San Francisco 49ers (4-0) at Los Angeles Rams (3-2)
Even though the 49ers are undefeated at 4-0, this line at Rams -3.5 suggests that the Rams are the slightly better team. I disagree with that. The 49ers have gotten off to an incredible start to the season, with a first down rate differential of +12.17% that ranks 2nd in the NFL only behind the 6-0 Patriots, who are only slightly better at +13.11%. The Patriots have the better average margin of victory (23.7 vs. 17.5), but that’s largely due to the Patriots having the significant edge in turnover margin (+9 vs. +3), which tends to be very inconsistent week-to-week.
The 49ers haven’t played the toughest schedule, but their schedule has been tougher than the Patriots’ schedule, so there’s a case to be made that the 49ers have been the best team in the league thus far. Last season, even without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for most of the year due to injury, they still had a decent -0.05% first down rate and were significantly better than their 4-12 record suggested. Now Garoppolo is healthy and their defense is significantly improved due to the off-season addition of edge defenders Nick Bosa and Dee Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander.
The Rams, meanwhile, are just 3-2 and, though they could have easily won on Thursday Night Football last week, when they missed a makeable game winning field goal, they also easily could have lost their first 2 games of the season if they weren’t facing teams with injured quarterbacks. Their offensive line has not nearly been as good as it has been in recent years, with a pair of starters leaving in free agency and several holdovers having down years in 2019, including aging veteran Andrew Whitworth. They rank just 10th in first down rate differential at +2.67%, despite not facing that tough of a schedule.
The 49ers’ injuries are starting to concern me, as right tackle Mike McGlinchey will join left tackle Joe Staley and cornerback Athello Witherspoon on the sidelines, but the Rams will be without edge defender Clay Matthews, running back Todd Gurley, and cornerback Aqib Talib, all of whom are missing their first game of the season, so they may be in an even worse injury situation. The 49ers are also in a good spot, as teams tend to do well off of a Monday Night Football blowout victory (27-14 ATS since 2002 after a win by 24+ on MNF). The 49ers are the better team and, in a good spot, they have a good chance to win this game straight up, even on the road. As 3.5 point underdogs, they are a great bet against the spread and they are worth a bet at +3 as well.
San Francisco 49ers 26 Los Angeles Rams 24 Upset Pick +150
Pick against the spread: San Francisco +3.5