The Rams will finish with a better record than the 49ers
This doesn’t mean that Shaun Hill will lead the Rams to the playoffs. It just means that St. Louis has the defense to get to the vicinity of .500, and the 49ers will disappoint.
The Rams’ plan right now is for Shaun Hill to start in place of Sam Bradford, who tore his ACL in a preseason game against the Browns and is out for the season. Hill is surrounded with promising talent. Running back Zac Stacy came on strong in the second half and went for 973 rushing yards last year. Speedy wide receiver Tavon Austin, the No. 8 overall pick in 2013, caught 40 passes and has the potential to score any time he touches the ball. Kenny Britt, who the Rams signed as a free agent, figures to be their No. 1 receiver. Britt caught 42 passes in each of his first two seasons for a combined 12 touchdowns, then tore his ACL in 2011. The Rams are counting on him to regain his form. He caught three passes for 73 yards through the first three preseason games.
On defense, the Rams were third in the NFL last year in both sacks (53) and yards per rush (3.7). They’ve added rookie Aaron Donald to the front seven. He had a sack and a forced fumble in the Rams’ 33-14 Week 3 preseason win over the Browns, and he didn’t even start.
The 49ers, meanwhile, have some holes to patch in their first season at Levi’s Stadium. They will be missing two vital cogs in their defense for the early part of the season. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman will start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, according to Pro Football Talk, and will miss at least the first six games. Even when he returns, he still could have lingering effects from his torn ACL in last year’s NFC championship game.
Another linebacker, Aldon Smith, is facing a suspension of up to eight games after facing weapons and DUI charges earlier this year, according to Pro Football Talk. Smith and Bowman combined for 13.5 sacks last season.
The offense also faces some questions. The 49ers don’t have a true deep threat. Their leader in yards per reception last season was Vernon Davis, a tight end. Anquan Boldin is a possession receiver. He’s a very productive possession receiver with 85 catches last season, but still not a vertical threat. Michael Crabtree averaged 14.9 yards per reception in the five regular-season games he did play in 2013, and 13.5 in the playoffs.
Running back Frank Gore ran for 1,128 yards last season, but he’s entering his Age-31 year. The 49ers must be wary of a decline. Finally, Colin Kaepernick’s playing style exposes him to injury. If he misses any time, the 49ers will have to turn to Blaine Gabbert. There are a number of potential problems on offense which could turn into a perfect storm.
Whatever happens, enough will go wrong for the 49ers that they’ll be looking up at the Rams in the NFC West standings.
(AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)