in mind: returning to the Super Bowl the Rams lost three years back. And the Niners, with many of the same players still on hand, lost their chance for the NFL title two years ago to Kansas City.
So both teams have a nasty taste to remove.
On Thursday, the Chicago Bears hired former Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus to be their head coach. Eberflus took a Colts defense that was ranked 26th and 27th in total defense before he arrived and made them a top-10 unit. The Colts never featured tremendous pass rush rates and blitzed at one of the lowest rates in the league, but the Bears defensive scheme only blitzed 2.4% more and both teams ran a variation of a 4-3 base defense, so it's possible there won't be much change in philosophy. However, the biggest question will be who Eberflus hires as offensive coordinator and what that means for Justin Fields. Since Eberflus spent four years coaching under former NFL quarterback Frank Reich, it wouldn't be a stretch to assume that he soaked up some knowledge in that relationship and will use it to make a hire that's in the best interest of his quarterback's development.
After earlier reports that Byron Leftwich was set to be the next head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, reports surfaced early on Wednesday that the negotiations were held up because Leftwich wanted Jacksonville to get rid of General Manager Trent Baalke to hire Adrian Wilson, who is Vice President of Pro Scouting for the Arizona Cardinals. Not long after that, Adam Schefter reported that the Jaguars interviewed former Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio for their head coaching position. While we don't know where this will end up, Fangio has been a far more run-heavy coach in his career than we'd expect Leftwich to be since Leftwich has learned under Bruce Arians. It's possible that if Fangio were to be hired in Jacksonville, we could see a running back committee of Travis Etienne and James Robinson in the same way Denver deployed Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon this year. It would also potentially sap the upside of Trevor Lawrence, Laviska Shenault Jr., and D.J. Chark, so let's hope Jacksonville does the right thing here.
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn has told teams that he will remain with the Cowboys next year and not pursue any more head coaching positions. Six teams had requested interviews with Quinn, but he decided to return in pursuit of a Super Bowl. The Dallas defense under Quinn this year finished as the number one fantasy defense thanks to their propensity for turnovers., so Quinn's return should be good news for the Cowboys DST next year as well. Also, fantasy managers in IDP leagues don't have to worry about new schemes for studs like Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement Thursday, Jan. 27.
Fantasy Spin: Big Ben will be remembered for this size, athletic ability and big arm. He was different and will surely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The Steelers will pivot to Mason Rudolph, for now, but there will be a number of options in free agency. Rudolph will be a QB2 in fantasy if he's the starter.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (knee) popped up on the injury report with a knee issue. Despite showing up on the latest injury report, the 25-year-old was a full participant in Wednesday's practice. He is expected to be all systems go for the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The former No.1 overall pick completed 28-of-37 passes for 348 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception in Saturday's 19-16 Divisional-Round win over the Tennessee Titans. He's been on absolute fire recently, throwing for 1,563 yards, 10 touchdowns, and one pick over his last four games. Burrow is an excellent QB option with a $7,500 price on FanDuel for Sunday's main DFS slate.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (thumb) popped up on the injury report with a thumb issue. He was a full participant in Wednesday's practice despite showing up on the latest injury report. In last week's Divisional-Round win over the Tennessee Titans, the 23-year-old hauled in seven receptions on nine targets for 96 yards. He is expected to be all systems go for the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Higgins caught three passes for 62 yards in the Week 17 win over the Chiefs and is an excellent mid-tier option at his $6,400 price tag on FanDuel for Sunday's main DFS slate.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Darrel Williams (toe) participated fully in Wednesday's practice. Last week, the 26-year-old was limited with a toe injury and was inactive for the Divisional -Round game against the Buffalo Bills. He is expected to be available for Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Williams will split touches out of Kansas City's backfield with Clyde-Edwards Helaire and Jerick McKinnon. Due to the uncertainty of his role, Williams is more of a GPP option in Sunday's main DFS slate.
Green Bay Packers PK Mason Crosby is likely to be released during the offseason as a cap casualty, according to The Green Bay Press-Gazette's Pete Dougherty.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers indicated he should have made a decision about his future by late February during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, which coincides with when the Packers would potentially utilize the franchise tag on WR Davante Adams, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
Fantasy Spin: If Rodgers and Adams return to Green Bay in 2022, or reunite elsewhere, both would be No. 1 options at their respective positions. Rodgers' decision as to whether he'll play in 2022 figures to be the first domino to fall.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (thumb) practiced fully on Wednesday. The 49ers have removed his sprained shoulder from the injury report, but his sprained right thumb remains. The 30-year-old has somehow led the 49ers to the NFC Championship despite throwing for 303 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions over both playoff games. He threw for 316 yards, one touchdown, and two picks in the Week 18 win over the Rams. Garoppolo should be all systems go against the Los Angeles Rams and is the only value option at quarterback for Sunday's main DFS slate with a $6,200 price tag on FanDuel.
San Francisco 49ers running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (knee) did not participate in Wednesday's practice. Teammate Elijah Mitchell also missed Wednesday's session with an ongoing knee issue. Wilson suffered a low-ankle sprain during the first quarter of Saturday's Divisional-Round game over the Green Packers and did not return. According to head coach Kyle Shanahan, he could play in the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams. The 26-year-old has two more chances to practice in some capacity and will most likely be questionable for Sunday's game. If active, Wilson could have an expanded role if Mitchell (knee) cannot suit up. Stay tuned.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Van Jefferson (knee) did not practice on Wednesday due to a knee injury. The 25-year-old did not participate in the Rams walkthrough session and was listed as a non-participant. He's considered day-to-day, and it's unclear if Van Jefferson will miss the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers. He caught two passes for 31 yards in the Week 18 loss to the 49ers. Fantasy managers should continue to monitor his status throughout the week. If active, Van Jefferson provides salary relief with his $5,200 price tag and is a solid option against the 49ers in Sunday's main DFS slate. Stay tuned.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle isn't listed on the injury report ahead of Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams. He was seen limping at the end of the Divisional-Round win over the Green Bay Packers but is expected to be all systems go for Sunday. The 28-year-old logged a full practice Wednesday and was removed from the injury report. He caught five of seven targets for 10 yards in his previous contest against the Rams. Despite the dud against Los Angeles in Week 18, Kittle provides excellent value at his $5,800 price tag on FanDuel for Sunday's main DFS slate.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (knee) isn't listed on Wednesday's injury report ahead of the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams. The 26-year-old said he was sore after taking a helmet to the knee in last Saturday's Divisional Round win over the Green Bay Packers. On Wednesday, he logged a full practice and was removed from the injury report. Samuel caught four passes for 95 yards and rushed for 45 yards on eight carries and a score in his previous game against the Rams. Deebo will have a vital role in the NFC Championship Game and is a strong option with his $8,400 price tag on FanDuel for Sunday's DFS slate.
San Francisco 49ers DE Nick Bosa (non-injury), C Alex Mack (non-injury), RB Elijah Mitchell (knee), OT Trent Williams (ankle) and RB Jeff Wilson Jr. (ankle) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Jan. 26. CB Ambry Thomas (knee) was limited during practice, while QB Jimmy Garoppolo (thumb) fully participated in practice.
Atlanta Falcons TE Lee Smith announced his retirement from professional football Tuesday, Jan. 25.
Free-agent WR Josh Gordon was signed to the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad Wednesday, Jan. 26.
Kansas City Chiefs S Tyrann Mathieu (concussion) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Jan. 26. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder), CB Rashad Fenton (back), WR Mecole Hardman (hip), WR Tyreek Hill (heel), LB Anthony Hitchens (back), DT Chris D. Jones (groin), CB L'Jarius Sneed (knee), CB Charvarius Ward (neck), RB Darrel Williams (toe) and OG Andrew Wylie (elbow) fully participated in practice.
Buffalo Bills OG Ike Boettger (Achilles) and CB Tre'Davious White (knee) are on schedule in their recoveries, according to head coach Sean McDermott.