After last week's unexpected loss to the Falcons at the buzzer, the 49ers will be looking to rebound and start their stretch run as they prepare for the playoffs.

There are a lot of possibilities for a bye, winning the division, and even home field advantage no matter what happens in tonight's game. That being said, the simplest and most desired path for the 49ers to get where they want to go is to win tonight and win in Seattle next week. That will secure home field advantage and give them a much needed week off.

The Niners will get Richard Sherman and slot corner K'Waun Williams back from injury tonight, which should give the defense a big boost. Offensively, San Francisco will be as healthy as it can be, besides players who are on injured reserve. One player to watch is guard Mike Person, who is questionable tonight with a neck injury. If he can't go, Daniel Brunskill will play in his stead.

When and Where: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco - 5:15 pm PST - at Levi's Stadium

Here are five keys to victory for the 49ers this week:

1) Tighten Up on Defense



It has been a difficult second half for the defense as it has struggled at times to get back to the level of dominance we saw in the first half of the season. That has been mainly due to injuries on the defensive line, the loss of Kwon Alexander, and this recent batch of injuries to the secondary. Sherman and Williams will help the secondary, but the front seven has to find a way to increase the pressure on Jared Goff, as well as ensure Todd Gurley does not have a big day.

The run defense should be able to contain the ground attack of the Rams, as the Los Angeles offensive line is nothing to write home about. The key will be the pass rush getting home and making life miserable for Goff. Goff struggles immensely when the pressure comes, so today, it might be time to send more blitzes and force him to make some errant throws that could result in turnovers. Goff is also dealing with a thumb injury on his throwing hand.

2) Generate a Couple of Big Plays Early on Offense



The 49ers looked flat as they struggled last week to get going on offense. That cannot be the case tonight if they expect to win as the Rams will be pulling out all of the stops to save their season. San Francisco will need to grind out yardage on the ground and convert on third down as it did in its first meeting with Los Angeles, but something more will be needed.

The Rams will be without cornerback Troy Hill tonight and that is the place to attack with Deebo Samuel, Emmanuel Sanders, Kendrick Bourne, and even someone like Richie James Jr or Dante Pettis. Someone needs to make a big play early and give this offense a chance at an early lead.

Obviously, a turnover forced by the defense to provide a short field for Jimmy Garoppolo will be great, but no matter what, the offense has to step up tonight, similar to the way it did in New Orleans.

3) Stay Sharp on Special Teams



This could be a very close game and with the Rams' season hanging by a thread, there could be fake punts and even fake field goals with Greg Zuerlein dealing with a foot injury. Punter Johnny Hekker has been great on fake punts, so it will be imperative to not give up a big play in that situation.

If I were the special teams coach, I would ensure that nobody grab on any return. Too often, even solid runs have been called back due to holding or blocking in the back penalties. The special teams must not give the officials any excuse to throw a flag that pins the offense deep in its own territory.

4) Project Jimmy Garoppolo



Against Aaron Donald and the Rams' front seven, the protection has to be at its best. Jimmy Garoppolo may be the key to winning this game as he leads an offense that is second in the NFL in points scored with 29.9 points per game.

The ball has to come out quick and there have to be other viable targets besides tight end George Kittle. Kittle should be able to make life miserable for the Rams' defense, but there have to be quick throws made to Samuel, Sanders, Bourne and others. There are two other ways San Francisco can protect its franchise quarterback and that is through screen passes and an effective rushing attack.

The Rams will likely be using the plan that so many pundits seem to believe: stop the run and make Garoppolo beat you. The passing attack has proven it can beat teams, so it needs to take advantage of any extra time gained from play action as well as any overaggressive pass rush that could net big yardage off a screen pass.

The ground attack will be important, but for tonight, the passing attack should be the primary focus. If the passing attack is effective, we should see more opportunities for Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Matt Breida to grind out yardage and even generate some long runs.

5) Take Some Chances



With the Rams likely going all out tonight in an attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive, a conservative game plan will not get the job done. The 49ers need to be the aggressor and take some chances of their own on fake punts, going for it on fourth and short, and even a few gadget plays. We have seen all of these from time to time over the course of the season, but tonight, the Rams might be in a perfect spot to not be ready for an aggressive Kyle Shanahan.

On defense, creative, timely blitzes could be the ticket to getting the unit off the field and ensuring the Rams' offense doesn't control the game.

Score Prediction



The 49ers will rebound on their home turf and eliminate the Rams from the playoffs. Not only is it important for the Niners to control their own destiny, but eliminating the defending champs will help their own quest for a chance at a Super Bowl berth.

Jimmy Garoppolo has a great game and the defense forces three turnovers, sending the Rams to the playoff couch as they will be forced to start thinking about 2020.

49ers 27, Rams 21