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A common narrative you’ll likely hear this weekend is that it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season. Despite this being conventional wisdom to many people, it’s simply not true.

Since 1970, an NFL team has swept its divisional foe in the regular season only to meet again in the postseason 22 times. The team that swept the regular-season matchups is 14-8 in those postseason meetings. In four of those instances, the road team in that postseason meeting has completed the sweep.

The 49ers defeated the Rams twice in the 2021 season. San Francisco has dominated Los Angeles in the Kyle Shanahan vs. Sean McVay era — the Niners are 7-3 against the Rams since 2017, winning the past six matchups, with the past four victories coming as underdogs.

If the 49ers don’t already have an edge based on their previous dominance of the Rams, San Francisco will also have an extra day following its game last Saturday (Los Angeles played Sunday).

Under Shanahan, the 49ers have thrived as underdogs with a 25-17 (60 percent) record against the spread (ATS), per our Action Labs data. It’s a role they’re very familiar with, as they’re coming off three straight wins as underdogs. They needed to win on the road at the Rams in Week 18 to make the playoffs before defeating the Cowboys in Dallas and the Packers in Green Bay to advance to their second NFC Championship Game in the last three seasons.

Jimmy Garoppolo
Jimmy Garoppolo
Getty Images

Trends aside, this is an ideal matchup for the 49ers, given their ability to dominate in the run game, and neutralize a Rams pass rush with Aaron Donald and Von Miller that ranks first in ESPN’s pass rush win rate and third in sacks (50). In their first two matchups of the season, the 49ers rushed for 156 yards and 135 yards. And in the second matchup, they controlled the time of possession for much of the second half.

Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel should generate yardage on the ground against this weak Rams linebacking unit while opening the offense for Jimmy Garoppolo and a 49ers passing game that should find some success against a Rams defense that struggles to defend the middle of the field.

George Kittle
George Kittle is taken down by the Rams’ Troy Reeder.

Though much will be made of Garoppolo’s struggles against the Packers in frozen temperatures, he’s had plenty of success against this Rams team. In the two previous meetings this season, he completed 38 of 51 attempts for 498 yards and three touchdowns. He led the 83-yard touchdown drive to send the Week 18 matchup to overtime, and he also led the game-winning drive to get the 49ers into the playoffs. The 49ers offense has out-gained the Rams in yards per play in both matchups.

Matthew Stafford struggled to close out the regular season, throwing eight interceptions and fumbling once in the final four games. In the postseason, he’s looked completely rejuvenated, completing 74.5 percent of his passes for 568 yards and four touchdowns with no turnovers. That said, Stafford will face a much tougher matchup against Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Fred Warner and a 49ers defense that can generate pressure without blitzing.

Stafford has destroyed the blitz this season, just as he did last week against the Buccaneers, hitting Cooper Kupp with the game on the line. But it’s highly unlikely we’ll see the 49ers take a similar approach here — they pressured Stafford 15 times and sacked him five times in their 27-24 win in Week 18. With Rams LT Andrew Whitworth still banged up, their offensive line could have a long day.

The 49ers have had the Rams number, and I don’t see it changing here. I’ll back the 49ers at +3.5 and take them on the moneyline (+145 at Bet MGM) as well.

Source: NYPOST

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