So it's all come down to this: week 17, to determine if BadNFL can boast an above-.500 record in its inaugural season. The pressure's on, and its particularly intense because week 17 is notoriously the hardest week to bet on, because so many teams are resting for the playoffs, playing only for next year, etc. So while I'm not all that confident, my pick is for San Francisco to win big over St. Louis on the road. Here's why:
1. St. Louis is absolutely horrendous. They have the worst point differential in the league--a whopping -239, or an average of -16 per game! They've scored the fewest points in the league and allowed the second-most. Their offensive line is an injury-riddled and starved-for-talent nightmare, something that a talented 49ers front 7 should be able to exploit. Incredibly, only 15 of the 45 players the Rams dressed last week were picked in the first 5 rounds of the draft; the remaining 30 were sixth or seventh round picks, or undrafted. That's just not a lot of talent. Their only good player, RB Steven Jackson, is a gametime decision, and since the Rams sat him last week and are looking to next year, it's unlikely that he'll play. On the other hand, dynamic 49ers RB Frank Gore is healthy and running well. Given that the Rams were absolutely crushed by 35 points the first time they played the 49ers this season, it seems likely that a similar beatdown could take place this week. The 49ers are simply the more talented team.
2. The 49ers should be much more motivated this week. Let's face it, the Rams have nothing to play for, other than securing a high draft pick next year. It certainly seems conceivable that the Rams will give it less than full effort in order to protect their rights to the #1 pick. In fact, coach Spagnuolo is already planning to get his young players into the game to audition for next year. And even if they aren't consciously trying to tank for the number one pick, they have been so thoroughly demoralized and beaten this year that they appear to have nothing psychologically left in the tank. On the other hand, the 49ers have strong motivation to finish the year at 8-8, and coach Mike Singletary and QB Alex Smith in particularly are taking this game very seriously. They will in all likelihood play much harder than the Rams.
THE COUNTER-ARGUMENT: 49ERS HAVE BEEN TERRIBLE ON THE ROAD
It's true, the 49ers are 1-6 on the road this year. But the teams they've lost to--Colts, Eagles, Packers, Vikings, Texans--are all solid playoff-caliber teams. The Rams are anything but. I think they'll play this game more like they played the Lions last week, where, despite some 49ers miscues, they still won by 14. The defense has been playing with passion and aggressiveness, in the image of their head coach, and I think the road woes have been more the result of losing to quality opponents than any phobia of playing on the road. And St. Louis is not an intimidating environment; the biggest local storyline this week is Isaac Bruce's return to St. Louis, and I wouldn't be shocked if more fans cheer for him than for the pathetic local team. In other words, I think the 49ers won't miss a beat.
It's true that -7 isn't nothing, and some predictions have the 49ers winning by only 7. But others have it closer to a 10-point margin of victory, and I think it could be even higher. The Rams have made a habit of being blown out this year (they've already won BadNFL one pick), and they simply have no real incentive to play hard against a better team. Thus I like the 49ers to cover.