Play­off-bound Rams go for NFC West sweep, No. 2 seed against 49ers

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Sports - BY GREG BEACHAM Associated Press AP reporter Josh Dubow in Santa Clara, Cal­i­for­nia, con­trib­uted.

Al­though the Los An­ge­les Rams al­ready wrapped up their sec­ond straight NFC West ti­tle four weeks ago, they’re em­brac­ing the chance to rub it in.

The Rams (12-3) will go for a six-game sweep of their three di­vi­sional op­po­nents Sun­day when they host the San Francisco 49ers (4-11). A win also clinches the No. 2 play­off seed and a first-round bye, leav­ing Los An­ge­les with no short­age of mo­ti­va­tion head­ing into the Coli­seum.

“That’s huge to show that,” Rams quar­ter­back Jared Goff said of the po­ten­tial sweep. “To truly win the divi­sion with our record, but re­ally win the divi­sion with our games against our divi­sion op­po­nents, to be 6-0 would be say­ing some­thing, for sure. That re­ally means more.”

West Coast supremacy mat­ters to ev­ery­one associated with the Rams dur­ing the fran­chise’s quest to re­build its LA fan base head­ing into a new sta­dium in 2020.

The Rams are 9-2 against San Francisco, Seat­tle and Ari­zona since coach Sean McVay took over last sea­son, and they’ve only lost once in a game that mat­tered. McVay rested his starters for a 34-13 sea­son-fi­nale loss to the 49ers last year, likely de­priv­ing Todd Gur­ley of the NFL rush­ing ti­tle and pos­si­bly af­fect­ing Los An­ge­les’ mo­men­tum head­ing to the post­sea­son.

San Francisco won’t get a break this week­end: Chicago could steal the Rams’ first-round bye if the Bears beat Min­nesota and the Rams lose to the 49ers, so Los An­ge­les has ev­ery rea­son to not let up.

“It would say a lot,” McVay said of the Rams’ po­ten­tial NFC West sweep. “To be able to ac­com­plish that at home would mean a lot, be­cause there’s three tough divi­sion op­po­nents that we go against twice a year. To be able to do that, and then what that also means is be­ing able to se­cure a first-round bye, that’s a big deal.”

While Gur­ley could miss his sec­ond straight game with a mi­nor knee in­jury, the Rams likely will be us­ing ev­ery other healthy player against the 49ers, whose lengthy list of in­jury ab­sences in­cludes run­ning back Matt Breida and re­ceiver Dante Pet­tis.

The 49ers are wrap­ping up their fourth con­sec­u­tive los­ing sea­son and their fifth straight non­play­off sea­son, but coach Kyle Shana­han re­mains op­ti­mistic and fo­cused head­ing into an­other meet­ing with McVay, his friend and fel­low of­fen­sive master­mind.

“We’ve been dis­ap­pointed in our year, but we also know this isn’t end­ing for us,” Shana­han said. “We’re try­ing to build some­thing and try­ing to turn this place around. We’ve got a lot of guys in here who want to be a part of that. Play­ers, coaches, per­son­nel guys. So even though this year is com­ing to an end for us, we know it has a lot to do with next year, and guys are try­ing to prove they want to be a part of that.”

Here are more things to watch in the sea­son fi­nale:

Don­ald’s day: Aaron Don­ald has an out­side chance to make his­tory. The Rams’ dominant de­fen­sive tackle is three sacks shy of match­ing Michael Stra­han’s NFL record of 221⁄2. That’s a tall or­der for the un­der­sized line­man, but Don­ald tends to record his sacks in bunches, get­ting two or more in seven games. He got three last week against Ari­zona.

Kit­tle’s chase: San Francisco tight end Ge­orge Kit­tle heads into the fi­nal game in po­si­tion to set a record for the most pro­lific sea­son ever at the po­si­tion. Kit­tle has 1,228 yards re­ceiv­ing this sea­son and needs 100 to pass Rob Gronkowski (2011) for most in a sea­son by a tight end.

CJ again: Even if Gur­ley doesn’t sit out, the Rams might give some of his work­load to vet­eran C.J. An­der­son, who is fit­ting right in with his new team. The sixth-year pro rushed for 167 yards and a touch­down on 20 car­ries in his Rams de­but last week.

Mighty Mul­lens: Nick Mul­lens has im­pressed his coaches in his half-sea­son as starter. Mul­lens’ 1,995 yards pass­ing are the third most since the merger through seven ca­reer games, trail­ing only Pa­trick Ma­homes and Cam New­ton. He also has thrown for at least 220 yards in ev­ery start, tied for the long­est streak in San Francisco his­tory be­hind a nine-gamer for Joe Mon­tana in 1985-86.

Fourth-stringer: The 49ers will fin­ish their sea­son with their fourth-string run­ning back car­ry­ing the load. Starter Jer­ick McKin­non tore up his knee a week be­fore the opener, third­stringer Ra­heem Mostert broke his arm Nov. 1 and now Breida is out with an an­kle in­jury. Jeff Wil­son Jr. has 314 yards from scrimmage the past four games as Breida has been in and out of the lineup.

TONY AVE­LAR AP

San Francisco coach Kyle Shana­han is frus­trated by the in­jury-plagued sea­son but is fo­cused on the fu­ture. “We also know this isn’t end­ing for us,” he says. “We’re try­ing to build some­thing and try­ing to turn this place around.”

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