San Francisco (5-9) at St. Louis (6-8)

By MATT BECKER, STATS Senior Writer Thursday, Dec 23, 2010 Kickoff: 1:00 pm EST Sun Dec 26, 2010

In every other NFC division, the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers would have already been eliminated from postseason contention. They have the benefit of playing in the NFC West, however, and still have a shot at hosting a playoff game.

These teams meet Sunday in St. Louis, and although the outcome won’t make or break the Rams’ postseason chances, the 49ers would finally be eliminated with a loss.

St. Louis and Seattle are tied atop the West at 6-8, while San Francisco is one game back at 5-9. If the Rams get a victory this week and win at Seattle next Sunday, they’ll take the division for the first time since 2003.

They can also win the West even if they lose this week, as long as they beat the Seahawks and the 49ers lose at Arizona in Week 17.

“I don’t look at being fortunate in a division,” St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I just know that until they tell us we cannot make it to the playoffs, that’s what we’re still shooting for.

“If we happen to get in there, it won’t matter what the record is. It doesn’t matter how you get in, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in there as a wild card or a divisional winner, if you’re in you’ve got a chance to win it all.”

San Francisco can make good on team president Jed York’s declaration that it would come back from an 0-5 start to reach the postseason if it wins its final two games and Seattle loses at least once more.

One more loss by San Francisco, however, would leave it home from the playoffs for the eighth straight year.

“Hopefully we’ll take care of business and we’ll set ourselves up with the playoffs,” 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes(notes) said.

Who will be leading San Francisco in its biggest game of the season was uncertain until Thursday, when coach Mike Singletary announced he was reinstating Troy Smith(notes) as starting quarterback for this contest after Alex Smith started the previous two.

Troy Smith had a five-game stint as starter in midseason. He passed for fewer than 200 yards in four of those starts, but his best performance came against the Rams on Nov. 14, when he threw for a career-high 356 yards and a touchdown in a 23-20 overtime victory.

Alex Smith threw for three touchdowns in a 40-21 win over the Seahawks on Dec. 12 but was sacked six times as the 49ers were outgained 374-192 in last Thursday’s 34-7 loss at San Diego.

The 49ers have now changed quarterbacks after each of their last two defeats in an attempt to salvage a losing season, but Singletary indicated he won’t hesitate to use Alex Smith on Sunday if he feels the situation calls for it.

“We could possibly use them both,” Singletary said. “The game will dictate it. Even though Troy is going to be the starter, we’re making sure that the game plan is such that we can possibly use both their strengths in this game.”

There is no such quarterback question in St. Louis, but Sam Bradford(notes) is suddenly struggling.

Bradford had 181 passing yards with two interceptions in last Sunday’s 27-13 loss to Kansas City, and he has no touchdowns and five picks in three games this month after throwing for 11 TDs and one interception in his previous six.

The rookie completed 30 of 42 passes for 251 yards with a touchdown in San Francisco last month.

Steven Jackson had 148 scrimmage yards in that game as St. Louis suffered its fifth consecutive defeat in the series.

Last week’s loss was the second straight for the Rams, who fell 31-13 to New Orleans on Dec. 12. Spagnuolo doesn’t want his team dwelling on those defeats.

“We’re in the moving forward stage now,” Spagnuolo said. “This a resilient team in my particular opinion. These guys find a way when they’re challenged to do some good things.”

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