Rams-49ers matchups: How to watch, start time and prediction

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17, 2023: Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua.

Breaking down how the Rams (9-7) and San Francisco 49ers (12-4) match up heading into their game Sunday. The game will be televised by Fox:

When Rams have the ball

Rams quarterback Carson Wentz warms up before a game against the New Orleans Saints.

Coach Sean McVay wants to make sure key players are rested for the playoffs, so Pro Bowl quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiver Cooper Kupp and Pro Bowl running back Kyren Williams will not play. Veteran Carson Wentz will start in place of Stafford. It’s Wentz’s first start since the 2022 season, when he played for the Washington Commanders. McVay will no doubt have Wentz target Pro Bowl receiver Puka Nacua early in the game. Nacua needs four catches and 29 yards receiving to establish NFL rookie records. Once those are achieved, he almost certainly will be pulled from the game to avoid injury. Demarcus Robinson and Tutu Atwell are other targets for Wentz. Royce Freeman and Ronnie Rivers will rotate in place of Williams. Freeman has rushed for two touchdowns. Rivers recently came off injured reserve. All of the starting linemen are expected to play, including left tackle Alaric Jackson, who sat out the 26-25 victory over the New York Giants last week because of a personal situation. The 49ers have clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC. So it remains to be seen if coach Kyle Shanahan plays star linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw and edge rusher Nick Bosa, among others.

When 49ers have the ball

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) warms up before agame against the Arizona Cardinals.

Quarterback Brock Purdy and star running back Christian McCaffrey will not play as the top-seeded 49ers prepare for the playoffs. Former USC star Sam Darnold will start in place of Purdy. Darnold, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft by the New York Jets, has completed 12 of 20 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown, with an interception, this season. Coach Kyle Shanahan might hold out other star players such as Deebo Samuel, who has scored 12 touchdowns, receiver Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle. Last Sunday in a 27-10 victory over the Washington Commanders, running back Elijah Mitchell rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown in 17 carries. Rams coach Sean McVay will hold out 10-time Pro Bowl lineman Aaron Donald and linebacker Ernest Jones as part of his plan to rest starters for the playoffs. Rookie tackle Kobie Turner has tied Donald’s Rams rookie record with nine sacks. Rookie edge rusher Byron Young has seven sacks. Safety Jordan Fuller has intercepted passes in each of the last two games. Fuller could be among starters pulled from the game if the outcome is decided early, but the Rams have been prone to giving up explosive plays, especially late in games when they should have had the outcome in hand.

When they kick

Steelers linebacker Elandon Roberts, left, signals a missed field goal by the Rams' Brett Maher in October.

It’s the second coming of Rams kicker Brett Maher. The veteran began the season with the team but was released after seven games. Rookie Lucas Havrisik, who replaced Maher, was released last week after missing two extra-point attempts against the Giants. So the Rams have turned to Maher, who has made 17 of 23 field-goal attempts.

By the numbers

Gary Klein’s prediction

The 49ers have nothing to gain and the Rams don’t seem overly concerned about holding the No. 6 seed in the NFC. Darnold beat the Rams with the then-winless Jets, so he can do it again. 49ERS 24, RAMS 21

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.