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Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers Point Spread - Pick

Los Angeles Rams (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. San Francisco 49ers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
NFL Week 1
Date/Time: Monday, September 12, 2016 at 10:20PM EST
Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
TV: ESPN
by Scott, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: LA -2.5/SF +2.5
Over/Under Total: 44

On Monday Night Football, the Los Angeles Rams make the trip up north to face the San Francisco 49ers in a key week one NFC West battle. It’s the re-debut of the reformed L.A. Rams after 21 seasons in St. Louis. While it’s a fresh start and there’s a good feeling about returning home, the Rams mean business this season, with Jeff Fisher in his fifth year and it being high-time that hire paid off. They face a San Fran bunch also looking for a fresh start under new head coach Chip Kelly. Things officially bottomed out last season at 5-11, with the Niners fading back to the pack. Can Kelly get them on the right track?

The feeling of Kelly at his former gig in Philly is that he left a stink behind him, fired before the season even ended last year. Never mind that he actually inherited a 4-12 team and immediately got them into the postseason, starting his coaching career with two straight ten-win seasons. After one bad season, he was cast as a villain. Granted, the follow-though on the initial signs of promise were not there, but there were positive things that happened in Philadelphia with Chip Kelly at the helm. Is the situation too far gone in San Francisco, though?

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Granted, Blaine Gabbert added some pep to the Frisco offense last season when he was behind center. But to have a guy with an 8-27 career record as a starter, while former star QB Colin Kaepernick makes headlines for anything but his play is not what this franchise drew up as their plan. They look to be going with RB Carlos Hyde, who needs to establish himself as a serviceable back after an inconsistent season cut short by injuries. At receiver, the cast of Quinton Patton, TE Vance McDonald, and Torrey Smith is bordering on horrible. The line added an interesting piece or two inside, which could help spring Hyde more. Maybe some Chip Kelly pixie dust can result in something. On paper, however, it’s not a group that looks much better than 2015’s last-ranked scoring offense at 14.9 points per game.

When San Francisco fails to even field a marginally-stout “D,” you know they have problems. Last season saw them bottom out as the league’s 29th-ranked unit. Certainly, having the league’s most-futile offense wasn’t going to help, but even the few times the offense was on-point, the defense wasn’t very good. Left in the mix are vets NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks—still effective in the middle. DeForest Buckner, a first-round pick in this year’s draft, and Arik Armstead looks to give the line a big boost, as the Oregon products are two of the more interesting young D-lineman. The pass-defense needs to get better with S Antoine Bethea, S Eric Reid, CB Tremaine Brock, and CB Jimmie Ward.

The Rams haven’t done anything yet. They moved to LA, which you would figure could pump some more life into this franchise after a stale period in St. Louis. It just seems like every season under Fisher, we’re making a case on why they should improve and they never do. You look at this offense and nothing grabs you other than monster-in-the-making Todd Gurley. The second-year back went for 1106 yards on just 12 starts last season and could carry this offense on his back. He might have to.

It’s not clear what to make of the Jared Goff situation, as the number-one pick couldn’t usurp Case Keenum at quarterback—and some say he didn’t even surpass Sean Mannion. You wonder if that’s the best long-term decision or if it’s what Fisher feels is best for the short-term. After a 27-36-1 start to his career, he doesn’t have the luxury of working through the inevitable bumps of a rookie quarterback’s season. One possible upside is the growth of the offensive line, which features Greg Robinson, Rob Haverstein, Tim Barnes, Rodger Saffold, and Jamon Brown. If this bunch can stay healthy, it could form into a real asset to the overall team effort.

Keenum is going to need all the help he can get. Having a compelling weapon like Gurley is nice, but for a team with postseason aspirations, they’re going to need more. Tavon Austin is a real weapon, but more of a versatile tool and not an impact position player per se. The WR crew of Kenny Britt, Austin, and Brian Quick looks pretty bland. Keenum was a ball of fire for Houston in college, but hasn’t been able to replicate that menace in the pros. At the same time, he is 5-2 in his last 7 NFL starts and was impressive enough in camp to get the nod.

With the offense looking dicey outside of Gurley, the Rams’ defense is going to be depended on to make a major impact. They weren’t good last season. Again, they have a fearsome line, led by supernatural Aaron Donald at DT. Defensive end Robert Quinn being healthy this season would be a great development. Michael Brockers is a solid contributor, as is William Hayes. Losing Chris Long and James Laurinaitis is not going to help in the front seven. Still, they look strong in the middle, as well, with Akeem Ayers, Mark Barron, and Alec Ogletree. The big issue could be the secondary. A group that wasn’t very good in 2015 loses Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Some of their depth will need to manifest, but it’s something worth watching as we head into the new season.

If there’s any team where you’d like to see one game before getting involved, it might be the San Francisco 49ers. There’s just some nagging sense that they’re not the hopeless mess they look to be on paper. The Rams are not a complete team by any stretch, but they have a compelling force at running back and a pretty strong front seven on defense. Unless San Francisco is able to spring something forth that no one’s counting on, wins might be hard to come by this season. I see the Rams nipping a cover in this one.

Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Los Angeles Rams minus 2.5 points.

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