49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo aim to finish strong against Rams

Bruschi likes the 49ers streak to continue (0:50)

Tedy Bruschi says if the Rams were to play their starters, the result would fair for Los Angeles but picks the 49ers. (0:50)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams will wrap up the 2017 regular season on Sunday as the Niners seek their fifth straight win and sixth of the year. Kickoff is set for 4:25 p.m. ET at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

With the Rams set to rest many of their key starters, this week's game doesn't have quite the appeal it otherwise might have. Still, the 49ers would love to get their first division win and close the season tied with the 1989 Detroit Lions as the only teams in NFL history to win five straight to end the season and not finish with a winning record.

Here are three things to watch in this one from a Niners perspective:

Garoppolo's last first impression

Earlier in the week, a number of 49ers expressed at least some disappointment that the Rams wouldn't be playing many of their key starters so as to be as healthy as possible for the postseason. Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't one of them, though, as he insisted on keeping the same approach every week to a "faceless" opponent.

Still, it would have been entertaining and informative to see how Garoppolo and the Niners' much-improved offense fared against the likes of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald & Co. Alas, it won't happen, but that doesn't mean Garoppolo won't do what he can to take advantage of the opportunity and add one more strong performance to close the season.

Of course, with the Rams resting some starters, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips might be more inclined to cut some of his backups loose in an effort to get a better feel for what he has. That could mean blitzing more, something the Niners didn't see much of last week against Jacksonville but had grown accustomed to in games against Tennessee and Houston.

If that happens, don't be surprised if Garoppolo puts up another big day. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Garoppolo has a 45 percent first-down success rate on 53 pass attempts under which he's been pressured, gaining 24 first downs in those situations. For frame of reference, the average quarterback has moved the chains 14 times in that span.

Garoppolo has also bolstered the 49ers' third-down conversion rate. He has a 95.3 total QBR on third down in his career, going 42-of-62 for 550 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. His offense has picked up a first down 57 percent of the time on those tries, while the league average is 40 percent.

No matter what happens in this game, Garoppolo has sparked plenty of excitement about his future. But there's no doubt one more impressive performance would look good on Garoppolo's ledger, even if it's against a Rams defense not at full strength.

Forcing mistakes

On the other side of the ball, the 49ers defense will also face a much less difficult challenge as the Rams don't intend to play quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, left tackle Andrew Whitworth or center John Sullivan. It also stands to reason that wideouts Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp won't play or will be used only sparingly.

That means Sean Mannion will make his first NFL start for the Rams in his third season. Mannion has appeared in six games, attempting 16 passes in those chances. He's 11-of-16 for 66 yards with no touchdowns and an interception in those appearances.

At running back, Malcolm Brown is expected to step in for Gurley. He's averaged 3.92 yards per carry on 49 attempts with a touchdown and a fumble as Gurley's backup this season.

It's hard to know what to expect from the Rams with such different personnel on the field, but when inexperience becomes a factor, so too can mistakes. Mannion likely won't take the chances that Goff would throwing the ball down the field, but if and when he does, the Niners must take advantage of any miscues.

San Francisco picked off Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles three times last week and coordinator Robert Saleh said last week that was the type of ball hawking unit he's hoping to forge. Building on that with more takeaways would be another step in the right direction for the 49ers defense.

Milestones in the making

This isn't really a key to the game, but a handful of Niners have a chance to reach some benchmarks as the season comes to a close. A small sample:

  • WR Marquise Goodwin needs 66 receiving yards to get to 1,000 for the season. If he does, he'd be the first Niner to achieve that since 2014.

  • K Robbie Gould needs nine points to set a career-high in points scored in a season and top the 143 he had in 2006.

  • RB Carlos Hyde needs one rushing touchdown to set a career high with seven, and 150 rushing yards to post the first 1,000-yard season of his career.

  • FB Kyle Juszczyk needs 26 receiving yards to set a new career high.

  • P Bradley Pinion needs one punt downed inside the 20 to get to 32 on the season and set a new career high.