On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers will take on the St. Louis Rams with about as much rest as a team can have at this point in the season. They played a game on Thursday Night Football against the Seattle Seahawks, and then took on the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football, and now have a bye week with which to reflect on the first half of the season. It might just be karma for the ridiculous road trip they took last season just because the NFL wanted to see Jim and John Harbaugh face off on Thanksgiving.
The Rams mark San Francisco's third-straight matchup against an NFC West opponent, and they're hoping it's their third-straight win, as well. St. Louis has been better than advertised this year, but in a surprisingly stronger division, the Rams are still at the bottom.
Meet the San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are 6-2, with losses to Minnesota and the New York Giants. Both games weren't close, and had as much to do with them being totally unprepared and lost as it had to do with their opponents actually being good. That isn't to take anything away from the Vikings or Giants, it's just that the 49ers under JIm Harbaugh are generally very prepared, but have shown a bad propensity for being unable to adjust once a game isn't going their way.
They'll win plenty of games this year based on their strong defense alone, which remains one of the top three in the entire league. But the offense is much-improved, and this team is truly a threat to beat any in the league at any given moment.
Meet the St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams are 3-5 and last place in the NFC West. They started off the season with some strong, gutsy wins, but the lack of talent on their roster has caught up with them. New head coach Jeff Fisher seems to have the team a little bit more prepared than they have been in recent years, which means they should never be counted out 100 percent, but they really have played some uninspired football in many of their losses this season.
They're coming off a bye week as well, so they've had a full week to try and guess what Jim Harbaugh is going to cook up, so they can react to it and try and score the upset over their rivals. It will be a tall task, and they are definitely not favored by any means, but these kinds of wins are the kind that this team is built on getting here and there. They won't finish the season with a winning record, but they'll have a few big wins to build on heading into next year. This could be one of them.
Hi, my name is Alexander Douglas Smith
I'm the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and the road to this point has been neat, definitely. I've pretty much had that cliche roller coaster kind of career, but in the past season, I've established myself among the league's elite quarterbacks. Absolutely. No question. I only threw like two interceptions last year or something, but sadly, I've already eclipsed that total this time around. Needless to say, folks aren't as happy with me as I'd like. No question.
But that's all gravy, because we're a winning team. People are catching the ball when I throw it for once, which is a weird feeling. Happiness? Fulfillment? Absolutely! But these are things that wouldn't describe my feelings following a football game prior to last year. Now, I've led my team to a 6-2 record, with losses to two pretty good teams that I'd love to get another crack at in the postseason.
My favorite targets are Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, and boy do they make my life a whole helluva lot easier when I get the ball in their hands. They've been impressive with picking up yards after the catch. I'll probably depend on my running game a lot after such a long layoff, and ease myself back into things. Absolutely.
Hi, my name is Samuel Jacob Bradford
I'm the starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. I pretty much suck out loud, or at least I did prior to this season. This time 'round, I haven't been as bad in recent years, as I've managed to complete a pass for more than three yards on multiple occasions. It might seem that I'm pretty down in myself, but actually, I'm quite happy with the progression.
My favorite targets are Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson, who aren't superstars by any means. I'm used to getting a lot of help from one of my best friends, Steven Jackson, but he hasn't been nearly as good this year, so I'm having to "handle my business," as they say.
Unfortunately, I've been sacked 23 times this year, and my offensive line ranks among the worst in the league for protecting the quarterback. The most I've been sacked in a season is 36 times, and I'm well on my way to besting that particular record.
Regarding Expectations: 49ers
San Francisco went 13-3 last season, and made it to the NFC Championship game. They have a much tougher schedule this year, and are one loss away from equaling their total from a season ago. Still, many aspects of the team look improved. The offense is better than advertised and the defense remains among the league's elite.
It was tough for many fans to pick them over the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, but those teams have looked much worse than they were a season ago. Factor in losses to Minnesota and the Giants, and one has to wonder if maybe it's just the competition that is getting worse in some ways. The only certainty is that the 49ers have looked good more often than naught, and they have some tough matchups in the second half of the season. Going 13-3 again might not be a realistic goal, but fans still firmly have them winning the NFC West.
Regarding Expectations: Rams
Nailing down what the expectations for the Rams are coming into this season is kind of tough. They have a new, experienced coaching staff, but at the same time, that's even more coaches that the players have to familiarize with, and any progress made in recent years was wiped clean. Quarterback Sam Bradford is making the best of a bad situation, but to say that fan confidence in him is next to non-existent wouldn't be much of a reach, at all.
They probably weren't realistically expected to be 3-5 at this point in the season, so that in and of itself is them exceeding expectations. But chances are they'll have a high pick in the next draft, and another offseason filled with fans looking for more from their team in 2013.
Broken Keys: TE Vernon Davis
Tight end Vernon Davis has been a big part of this offense since Mike Singletary took over and whipped him into shape. But in Harbaugh's offense, he hasn't been the top target and he's faded into the background in recent weeks. That being said, the 49ers are running the ball extremely well, and Davis is the top blocking tight end in the NFL.
Still, it seems like a waste at times, as Davis should be running more and more routes to take advantage of mis-matches. If the 49ers' receivers keep playing as well as they have been though, then Davis might see some relief in the form of linebackers being matched up on him, which could have him break out for a few games.
Broken Keys: RB Steven Jackson
Jackson has been a focus of 49ers' fans' worry for years now, and for good reason. He's been one of the best backs in the NFL and, at many times, better than San Francisco's own Frank Gore, even if the fans don't want to admit it. But his role in the offense has been reduced this season, as he's nearing career lows in playing time.
More than that, he's nearing career lows in rushing yardage (outside of his rookie season) and his per-carry average. People will argue his playing time until the end of time, the fact of the matter is that he doesn't look good when he is carrying the ball. Rookie Daryl Richardson is taking his carries, and the Rams might be better for it. But San Francisco need not worry about their old nemesis as much this time around.
Both teams are coming off a bye week, which is nifty and all, but the 49ers have a ton of rest given their primetime schedule of late. St. Louis is coming off of three-straight losses, including a huge blowout at the hands of the New England Patriots. The 49ers are coming off a pair of divisional wins and seem to be carrying all of that intangible "momentum."
You can follow along this week here at SB Nation Bay Area, and can better find your 49ers articles by hitting up our hub for the team. Check out our regional brethren at SB Nation St. Louis for the opposing slant and team blogs Niners Nation and Turf Show Times. Ya'll can also follow us on Twitter, SBN St. Louis on Twitter, NN on Twitter and TST on Twitter. Got it? Good.