Why the Rams are a nightmare playoff matchup for 49ers (no, not because of Week 18)

The Rams might have started the season poorly, but their electric second half of the season has made the NFC West archrivals a nightmare playoff opponent for the 49ers.

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers
Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

They might be only the No. 6 seed, but the Rams are a headache that would be a playoff nightmare for the 49ers in their quest to win the Super Bowl.

With the San Francisco 49ers obtaining the top seed and getting the week off, everyone from the owner to the legion of red and gold-supporting fans will be glued to the TV to find out who makes it out of the first week of the playoffs and across to the Bay Area.

Except for the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions, any team in the NFC could make the trip across. This includes the Los Angeles Rams, the team in the NFC that arguably is the biggest threat to the Niners as they try to win a long overdue sixth Super Bowl.

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Yes, the Rams are the biggest threat.

Some might argue the Cowboys or the Lions, but the Rams could be the team that presents the biggest problem.

To begin with, the Rams have been on a huge streak to end the season. They started the season poorly due to injuries to key personnel like quarterback Matt Stafford and running back Kyren Williams, but the offense is healthy now. As a result, they've gone 7-1 since their bye week and scored over 28 points a game.

The single loss was overtime to the Baltimore Ravens, who most have as the best team in the NFL.

And, yes, Week 18 doesn't count in the greater picture since both the Rams and the 49ers played vanilla schemes with backups, but it doesn't take anything away from their performance in the second half of the season.

Please don't confuse the Rams as some team who got on a lucky late streak, as they rank seventh in the league in net EPA, or Expected Points Added (the 49ers ranked first, for comparison).

For those who don't know what EPA is, the 33rd team explains it here:

"Expected Points Added, commonly referred to as EPA, is a measure of how well a team performs relative to expectation. For example, if a team starts a drive on the 50-yard line, its expected points to start the drive would be about 2.5. If the team ends the drive with a field goal, thus gaining 3 points, its EPA for that drive would be found by subtracting its expected points from how many points it actually gained, 3 – 2.5 or 0.5 EPA.

This same logic can be applied to individual plays. Say the Chiefs start with the ball first-and-10 from their own 25-yard line, where its expected points would be about 1.06. If Patrick Mahomes throws a 15-yard completion, making it first-and-10 on the KC 40-yard line, where the expected points is now 1.88, the EPA of that play would be 1.88 – 1.06 or 0.82. In other words, that completion increased the Chiefs’ expected points on that drive by just over three-fourths of a point. If instead of the completion, Mahomes was sacked for a 10-yard loss, making it second-and-20 from their own 15, the new expected points would be about -0.54 and the EPA for that play would be -0.54 – 1.06 or -1.6. This means the sack decreased the amount of points the Chiefs were expected to score on that drive by 1.6 points."

The 33rd Team

Rams head coach Sean McVay also might have something to say when it comes to facing his opposite number in Kyle Shanahan. As much as it pains to bring up the memory, he did defeat the 49ers in the NFC Championship two years ago. He knows how to coach against the 49ers in the playoffs.

The Rams have hit their stride at the right time, and they're a team that nobody wants to face. They're the team that could give the 49ers the most grief when it comes to the playoffs.

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