NFL premium

Thursday Night Preview: Can the Rams Keep the 49ers in the NFC West Cellar?

Over the past 13 seasons, the Rams or 49ers have been a last-place team 10 different times. Who can win and get on their way toward breaking that trend?

The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers will face off Thursday night, and both teams are trying to rebound from Week 2 losses.

The Rams looked to move to 2-0, but suffered a tough loss in their home opener against the Washington Redskins. San Francisco held their own against Seattle, but lost a close one by a field goal.

Those losses sent both teams down our team rankings, and not only are they each among the bottom six, the 49ers are dead last.

Who can fix some of those mistakes from last week and grab a win? Let's dig in and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

This is a tale of two quarterbacks that are in very different positions in their respective careers, but have also performed on opposite ends of the spectrum so far in 2017. Jared Goff has been a bit of a revelation after a horrific rookie season. Of the 29 quarterbacks with 40 or more drop backs, Goff ranks fifth in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.32). In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in a positive NEP -- his 47.37% mark checks in at 10th.

On the opposing sideline, the 49ers have turned the reigns over to veteran Brian Hoyer, who may have the coolest middle name in the league (Axel). Despite having far more experience than Goff -- he's in his ninth NFL season -- he ranks second-to-last in Passing NEP per drop back (-0.40) and Passing Success Rate (36.76%).

The Rams seem to have the edge at the quarterback position. Do they rank the same way at running back?

Running Back Play

Among 29 running backs with 20-plus carries, Gurley ranks 21st (-0.13) in Rushing NEP per carry, but his 41.18% Rushing Success Rate ranks 12th. While he ripped off a monster Week 2 from a fantasy perspective, regression could be coming. To be fair, it does not appear as though Gurley's inefficiency will put his playing time in jeopardy -- he played 88% of the team's offensive snaps last weekend.

The 49ers have started 0-2, but Carlos Hyde has been a boss. Among that same group of running backs, he ranks 8th in Rushing NEP per carry (0.08) and 16th in Rushing Success Rate (37.50%). He rushed for 124 yards on 15 carries last week, but has just 24 carries this year thanks to largely playing from behind in San Francisco's first two games. Just imagine if he was playing in a more positive game script on a weekly basis.

The 49ers may be trailing at quarterback, but seem to have the edge in the backfield. Who has the stronger defensive unit?

Defensive Matchup

Through two weeks, this game would appear to be a little bit of a mismatch defensively, as the Rams have been very stout, while the 49ers have been less stellar -- the Rams' D checks in 7th and the 49ers' defense comes in 17th, per our schedule-adjusted per-play metrics.

Los Angeles has been fantastic against the pass -- they rank 3rd -- but rank 24th against the run. Meanwhile, the 49ers are 17th in both situations.

In looking at Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, which displays sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent, the Rams have been dominant, ranking third at 10.8%. San Francisco has some work to do, though, ranking only 26th at 4.3% -- they've recorded just three sacks this season.

It's clear that the Rams have the edge defensively, but they better be up to the task of stopping a very effective Hyde. Are there any historical comparisons we can learn from?

Historical Comparisons

According to our models, there are four past contests that correlate greater than 90% of the time, and one sticks out slightly above the rest at 90.74%. That was a classic October 2005 matchup with the New York Jets traveling to face the Buffalo Bills.

In a very tight contest, the Bills prevailed 27-17 thanks to the stellar quarterback play of signal caller Kelly Holcomb, who dropped in two first-half touchdown passes to Eric Moulds and Jonathan Smith. Vinny Testaverde and Curtis Martin tried bringing the Jets back, but ultimately fell a little short.

In this matchup, the home Bills represent the 49ers, leading to a 49ers cover (they are currently 2.5-point underdogs), along with the over (over/under is 39.5) hitting, as well.

Game Projection

To read all premium content, upgrade to a Premium account with numberFire

If you're not a Premium subscriber, it takes just a few seconds to sign up. You'll get access to all of our insider information, game projections, handicapping advice, DFS tools, advanced statistics, and more.

Log In Go Premium