When the line opened up for tonight's MNF game with the visiting 49ers laying 3.5, you'd figure everyone would be all over the Niners, swinging the line closer to a touchdown by kickoff. Well, as of this morning, the 49ers are favored by just 3 points. Does Vegas know something we don't? The Niners have allayed fears that they're on the decline with recent victories over the Eagles and Chiefs. The Rams, at 1-3, have provided stiff resistance to Dallas and Philly in their last two games, but are still running out their backup QB. Although we've fallen into the “road favorites on Monday night” trap already this season, the Niners look good at -3.
We'll likely see a raucous crowd in St. Louis at the Edward Jones Dome. Unfortunately, that's where the advantages end for the Rams. If you'll recall, in a Week 8 Monday night home game against the Seahawks last season, St. Louis gave the eventual champs all they could handle in 14-9 defeat. Handicappers may look to that as evidence the Rams can hang with the 49ers in their own building. Yet, just three weeks earlier in the 2013 season, the Rams were embarrassed by this San Francisco team in a Thursday primetime game. So, that theory can be tossed out.
Digging deeper, look no further than the impeccable record Jim Harbaugh and his Niners have in their last six Monday night outings. They've won all six by a combined score of 164-49, holding five of those opponents to fewer than 8 points. Staying on that side of the ball, the 49er defense is starting to look reminiscent of the group that has been near the top of the league for the past three seasons. Without two of the league's top linebackers for the first half of the season, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, the defense was expected to struggle, which they did to start the season. But, in their recent wins over the Eagles and Chiefs, the defense has allowed just 17 points. The pass rush, which was non-existent to start the season, has started to find its teeth. If they slow Zac Stacy and the St. Louis ground game early on, it may be another field day for the defense.
Moving to the other side of the ball, Colin Kaepernick has been erratic this season as a passer, but Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have returned to the power running attack, behind the ageless wonder, Frank Gore. After receiving 35 total carries over the first three games, the Niners greased their squeaky wheel, handing the ball to Gore 42 times in their two recent wins. He went over 100 yards in each of those matchups, and he's facing the 31st run defense in the league tonight. Another 100-yard game should be in the offing for the 31-year-old back.
The only thing preventing the Niners from running away with this victory is their red zone execution. Penalties, poor clock management, and ill-advised plays from Kaepernick have hampered the 49ers after they've found their way into the red zone. This gives hope to the Rams that they may be able to hang around by forcing some stops at the right time. However, the 49er defense and running game will prove overwhelming for Jeff Fisher and the Rams.
It's the last football game for a whole three days, so download SnapCall and jump in the prediction seat for this crucial NFC West battle tonight. Kickoff is at 8:25pm.