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NFL Preview: St. Louis Rams-49ers Bout Could Determine First In NFC West

Coming off a bye week that saw them top the NFC West in absentia the St. Louis Rams look to stay in first place with a victory over the last-place San Francisco 49ers. The Rams, with OT Jason Smith back on the line and Steven Jackson another week removed from his finger surgery, come out of their bye week looking as certain as a team without a clear number-one at wide receiver can look. The 49ers bye week only occasioned more quarterback questions—with Alex Smith still sidelined, ostensibly, with a shoulder injury, they'll look to Troy Smith for the second consecutive week. 

The Rams hope Sam Bradford can continue to build on his progress in October, during which he was named Offensive Rookie of the Month. In the Rams' October 31 victory over the Carolina Panthers Bradford was 25-for-32 with 191 yards and two touchdowns; he's now thrown five in a row without being intercepted, after struggling to eight interceptions in his first five starts. 

They'll also look to their streaking defense to hold down one of the worst offenses in football. Highly touted DE Chris Long, who picked up 5.0 sacks in his sophomore season, has 4.5 in 2010, including four in his last three games. Altogether the Rams had three sacks and three interceptions against Carolina, in the course of making Matt Moore regret his return to the starting lineup in place of Jimmy Clausen. Their run defense will have to contend with Frank Gore, who's actually been at his most effective as a receiver this year—he's averaging a career low 4.2 yards per carry and a career high 9.2 yards per reception. 

The 49ers passing attack, such as it is, will be led for the second week by surprise starter Troy Smith, who went 12-for-19 with 196 yards and a touchdown in his first start since being liberated from the Baltimore Ravens. In 15 career games the former fifth-rounder has four touchdowns and one interception and is averaging a surprisingly impressive 7.0 yards per attempt. Much-maligned former number one Alex Smith, who wasn't ruled out until late this week, was unspectacular through seven games in his fifth season at the helm of the 49ers offense. 

The Rams have found road games tough sledding so far, but if they want to be taken seriously as division leaders—even in a division that isn't taken seriously—they'll have to be able to beat a distressed 49ers team in San Francisco. Come 3:15, we'll be able to see if they can pull it off.