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Stafford and the Rams are on track for a postseason return with a win over the Giants

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J (AP) — A year after having one of the most disappointing seasons in NFL history, the Los Angeles Rams are on the verge of returning to the playoffs.

The key is the 2021 Super Bowl champions need to take a big step now or else things will get dicey.

The Rams (8-7) can clinch a playoff berth Sunday by beating the Giants (5-10) at MetLife Stadium, and getting a little help with either a loss by Seattle (8-7) at home against Pittsburgh (8-7) or a tie between Green Bay and Minnesota (8-7).

It has been an unexpected run. Los Angeles was 3-6 going into its bye week. It is 5-1 since, with the only setback being an overtime loss to the NFL-leading Ravens (12-3) in Baltimore.

It’s certainly not the same team that went 5-12 last season in becoming the 17th Super Bowl champion to miss the playoffs in the ensuing season.

“I love the way that these guys have come in and I like the consistency that I’ve seen throughout the course of the year,” coach Sean McVay said. “But I think we have really started to play better football, more quality football, more complementary.”

If the Rams slip, the playoffs might be in jeopardy. They close the regular season at San Francisco against the NFC West champion 49ers (11-4).

The Giants, who made the playoffs last season in Brian Daboll’s first year as coach, were eliminated from contention Monday in a 33-25 loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Daboll said Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has been outstanding since the bye week.

“He’s one of the top quarterbacks in the league, been that way for a long time,” Daboll said. “Playing good team football.”

AERIAL ATTACK

Stafford has been humming since the bye, with the 15th-year quarterback racking up 1,578 yards with 15 TDs and just two interceptions — none in the past four games.

Wide receiver Puka Nacua is within striking distance of the NFL rookie records for receptions and yards receiving in a season, while Cooper Kupp has rebounded from a quiet stretch with 22 catches for 278 yards and two TDs in the past three games. Even veteran newcomer Demarcus Robinson has broken through with a TD catch in four straight games.

EVER PRESENT

Only three defensive players in the NFL have played every down for their team this season. The Giants have two of them in inside linebacker Bobby Okereke and safety Xavier McKinney, who both had 10 tackles Monday. Kamren Curl of Washington is the other.

Okereke leads the Giants with 132 tackles and he’s the only player with 130-plus tackles, nine tackles for loss and nine passes defended this season. McKinney ranks sixth among defensive backs with a career-high 104 tackles. He had two interceptions in the last meeting.

GROUND GAME

The Giants are 29th in the NFL against the run, and Los Angeles’ Kyren Williams is a problem for even the best run defenses.

The elusive, speedy second-year pro leads the NFL with 96.1 yards rushing per game, and he has five 100-yard performances in his last seven games. He already has the Rams’ first 1,000-yard rushing season since Todd Gurley in 2018, and he’s only the second 1,000-yard rushing teammate of Stafford’s entire career.

NEW QB

Veteran Tyrod Taylor will be starting at quarterback for the Giants, replacing Tommy DeVito.

Taylor took over in the second half against Philadelphia and threw a 69-yard TD pass to Darius Slayton, a play that was 14 yards longer than DeVito’s total in the first half.

This will be Taylor’s fourth start this season. He started three games after Daniel Jones was sidelined in October with a neck injury. However, he broke four ribs against the Jets. Jones returned and started in Las Vegas until tearing an ACL. DeVito started the next six games.

SAQUON HAS SIGHTS SETS

While disappointed he won’t be going to the playoffs again, Giants running back Saquon Barkley has goals. He wants to win the last two games and hit 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight year. He comes into the game 123 yards shy of the mark.

“Definitely a goal of mine to get, not just selfishly, for the offensive line,” Barkley said. “I feel like it’s a big thing, 1,000 yards, and maybe even more, hopefully. A year like this where we had a lot of ups and downs and a lot of adversity and me being injured, missing a couple of games, I feel like it definitely wouldn’t hurt with the things I want to accomplish in my career.” ___

AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham contributed to this report.

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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