The Sports Guy's Thursday NFL Pick

RAMS (+3.5) over 49ers

The Niners have been outscored 56-10 in the past two weeks. They stuck their best defensive player (Aldon Smith) in rehab after an ugly DUI incident over the weekend, which somehow didn’t stop them from letting him play last Sunday (and taking a deserved media flogging). Two more of their best guys (Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis) are listed as questionable tonight. Their QB spent the summer posing for magazine covers and threw for 1,235 yards and 19 TDs in Week 1; 16 ghastly days later, he’s suddenly struggling and reading his Twitter replies for motivation. And now, the seemingly embattled Niners travel to St. Louis to play the Rams — a team that took them to overtime twice last year — for one of those ugly/disjointed/sloppy Thursday-night games.

One thing in San Francisco’s favor: It’s definitely a Kitchen Sink Game. If the Niners blow this one, they’ll have to go at least 9-3 to make the playoffs — and that’s with home games against Houston, Seattle and Atlanta and road games at Tennessee and New Orleans on their schedule. So if you think it’s totally absurd that the Big Bad Niners — a semi-juggernaut that went 27-9-1 in 2011 and 2012 and never lost back-to-back games — would suddenly turn into a forgettable also-ran, then you pick them tonight and lay the points.

Just know this: In nine of the past 10 seasons since 2003, at least one team that either (a) finished with a no. 1 seed or no. 2 seed and/or (b) won 12-plus games ended up missing the next season’s playoffs AND sliding backward by four-plus wins. In my 2010 NFL preview, I nicknamed these teams “grenades” because I was way too obsessed with Jersey Shore at the time. (Three years later, you could probably convince The Situation to watch this Niners-Rams game with you for $150 cash.) But we’ve had a whopping 18 grenades since 2003. The complete list:

2012: Saints, 7-9 (-6 losses from previous year)
2012: Steelers, 8-8 (-4)
2010: Vikings, 6-10 (-6)
2010: Chargers, 9-7 (-4)
2009: Titans, 8-8 (-5)
2009: Panthers, 8-8 (-4)
2009: Giants, 8-8 (-4)
2008: Patriots, 11-5 (-5)
2008: Packers, 6-10 (-7)
2008: Cowboys, 9-7 (-4)
2007: Bears, 7-9 (-6)
2007: Ravens, 5-11 (-8)
2006: Broncos, 9-7 (-4)
2005: Eagles, 6-10 (-7)
2004: Chiefs, 7-9 (-6)
2003: Bucs, 7-9 (-5)
2003: Raiders, 4-12 (-7)
2003: Giants, 4-12 (-6)

Five 2012 playoff teams qualified for “grenade” status in 2013: The 13-3 Broncos (ain’t happening), the 12-4 Pats (can’t see it), the 12-4 Texans (probably not), the 13-3 Falcons (not totally far-fetched), and the 11-4-1 Niners (hmmmmmm). That’s right, San Francisco is suddenly our best bet for a 2013 grenade — which, again, has happened 90 percent of the time since 2003. Throw in St. Louis’s recent history against the Niners and I can’t resist grabbing the points. Especially that extra half-point. I looooooooooove that extra half-point.

By the way, can you think of a better QB and coach for one of those ugly/disjointed/unwatchable Thursday-night clunkers than Sam Bradford and Jeff Fisher? It’s really their destiny — the NFL should just move all Rams games to Thursday nights. I can’t wait to be disgusted over and over again as I’m ripping through the game on DVR and stopping for every 59-yard field goal attempt by Greg the Leg. There’s no way in hell anyone should watch this fiasco live. But hey, let’s expand to 18 games. GREAT IDEA.

The pick: San Francisco 20, St. Louis 19 (Rams cover)

Here’s the Half-Assed Power Poll for Week 4:

THE ROD MARINELLI DIVISION
32. Jacksonville, 0-3

LITERALLY NOBODY BELIEVES IN US
31. Pittsburgh, 0-3
30. N.Y. Giants, 0-3

DEAD MAN WALKING
29. Tampa Bay, 0-3

THE ROMEO CRENNEL DIVISION
28. Minnesota, 0-3
27. Oakland, 1-2
26. Washington, 0-3
25. Buffalo, 1-2

MATHEMATICALLY UNELIMINATED
24. Philadelphia, 1-2
23. St. Louis Rams, 1-2
22. Arizona, 1-2

VERY VERY VERY JUNIOR EWING THEORY
21. Cleveland, 1-2

COMPETITIVELY FORGETTABLE
20. N.Y. Jets, 2-1
19. Carolina, 1-2

THE POSSIBLE GRENADE
18. San Francisco, 1-2

THE ENTERTAINER
17. San Diego, 1-2

THE STEALTH SLEEPERS
16. Tennessee, 2-1
15. The Lions of Detroit, 2-1

THE KARDASHIANS
14. Dallas, 2-1

THE UNREGRESSOR
13. Indianapolis Colts, 2-1

LEAVING EVERYONE COLD
12. Baltimore, 2-1
11. Green Bay, 1-2
10. Houston, 2-1
9. Atlanta, 1-2

ALLIGATOR BLOOD
8. New England, 3-0

LINGERING
7. Kansas City, 3-0

THE SLEEPER
6. Miami, 3-0

THE CONTENDERS
5. Cincinnati, 2-1
4. Chicago, 3-0
3. New Orleans, 3-0

THE FAVORITES
2. Denver, 3-0
1. Seattle, 3-0

Filed Under: NFL, San Francisco 49Ers, St. Louis Rams

screen-shot-2014-01-07-at-7-03-08-am

Bill Simmons is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

Archive @ BillSimmons