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SANTA CLARA, California – The Los Angeles Rams could have ensured that their opponent in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game was anyone but the San Francisco 49ers.
But the Rams lost to their northern rivals 31-10 on November 15 and 27-24 in the season finale on January 9. And now, on the NFC’s biggest stage, they have to face a 49ers team that slipped into the playoffs with that Victory in Week 18 – a 49ers team the Rams have lost to six times in a row.
Even worse for LA, history suggests it’s not as difficult as it sounds to beat the same team three times in one season. The same teams have met each other a third time on 22 occasions, with the winner of the first two matchups taking the third time 14 times.
So it is that the 49ers and Rams will meet each other for the NFC title (18:30 ET, Fox) for the second time in the season’s history. The 49ers beat the Rams 30-3 in the 1989 NFC Championship Game.
“I do not think there are many secrets,” Niner coach Kyle Shanahan said. “There are not many things we can surprise them with and the same with them with us, which I think is the funniest way. It will be two really good teams and a really good football match where you can not really fool each other. You have to go out and beat someone. “
Four of the 49ers’ victories over the current six-game series have come as underdogs, a position San Francisco occupies again on its way into Sunday.
Before their Week 18 match, Niner’s tight-end George Kittle characterized the competition as “a kind of body-behind game”, while trying to explain how the winning team should exercise its will on the opponent. It apparently became bulletin board material for the Rams.
After LA jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half, Kittle said about five Rams players started “chirping” to him, to which he replied that there was “a lot of time on that clock.”
He was right. There was enough time for the Niners to gather and beat their ticket to the off-season, to which Kittle said, “Hopefully I can see them again.” Rams pass-rusher Von Miller got a laugh out of it when he told about Kittle’s comments this week.
“It’s the joker,” Miller said, laughing. “It’s just the way he does it. We have to do our part to make sure we also have body bags over here, I think. They’re a tough, physical team. It’s just the way they go around. “It has worked for them. We have to do what we can and play our football brand and not really get caught.”
Another thing the Rams can not get caught up in? Audience composition. At that week’s meeting, the stadium was a sea of red, so much so that quarterback Matthew Stafford said it was a “tough environment.” The Rams’ attack had to go to a silent snap count due to the crowd noise, and coach Sean McVay said the Rams were “taken aback” by the Niners fans present.
San Francisco receiver Deebo Samuel claimed after the match that the Rams “pump noise because there were not that many Rams fans there.”
Former Niners quarterback Alex Smith, who was in for that game, said he thought it was a 60/40 split in favor of San Francisco. For Smith, who grew up in California and has observed the heated rivalry between Major League Baseball’s Giants and Dodgers and NBA’s Warriors and Lakers, it felt like a real rivalry had been reborn.
“I think this has become one of the coolest rivalries in football,” Smith said. “It piggybacks away from the Giants-Dodgers, and they’re the same fans. It’s turned into this Northern California against Southern California. [thing]. They do not like each other. Even going to the head coaches, who are good friends and obviously have a lot of history, I think it just adds to the whole story. “
For Sunday’s game, the Rams have tried to limit ticket sales to fans with credit card billing addresses in the surrounding Los Angeles area, though they denied it was related to what happened at the most recent meeting.
It came after Melissa Whitworth, the Rams’ wife, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, begged Rams fans on Twitter not to sell their tickets to Niners fans and said she would buy them instead. McVay playfully asked his fan base to “hold on to those tickets.”
Of course, these efforts could not account for what was already happening in the ticket market. According to Vivid Seats, this is the most in-demand game of the season with an average price of $ 824 and a starting price of $ 537. Vivid Seats has a fan forecast – a proprietary algorithm – that earlier in the week expected spectators to be 65/35 in favor of the 49ers. No matter how it ends, the team is confident that its fans will once again show up at the fair on Sunday.
“When you can get your fans behind you that way on the road … it just changes the momentum of the game,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “It’s not something you can really put your finger on, and you can not see specifically, but you could feel you could hear it. And our team responds well to that. So hopefully the believers will be out there loud and proud. I know they are trying. “
While ticket distribution and past meetings are fun to discuss, none of that will mean much. Depending on your fidelity, the Niners may have a mental advantage because they have won six in a row, or the Rams may be ready to break through because they are too good to lose to the same team seven times in a row.
Eventually, this game will come down to the usual things like turnovers, third downs and tackling.
“That’s why we’re in this position,” McVay said. “Let’s roll it out and see who plays best in the 3½-hour window and gives himself the chance to advance.”
ESPN NFL Nation reporter Brady Henderson contributed to this story.