The 49ers have every reason to be fully motivated for Sunday's regular-season finale. Win and they're in the NFC playoffs. It's as simple as that.
But their opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, has every reason to be just as motivated. Win and they clinch the NFC West title, their third since Sean McVay became head coach before the 2017 season. McVay and the rest of the Rams also are looking to put an end to their losing streak against Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers.
After going 1-3 in his first four games against the McVay-led Rams, Shanahan now has had the upper hand in the last five contests between these two NFC West rivals. These two coaches have a long history with each other and the utmost respect for one another. But for how much Shanahan hopes to make it six straight wins, McVay is frothing for his team to get back in the win column against San Francisco.
"We know what's at stake, we know what a big challenge it's going to be," McVay said on the latest episode of "The Coach McVay Show." "This is a team that we have tremendous respect for and we got to play better against these guys, because they've done a great job of playing us better than we've played them the last handful of times."
The good for McVay and the bad for Shanahan is that the Rams just might be saving their best for last. McVay expects running back Cam Akers to make his season debut Sunday at SoFi Stadium, after tearing his Achilles in July of 2021.
"I think you let him go," McVay said. "He did a great job these last couple weeks. To say that he's not ready, I don't think that would be accurate. I think he's ready. I think he probably would have been ready to go last week.
"We're operating with the expectation and anticipation that Cam Akers is going to be making his Rams debut in the 2022 season after Achilles surgery this week. I think he's got a chance to contribute and this is a pretty cool story."
Akers was expected to be the Rams' starting running back in Year 2 this season. The 2020 second-round draft pick played in 13 games as a rookie last season, and started five. He rushed for 625 yards and scored two touchdowns on the ground, while also hauling in 11 receptions for 123 yards and another TD.
The second-year pro only played one offensive snap the first time the 49ers faced the Rams last season, when they beat L.A. 24-16. But five weeks later, he rushed for 84 yards on just nine carries and scored one touchdown. The 49ers beat the Rams, 23-20, on a last-second Robbie Gould field goal.
Adding Akers isn't the only addition the Rams will have since the last time they faced the 49ers in Week 10. Yes, Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller both made their Rams debuts when the 49ers beat them 31-10, but they were shells of themseleves and just inserting themselves into the system.
Beckham had only two catches for 18 yards in the loss and failed to reach the end zone. Miller was coming off a two-game absence to an ankle injury and played in only 66 percent of the Rams' defensive snaps. They both have been much better since then.
In his last six games with the Rams, Odell still is averaging only four receptions and 45 yards. But he has scored five touchdowns, after having none in six games earlier this season with the Cleveland Browns. Miller played 83 percent of the Rams' defensive snaps last week and recorded a season-high five tackles against the Baltimore Ravens, including two sacks and three QB hits. It was the first time he had recorded more than one sack in a game since the season-opener.
Just as the Rams are getting fully healthy, the 49ers are being hit by the same bug as the rest of the world right now. Three of their defensive backs -- safety Jimmie Ward and cornerbacks K'Waun Williams and Dontae Johnson -- were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Cornerback Josh Norman essentially was benched during the 49ers' win Sunday over the Houston Texans, but the good news is cornerback Emmanuel Moseley and linebacker Dre Greenlaw have a chance at returning from injury for the regular-season finale.
As for the 49ers' quarterback situation between Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance, just like Shanahan, McVay is preparing for both signal-callers.
"You have to be ready for either or," McVay said. "You would expect to see Jimmy. Wouldn't be surprised if there's packages where they utilize Trey. But we have to be ready for either or."
No matter who runs out onto the field as the 49ers' QB, expect an intense battle with plenty on the line Sunday for these two foes.