49ers need to buckle down vs. Rams 

Before Jed York breaks out his, “I Told You So” bumper stickers, the 49ers must do something they haven’t done this season Sunday in St. Louis: win a road game with Alex Smith at quarterback — unless Mike Singletary flip flops and goes back to Troy Smith.

San Francisco will become NFC West champs with a victory against the Rams coupled with one more Seahawks loss plus a 49ers win over the Arizona Cardinals on Jan. 2 at Candlestick Park. Given Seattle’s recent struggles and tougher schedule (Sunday at Tampa Bay and then a home finale against the Rams), all that likely stands in the way of the 49ers ending an seven-year playoff drought are a pair of rookie quarterbacks: the Rams’ Sam Bradford and Cardinals’ John Skelton.

Sure, the Niners’ secondary continues to be victimized by blown coverages and the 49ers rank 28th in scoring without Frank Gore and their best offensive lineman, Joe Staley, but if they can’t find a way to prevail in these two exceedingly winnable games, York might as well print a new bumper sticker: “GM, Coach and QB Wanted. Call Jed at 49ers.”

 

Silver and Black lining

Meanwhile, despite a perfect in-division record, the Raiders will probably finish the season in third place in the four-team AFC West. Even with victories against the Indianapolis Colts in Oakland on Sunday and the Chiefs in Kansas City on Jan. 2, the Silver and Black are still a long shot to make the playoffs. K.C. must also lose to the Titans at Arrowhead on Sunday (unlikely) and the Chargers would have to drop one of their final two road games at Cincinnati (improbable) or Denver (downright unimaginable). If there is any consolation, and there is, the Raiders have finally emerged from a seven-year funk.

First-year offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has morphed the formerly bumbling Raiders into a surprisingly potent attack that has scored 30 or more points in five of the last 10 games, a feat eclipsed by only the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints.

Jason Campbell may never be an elite NFL quarterback, but he’s made huge strides since the start of the season and credits a resurgent running game for his improved play-action passing. Following two injury-plagued seasons, Darren McFadden is fourth in the league in rushing at 92.7 yards per game while shaking off tacklers and critics at an alarming rate. Previously considered a finesse tailback, McFadden, still only 23 years of age, has begun to show remarkable durability and tenacity to go along with his game-breaking speed.

When the hard-hitting Raiders defense learns to play with more poise and consistency, postseason football’s return to Oakland will be more the norm than novelty.

Here’s a curious postscript. If the Raiders resign Tom Cable, whose contract is up after the season, might the 49ers be interested in going after Jackson to become their coach?

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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