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Playoff berth on the line in Week 17: Rams clash with Giants on NYE | Game Preview

When Los Angeles Rams COO Kevin Demoff penned an open letter to Season Ticket Members in March, the message was met with various interpretations – many of them pessimistic.

Understandably, the focus fell on the organization opting for "replenishing our draft capital and improving our long-term salary cap situation," as opposed to continuing to exchange picks for proven players and structuring contacts in a way that fit all that veteran talent under a financial ceiling.

L.A.'s customary discipline in free agency suddenly felt like austerity. Bobby Wagner returned to Seattle. Leonard Floyd and Taylor Rapp signed with Buffalo. A'Shawn Robinson landed in New York. Jalen Ramsey was traded to Miami (in part, for a pick that was used to select outside linebacker Byron Young).

In short order, Project 2024 became a fixture in Rams parlance, with the anticipation that would be the year the Rams finally returned to the first day of the Draft and had a generous budget to deploy.

But this week, I went back and re-read Demoff's memo, wanting to quote the sentiment that my mind had underscored in the spring, percolated throughout the summer, trumpeted after a Week 1 victory, and clung to tenaciously at 3-6 limping back from Lambeau Field:

"Let me be clear – our goal for 2023 is to win the NFC West and make a deep playoff run," Demoff wrote. "Change doesn't mean that we expect to take a step back."

While the division is regrettably out of reach, I think we'd all agree that instead of taking a step back, the Rams took a quantum leap forward. And a deep playoff run is very much on the table.

They've overachieved through financial restraint, inspired drafting, shrewd signings and trades, exceptional player development, collaborative scheming, and the sheer force of their resolve.

Sunday in New York, the Rams can secure a winning season and move within one subsequent outcome of a playoff berth.

The promise of the New Year is still thrilling.

But suddenly, Project 2024 refers as much to January as it does to next season.

In a Clinch

You've seen the scenarios by now, but just for the record, here's what needs to happen for Los Angeles to punch a playoff ticket before the ball drops in Times Square: Beat the Giants.

Additionally, either Pittsburgh must win in Seattle, or the Packers and Vikings could play to a draw.

It's also worth restating: The Rams don't need any help to get in; they just need to win their final two games.

New Year's Resolutions

What will it take for the Rams to do just that? To not only play on Wild Card weekend but do some damage?

We offered New Year's resolutions on this week's Between the Horns with D'Marco Farr and Maurice Jones-Drew.

It was also great to get their thoughts on former teammate Torry Holt, who is now a Hall of Fame finalist for a fifth time.

Wink and a Nod

It's not uncommon for opposing coaches to wax poetic about the Rams they're about to engage. Happens weekly with Aaron Donald, in fact.

But Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has seen it all and he took it a step beyond the norm in discussing Matthew Stafford.

"I think that Stafford is playing at a Hall of Fame-type level," Martindale, the football coach not the renowned radio personality, told the New York media this week. "I think that he and (Ravens quarterback) Lamar (Jackson) should be up for the MVP candidate. That's the kind of year he's having."

For several weeks now, we've been beating the drum for Stafford. Now it seems the NFL community at large is on board.

Giant Killers

Stafford and the Rams will have to be careful with this Giants defense, though. The ball is bouncing their way lately.

Only the Chicago Bears have more interceptions since Week 10.

In fact, 16 of the Giants' 24 takeaways have come since then – no team has more in that span, despite the Giants having a Week 13 bye.

Notably, New York forced a league-high six takeaways (three interceptions and three fumble recoveries) in Week 11 against Washington.

Despite their offensive struggles, the Giants (5-10) have earned a plus-seven turnover differential in 2023. All the teams with better marks than that have winning records.

Oh, Line

The benching of reserve sensation Tommy DeVito in favor of fellow backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor got all the attention this week, but the problems up front for the Giants are the real crux of the matter.

New York is going through it, a lot like Los Angeles did a season ago.

According to NFL Research, they've allowed 77 sacks (16 more than the next-closest offense). Nine different Giants offensive linemen have started at least five games (also the most in NFL).

It's a well-timed reminder to appreciate the return to continuity the Rams have enjoyed in the trenches in 2023.

Where There's a Will(iams)

And it's no coincidence that Stafford and Rams running back Kyren Williams have thrived as a result.

Here are a few of my favorite notes of the week on the second-year back, who should be closing in on All-Pro honors:

If he can rush for 100 yards or more on Sunday (or in Week 18 at San Francisco), he'll be the first Ram since his childhood hero Steven Jackson to churn out seven games of 100-plus yards rushing in a season (2009).

In a league-wide context, Williams is the first player with 1,000 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns in his first 10 career starts since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 with Dallas, per NFL Research.

If the Rams rush for 120 yards or more as a team, it will mark the first time the franchise has done that in six straight games in Sean McVay's lifetime – not since he's become the head coach in 2017; since he was born in 1986.

New York State of Mind

The Rams have authored some fond moments in the Meadowlands since returning to Los Angeles.

Johnny Hekker's 78-yard punt in a 9-6 win over the Jets in 2016 was unforgettable. A four-takeaway day in 2021 as part of a 7-1 start to the 2021 World Championship season wasn't bad.

But Week 9, 2017 is the one I've been reflecting on this week.

You might recall Los Angeles beating the Arizona Cardinals in London to get to 5-2 going into their bye. Everyone knew these Rams had changed and that head coach Sean McVay was the real deal.

But how would they handle success? With time off to read their press clippings and collect pats on the back from friends and loved ones, how would they perform flying back across the country for an early kickoff against the New York Giants?

The Rams hammered the Giants that day, 51-17. Caffeinated performances in the eastern time zone have been a calling card of the franchise ever since.

Though we're much farther along in this season, and especially in McVay's tenure, I sense similar dynamics as the Rams prepare for another trip to East Rutherford.

Going into the Saints game, we wrote that the Rams had become the team no NFC opponent wanted to see in the playoffs. Since that wire-to-wire win, just about every outlet has been echoing those sentiments.

Beating New Orleans completed the climb back above .500 for the first time since the opener in Seattle. Through a mini-bye and holiday weekend, they've collected plenty of accolades and commendations, including another (well-deserved) round of Player of the Week honors for Puka Nacua.

How will these Rams handle success as they head to the Big Apple for the final day of 2023?

Take a look through photos of Los Angeles Rams running back Kyren Williams, wide receiver Cooper Kupp, defensive back Cobie Durant, and more Rams players practicing ahead of Sunday's Week 17 matchup against the New York Giants.

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