Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports


49ers vs. Rams: 5 San Francisco storylines to watch in Week 17

Dec 30, 2018 at 8:39 AM


The San Francisco 49ers' 2018 comes to a close with a road bout versus the Los Angeles Rams, and these five points will be of interest to Niners fans with the offseason on the horizon.


Most San Francisco 49ers fans probably didn't think a 4-11 record would describe what the Niners' situation would be heading into a Week 17 regular-season finale versus the Los Angeles Rams.

But that's what it is, and head coach Kyle Shanahan's squad will look to continue playing the spoiler role against a Rams team that could still lose out the No. 2 NFC playoff seed with a loss to San Francisco paired with a win by the Chicago Bears this weekend.

Because of that, Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay won't rest his starters like he did last year when these two teams squared off in Week 17. That said, McVay and Co. will be a bit shorthanded, which could play into the 49ers' benefit.

With that as a backdrop, here are five storylines to watch for San Francisco's final game of 2018.

Operation Tankathon


The coaches won't do it. Neither will the players. But losing is actually in the Niners' best interests in Week 17. Insofar as NFL Draft position, at least.

Currently, the 49ers hold the No. 2 overall pick in April's draft. Beat the Rams, combined with a number of different scenarios, could drop San Francisco all the way down to No. 5. And while it likely won't happen, an Arizona Cardinals win over the Seattle Seahawks this weekend could put the Niners in a position for the top pick overall.

Still, the likeliest of outcomes is Arizona holding onto that top pick, while the 49ers hope to stay at No. 2. NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco broke down what would need to happen for that to take place after Week 17:

The 49ers are in line for the No. 2 overall draft spot, ahead of the Jets, but they will need at least two of the following results in Week 17 to hold onto that position:

-- Dallas win at the New York Giants;
-- Atlanta win at Tampa Bay;
-- Cleveland win at Baltimore;
-- Denver win at home against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The 49ers-Jets strength-of-schedule scenario was made less complicated because both teams played the four teams in the NFC North.

So, it looks like there will be a little bit of scoreboard watching on Sunday, too.

Some Individual Accolades to Reach


While the 49ers may not come away with a massive upset over the Rams, it's still possible some individual performances would be worth watching. Case in point, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner could solidify his spot among the franchise's single-season sack leaders with a solid performance in L.A.


There's also quarterback Nick Mullens, whose seven starts this year have put him into the record books as well. As Niners Wire's Kyle Madson broke down:

Here's what the list for passing yards through eight-career starts looks like according to a release issued by the 49ers:

1. Patrick Mahomes – 2,507
2. Andrew Luck – 2,404
3. Cam Newton – 2,393
4. Marc Bulger – 2,062
5. Marcus Mariota – 2,026
6. Dak Prescott – 2,020
7. Nick Mullens – 1,995 [seven-game total]

Even a mediocre outing by Mullens against the Rams should move him up to No. 4 on this list. He needs just 68 yards to move past Bulger. Mullens is averaging 285 yards-per-game this season.

The biggest one of note, perhaps, is the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end, set by the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski (1,327) back in 2011. Both tight end George Kittle and the Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce are chasing the record with 1,228 and 1,274 receiving yards apiece, respectively. So that means Kelce would need 53 yards to pass Gronk, while Kittle would need 99.

Some Not-So-Great Team Accolades to Reach


While there are some individual records the 49ers can chase in Week 17, the team as a whole is looking at the stark reality of some bad, bad records.

Defensively, at least.

San Francisco has just seven defensive takeaways this season, which is an obvious league low. And if it stays that way, it would break the previous record (11) for any non-strike NFL season.

Making things worse, the two Niners interceptions didn't come from cornerbacks. As KNBR 680's Brad Almquist pointed out, the only other time that happened in a non-strike year was with the Oakland Raiders back in 2005.

Both the 49ers and Rams' Rushing Attacks


The 49ers placed running back Matt Breida (ankle) on injured reserve, freeing up a roster spot for Week 17. That means a lot of undrafted rookie tailback Jeff Wilson, who has averaged 4.1 yards per carry this season but has also fumbled three times. As a possible benefit, though, the Rams are allowing opponents to rush for an average of 5.0 yards per carry this season -- second worst in the NFL. Last week against the Cardinals, the Rams gave up a whopping 269 rush yards despite winning the game 31-9.

On the flip side, L.A. has ruled out its star running back, Todd Gurley (knee), for this regular-season finale. That means a lot of work for No. 2 tailback C.J. Anderson, who has rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in his lone game this season.

San Francisco is allowing 4.1 yards per carry on the ground -- ninth best in the league this season.

49ers Youth Movement


Partially by choice, but also by necessity, Shanahan has been forced to roll with youth at a number of different positions on both sides of the ball.

Fans will still see rookie safety Marcell Harris' maturation process, as he looks to solidify his standing heading into 2019. The same goes for rookie cornerback Tarvarius Moore, who is starting at right cornerback in place of the injured Ahkello Witherspoon.

However, with wide receivers Dante Pettis (knee) and Marquise Goodwin (calf) not playing, even more youth will be pushed into the Niners receiving corps. So this will mean a lot of second-year wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor, while rookie wideout Richie James and recently promoted Steven Dunbar Jr. may see some action, too.

As with so many first- and second-year players who were initially buried on the depth chart to start the season, this final game will be crucial in determining where they stand heading into the offseason.

The 49ers and Rams kick off on Sunday, Dec. 30 at 4:25 p.m. ET from Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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