RAMS (5-10) AT CHARGERS (9-6)
When: 1: 25 p.m. Sunday
Where: SoFi Stadium
TV/Radio: CBS/710 AM; 93.1 FM; 1330 AM (Spanish); Sirius 156, 384
Line: Chargers by 6½
Notable injury designations: Rams: DL Aaron Donald (out; ankle), C Brian Allen (out; calf), WR Ben Skowronek (out; calf), QB John Wolford (out; neck), TE Tyler Higbee (questionable; elbow), OLB Leonard Floyd (questionable; illness). Chargers: S Derwin James (out; concussion), FB Zander Horvath (questionable; ankle)
What’s at stake? The city of Los Angeles? No, but it’s a unique matchup between two L.A. teams that rarely play each other in the regular season. The Chargers already clinched a playoff spot, but they’re fighting with the Baltimore Ravens for the fifth seed and the right to play against the AFC South champion in the wild-card round. The Rams are searching for their third win with Baker Mayfield at quarterback. Last week, the Rams had their best offensive performance with a 51-14 defeat of the Denver Broncos. Now Mayfield and the Rams will get to face the Chargers’ surging defense, which has contained the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts during a three-game winning streak.
Who’s better? The Chargers are the better team with a star-studded roster that features quarterback Justin Herbert and edge rushers Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa. But the Chargers’ offense has been inconsistent for most of the season, partly because of injuries to offensive linemen and wide receivers. Herbert’s play, however, has picked up in recent weeks with the return of wide receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. Rams cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey, Troy Hill and rookie Cobie Durant will have their hands full against Herbert’s many weapons, including versatile running back Austin Ekeler.
Matchup to watch: The Chargers’ pass rushers against the Rams’ offensive line. The Chargers recorded seven sacks against the Colts on “Monday Night Football” and the Rams didn’t allow a sack versus the Broncos. The Rams credited their offensive line for why they scored 44 points last week – seven points came from Durant’s interception returned for a touchdown. Mayfield was able to operate the offense with a clean pocket and running back Cam Akers had plenty of running lanes courtesy of the offensive line’s stellar blocking against the Broncos. But if the Rams’ offensive line reverts to its sluggish ways, it could be a long day for Mayfield, similar to what transpired versus the Green Bay Packers in Week 15. The Chargers are led by Mack, who has eight sacks and 11 quarterback hits this season, and Bosa, who was activated from injured reserve on Friday.
Rams win if: … They record at least four takeaways for a second consecutive game. Last week, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and Ramsey each had an interception to go with Durant’s two takeaways. The Rams turned the four interceptions into 24 points against the Broncos. Herbert has only 10 interceptions this season, but three have come in the past two games.
Fantasy sleeper: Ride with the hot hand of Akers after his back-to-back standout performances in which he averaged more than 5 yards per carry versus the Broncos and Packers. Akers is clearly the lead back for the Rams and hasn’t lost carries to rookie Kyren Williams. The Chargers have improved against the run in recent weeks, but they might struggle against a motivated Akers, who’s fighting to stay with the Rams next year after a rocky start to the 2022 season.
Prediction: The Rams haven’t been favored in a game in a long time, but they have hung tough in most games and have had two upset wins since Mayfield arrived in Los Angeles. Rams coach Sean McVay will have a solid offensive game plan against Brandon Staley’s Chargers defense, but it won’t be enough because Staley has Herbert on his side. The Chargers beat the Rams 28-24 in the battle for Los Angeles. Beat reporter’s record: 10-5 for the season; 6-8-1 against the spread.