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    Rams will get taste of playoff-like football against Saints
    • December 20, 2023

    THOUSAND OAKS — A prime-time game, an opponent neck-and-neck with the Rams in the NFC playoff race, the winner gets a tiebreaker over the other with two games left to play.

    These are the stakes that will greet the Rams (7-7) and the New Orleans Saints (7-7) when they meet Thursday night at SoFi Stadium. And it might only be December, but the Rams are starting to play with stakes that feel straight out of January.

    “Every game’s like a playoff game now, right?” defensive tackle Aaron Donald asked Tuesday. “We ain’t got much room for no losses. Obviously, go week to week, but every game’s a big game. That’s what makes it fun, that’s what makes it exciting.”

    The Rams, Saints, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks are currently tied for the final two NFC wild-card spots. As things stand currently via tiebreakers, the Vikings are in sixth place and the Rams are in seventh.

    But a win over New Orleans on Thursday would give the Rams head-to-head tiebreakers over the Saints and Seahawks, as well as a one-game edge in the win column with two games left to play.

    That’s a far cry from where the Rams were expected to be during the preseason, pegged by oddsmakers with an over/under win total of 6.5. The Rams have already topped that number, and have the chance to do something more satisfying if they can beat the Saints.

    “It’s certainly been gratifying, it’s certainly been fun to be relevant,” defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said. “You want to get into these moments in December when you are in the mix, so to speak, and you’re ready to do those things.”

    Complicating matters is the Rams’ short week of preparation. The physical challenges of playing two football games in a span of five days are enough, but the Saints are a relatively unknown entity to the Rams.

    It’s one thing to prepare for a division rival on short rest, but learning a new opponent with a fraction of the usual practice time presents its own challenges.

    “It’s just a jampacked week of trying to learn everything you can about the New Orleans Saints,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said at a rapid clip as he tried to move on from his weekly press conference as quickly as possible. “A lot of times it’s a race to Sunday, anyways. We’re just shortening it by a few days.”

    The Saints’ defense is the biggest area of concern for the Rams. Limiting opponents to 185.4 passing yards per game, New Orleans has a menacing pass rush led by end Carl Granderson and complemented by one of the NFL’s best blitzing linebackers, Demario Davis.

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    The offense has been more of a mixed bag, but running back Alvin Kamara has provided a boost since returning from a three-game suspension with 1,076 yards of total offense and six touchdowns.

    “They’ve got a lot of guys that have played in a lot of big-time games and this is a team that knows how to play winning football in the month of December,” Coach Sean McVay said. “So we’ve got a great challenge and what a cool opportunity that our guys have earned on Thursday night at home.”

    An opportunity that could lead to a bigger one come January.

    “Obviously, we’re not immune to understanding what the implications are,” Stafford said. “But this is another football game we gotta get prepared for in a short amount of time both physically and mentally. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

    ​ Orange County Register