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NFL’s top two defenses await the Rams amid playoff push


THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — After the Rams‘ Week 9 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles’ playoff chances looked bleak.

Without quarterback Matthew Stafford, who missed the game with a sprained UCL in his right thumb, and running back Kyren Williams, who was on injured reserve with an ankle injury, the Rams scored just three points to fall to 3-6. The loss was their third straight, dropping them to 12th place in the NFC and causing head coach Sean McVay to call the game “humbling.”

But after a bye week that enabled the Rams to get healthier, they’ve won two in a row — both against NFC West opponents — and enter Week 13 a half-game out of a playoff spot. At 5-6, the Rams have equaled their win total from last season and resemble a team that can contend for a playoff spot.

Los Angeles enters Sunday with a 37% chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN Analytics. Those chances climb to 47% with a victory against the Cleveland Browns and fall to 20% with a loss. The Rams, who were 5-12 last season, have not missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since they went a franchise-record 12 straight seasons without a playoff berth from 2005 to 2016.

But if the Rams are going to make a run at the postseason, it starts with two tough tasks: games against ESPN Analytics’ top two defenses, the Browns and Baltimore Ravens. Although the Rams’ offense came alive on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, that was against the NFL’s last-place defense, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

With six games remaining, the Rams have put themselves in position to make a run at a playoff spot, especially by sweeping the Seattle Seahawks and going 4-1 in the division. But they’ve got the 15th-hardest schedule remaining, a stat impacted by their next two games.

Although the Rams have a playoff shot — something that was not the case a year ago — McVay makes it clear it cannot be the team’s sole focus. After their win in Week 12, McVay was asked about whether the team’s performance gives him the confidence they can make the postseason.

“I think what we’re interested in is taking care of our business one week at a time,” he said, “and that’s what keeps you relevant in those conversations, and our players know that.”

Rookie receiver Puka Nacua said he’s “aware, but not necessarily really aware” of the Rams’ place in the standings. He said he hasn’t heard much conversation about their playoff chances in the locker room. Instead, Nacua said, the conversation is about taking it one day at a time and trying to “find the things in our game plan to help us execute on Sunday.”

That’s the message, he said, that McVay has tried to impart to his young team.

“I think really the guys understood that, hey, if you take care of your business then you keep playing games that have importance and you stay relevant in regard to those things you’re talking about,” McVay said. “I think the consistent approach has been if you take care of your business, then that conversation continues on.

“There’s still a lot of football left to be played. There’s still a lot of things that we have to do to continue to take steps in the right direction, but all we can do is have a good day today. We know it’s going to be a great challenge against a team that has done an excellent job. … So that’s where our focus is. I think the guys have earned the right to be able to build some positive momentum and it’s a ‘what have you done for me lately’ type of league, and that’s what we got to continue to do by being present.”



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