KICKOFF: Sunday, 12 noon CST
SITE: Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis
SURFACE: Field Turf
RECORDS: 49ers 12-3, 4-1 in NFC West, 9-2 in NFC, 3-1 vs. AFC North; Rams 2-13, 0-5 in NFC West, 1-10 in NFC, 1-3 vs. AFC North
LAST WEEK: 49ers defeated Seattle Seahawks 19-17; Rams lost to Pittsburgh Steelers 27-0
NFL RANKINGS: 49ers: No. 26 in total offense, No. 4 in total defense. Rams No. 31 in total offense, No. 21 in total defense
TV: FOX (Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jennifer Hale)
SERIES HISTORY: 124th regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 61-60-2. The 49ers have won six of the last seven games in the series, including a 26-0 victory on Dec. 4 in San Francisco. The Rams defeated the 49ers 25-17 in Week 16 last season, knocking San Francisco out of playoff contention, which led to the immediate firing of coach Mike Singletary. With a win Sunday, and the 49ers are assured the second seed in the playoffs, which includes a bye and divisional round home game.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The biggest problem for the Rams is the 49ers are motivated to win and secure a first-round bye. St. Louis was able to run the ball successfully against Pittsburgh last week and will attempt to establish RB Steven Jackson. QB Kellen Clemens is expected to start in place of Sam Bradford (ankle) and the Rams' offensive line won't hold up in third-and-long. The bigger concern is St. Louis' league-worst run defense. San Francisco will pound away with RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter and set up its highly efficient passing attack.
BY THE NUMBERS: Plus-26 -- The 49ers' league-leading turnover ratio. The team has the most takeaways in the league with 36 and the fewest turnovers with 10. The turnover ratio is tied for third most in league history since 1970. 12 -- Number of players that have played in all 15 games for the Rams, four of which are starters. Last season, the Rams had 22 players that played in all 16 games, and 11 starters. By contrast, this year, the 49ers have had 30 players in all their games, and 12 starters.
QUOTES TO NOTE
"In a lot of ways, Crab saved Christmas." -- 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on wide receiver Michael Crabtree's 41-yard catch that led to the winning field goal in the 19-17 defeat of Seattle.
"You've gotta have a lot of mental fortitude to play in this league. It's just something I've learned. And through the adversity and the losing, you can never let that take your passion away for the game and for competition. You just have to know that every week you've got another chance, and even if it's not going well, you just keep grinding away. It's easy to play hard when you're winning but I think the measure of this team when things aren't going well -- the measure of these guys as men is that they continue to work." -- Rams defensive end Chris Long.
49ERS GAME PLAN: The 49ers plan might be more based on situation than opponent. If the team goes up three scores, the 49ers might have mass substitutions in order to preserve players for the playoffs. With a lead, the 49ers might feature wide receiver Brett Swain so quarterback Alex Smith can get comfortable with him. Another change could include more plays at outside linebacker for rookie pass rusher Aldon Smith. He had 10 snaps in the base 3-4 defense last week in Seattle and could get more for this game.
RAMS GAME PLAN: GAME PLAN: The Rams were successful running the ball against Pittsburgh, so they will try to do that against the 49ers, and create manageable third downs. Of course, they have had numerous manageable third downs this season, but have not been proficient in converting them. Defensively, the Rams did a good job on RB Frank Gore in the first game. Still, the key will be scoring points. The Rams have six games this season where they have scored fewer than 10 points and they were shut out in San Francisco Dec. 4.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- 49ers OLB Aldon Smith, who needs a sack to beat Jevon Kearse's 1999 record for most sacks in a season by a rookie, vs. Rams Ts Mark LeVoir and Bryan Mattison, who are guards playing tackle because of injury.
--- 49ers RT Anthony Davis, who sometimes struggles in pass protection, vs. Rams LDE Chris Long, who had two sacks against Davis in the first game. Long will again try to beat Davis and get to QB Alex Smith, but Smith does a good job of getting the ball out quickly.
--- The Rams' offensive philosophy, which might entail a go-for-broke mentality, vs the 49ers defense, which is one of the more conservative schemes in the league.
--- Rams coverage teams vs. 49ers KR Ted Ginn Jr. The Rams have allowed numerous big plays in the return game in recent weeks, and Ginn is averaging 27.6 yards on kickoff returns and 12.3 on punts, but might not play because of an ankle injury.
Inside the camps
He was offensive rookie of the year in 2010, and everything was looking up for Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.
Now, he has labored through a difficult season that will likely have him on the sideline for the sixth time this Sunday when the Rams close the season against the 49ers.
Bradford suffered a high ankle sprain on Oct. 16 against Green Bay and played just five games since. Despite not practicing so far this week, he is still hopeful of playing against the 49ers.
"It's important to me to play in every game," he said. "Obviously, this is my last opportunity to play with this team this year, so it's very important for me to get out there this Sunday and just finish the season strong with my guys."
The question is whether the ankle will be willing. After aggravating it on Nov. 27 against Arizona, there has been littler improvement. Asked about being discouraged, Bradford said, "Yeah, it's been very frustrating. Especially the fact that I was able to come back and play three or four games and it was getting better. It was starting to feel better. It was starting to feel like it was, obviously not normal, but getting closer to normal. Then after the second time that I reinjured it, it's just really never overcome that."
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Bradford's star is still rising despite his struggles.
"Sam is an extremely talented player," McDaniels said. "Nothing that's happened this year has changed Sam Bradford's future or his outlook going forward. I think in some ways, in many ways going through seasons of adversity can really be a positive for a young player or a coach or anybody for that manner in your life. Nothing comes easy. Sometimes it's good to learn those lessons young so that it makes you really understand and you really cherish the opportunity to continue to do it and to try to get better and then when you do have a chance to be successful and win big, you know how hard you worked and how much it took for you to get there.
"It wasn't what we all envisioned this turning into, but that wasn't for a lack of effort and it certainly wasn't for Sam's, his lack of effort individually. I loved coaching the guy and I still think he's got a bright future."
Even 49ers quarterback Alex Smith noted the problems the Rams have had around Bradford.
Said Smith, "No one understands that at the quarterback position you rely on so many people just to have a chance to do your job. Just from an outside perspective looking in, obviously he had a really big rookie year. I think he did a lot of good things and then the expectations just continue to rise and a new system, the lockout, all of the injuries the Rams have had this year especially on the offensive side of the ball at the receiver position and offensive line, things like that, those are things that I think aren't excuses, they're facts, but no one really looks to that. No one wants to talk about that or hear that.
"A lot of times so many people just look at your stats and all of that stuff can be deceiving. So for him I still think just continue to work to get better every day. You're going to get through this. The NFL is so much what have you done for me lately and just looking forward to the next game and putting that stuff behind you. I think for him, he's such a young player in this league, he's got such a long road ahead of him that if he just continues to work on becoming a better player he'll be just fine."
When offensive coordinator Greg Roman was asked if Michael Crabtree and Brett Swain could be his starting wide receivers in St. Louis, Roman said, "There's a good chance of that."
Kyle Williams is iffy with a concussion and Ted Ginn Jr. missed last week with a sprained ankle and might miss the team's season finale this Sunday in St. Louis. If that happens, the 49ers would have only three healthy wide receivers assuming the team calls up Joe Hastings from the practice squad to replace the recently released Braylon Edwards.
Not only that, tight end Delanie Walker has not been in the locker room this week, and his teammates say his jaw is wired shut and he's on a liquid diet. The chances that Walker will play in this game appear extremely remote. With Walker, Ginn and Williams all out, the 49ers would have only five eligible receivers among their tight ends and receivers and only two of them have more than one catch this year.
Hastings has yet to catch his first NFL pass. Swain was picked up Oct. 12 after getting released by the Packers and has one catch for nine yards. Blocking tight end Justin Peelle has one catch for 19 yards this season.
Swain, at least, does bring knowledge of the West Coast system after spending the prior three seasons in Green Bay.
"This team has been so welcoming to me it's been easy to try and plug into the system," said Swain, who was signed after Joshua Morgan was put on injured reserve with a broken leg. "I've been in the same offense so there have been a lot of similarities."
The 49ers' dire receiver situation adds a dash of intrigue to this game, which the 49ers need to win in order to stay ahead of New Orleans for the second playoff seed. If the 49ers lose and the Saints beat the Panthers, San Francisco would drop to the third seed and would lose their playoff bye.
--- OT Mark LeVoir, who did not start last week as he recovered from a groin injury, has been fully practicing this week and could be back starting at left tackle.
--- LB Brady Poppinga, who was sent home Wednesday because of illness, was back on the practice field Thursday.
--- RB Jerious Norwood did not practice Thursday because of illness.
--- OT Ryan McKee, who is on the practice squad, was not able to practice Thursday because of illness.
--- CB Josh Gordy, who has been limited in most practices recently because of an oblique muscle injury, had full participation Thursday.
--- DE Chris Long (ankle) was limited Thursday, but will play Sunday.
--- DE Aldon Smith's Pro Bowl snub could be due to not being a starter. Reserves aren't listed on fan ballots but backups are part of the players' and coaches' ballots.
--- LB Patrick Willis could be making his return after missing four games with a hamstring strain. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he looked "fine to him."
--- WRs Kyle Williams (concussion) and Ted Ginn Jr. (ankle) did not practice Thursday, increasing the chances they will not be available Sunday.
--- RB Kendall Hunter could be the team's kick returner if neither Kyle Williams nor Ted Ginn Jr. can play.
--- S Reggie Smith is the logical choice as the replacement punt returner because fellow candidate Brett Swain could be a starter at wide receiver and third option CB Chris Culliver has been battling a sore shoulder for the last several weeks.