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Game Preview: Playoff implications on the line for Rams, Cowboys in Week 15

The Rams (8-5) travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys (6-7) at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, with playoff implications on the line for both teams.

Dallas currently holds the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoff picture thanks to a head-to head tiebreaker with the Philadelphia Eagles, who moved into a share for first place in their division with their win over the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, while Los Angeles remains one game behind the Minnesota Vikings for the second wild card spot following a win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football.

To get you ready for the contest, compiled a quick preview featuring who to watch, what to watch for on offense and defense for both the Rams and the Cowboys and three keys to victory for L.A.


Five players to watch

  • Rams cornerback Troy Hill: He's been playing well as a starter and will likely draw productive second-year Cowboys receiver Michael Gallup as his assignment.
  • Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey: Stopping Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper, whom Ramsey called "one of the most underrated receivers in the league," will his primary focus Sunday.
  • Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper: So far, his best statistical performances of the season have come at home.
  • Cowboys kicker Kai Forbath: He's the replacement for Brett Maher, who was cut earlier this week by the team.
  • Rams running back Todd Gurley II: The Cowboys defense allows nearly 110 rushing yards per game, so it could be another opportunity for him to have a big performance similar to the last two weeks.

What to watch for…

On offense for the Rams

The offensive line.

So far, it has faced several of the league's top pass rushers and defensive lines over the last month, and it will get another strong test against Cowboys defensive ends Demarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn, who have accounted for 14.5 of the team's 34 sacks on the season.

On offense for the Cowboys

Running back Ezekiel Elliott is the obvious choice given how well he's played since entering the league, but we'll go with quarterback Dak Prescott instead.

Yes, Prescott was a full participant in practice all week after spraining his left hand and injuring his right index finger in the Cowboys' loss to the Bears last week, but he told Dallas reporters he will be wearing tape on the right index finger. While it isn't the same as wearing a glove, it will be interesting to see whether that impacts the way he throws the ball on Sunday.

On defense for the Rams

The defensive line.

Dallas' offensive line has allowed a league-low 18 sacks this season and will perhaps be the strongest for L.A.'s group to date.

On defense for the Cowboys

Who steps up at linebacker.

With Leighton Vander Esch ruled out and Sean Lee questionable, the Cowboys could potentially be without two of their top four tacklers on Sunday. Leading tackler and middle linebacker Jaylon Smith is healthy, but it could be a challenge if Lee is also out.

Three keys to victory

  1. Establish the run game: In light of where the Cowboys defense fares statistically against the run and the fact it could be down two starting linebackers, it doesn't seem like it would be too difficult for the Rams' offense to get Gurley going early.
  2. Take some risks in the passing game: While Dallas has allowed the seventh-fewest passing yards per game this season, it also is tied with Detroit for fewest interception in the league with five. That's not suggesting Los Angeles should be one dimensional and test the Dallas secondary deep on every possession, but it might give L.A. quarterback Jared Goff more leeway to take those chances when they present themselves.
  3. Limit Elliott and Cooper: An effective Elliott opens up play action in the passing game, which can lead to big plays from Cooper via Prescott.

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