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Rams roundtable: MVP of playoff run? 49ers finale a dilemma

The Rams at least temporarily moved into the No. 6 spot in the NFC playoff picture with their win over the New Orleans Saints and will stand no worse than the final playoff position after Week 16. Los Angeles Times Rams beat writer Gary Klein, NFL columnist Sam Farmer and columnist Helene Elliott discuss what happened and upcoming prospects:

Who would you say is the MVP in the Rams’ emergence into the NFC playoff picture?

Farmer: As good as Kyren Williams has been — and he has changed the complexion of this offense — Matthew Stafford is playing the quarterback position about as well as it can be played. It’s highly unlikely that he would be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, but Stafford has forced his way into the conversation. With 14 touchdowns and one interception in the past five games, he’s the reason no one would want to play the Rams right now.

Elliott: I agree with Sam that Matthew Stafford has been the MVP in the Rams’ emergence into the NFC playoff picture , but I think this has been such a team effort that it’s difficult to single out one player. Stafford, Kyren Williams, Puka Nucua, Demarcus Robinson, Cooper Kupp and others have played such key roles in this resurgence that it’s tough to pick one above another.

Klein: True, but it’s all about the quarterback. Matthew Stafford. And it’s not just the efficiency and touchdown-to-interception ratio. For me, one of the best throws Stafford made against the Saints was a bullet over the middle to Cooper Kupp. They just missed completing the pass, but Stafford put it where no defender could get a hand on it. There was no chance for a turnover. That has been typical of his play since returning from a thumb injury.

Who should be rookie of the year, Rams receiver Puka Nacua or Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud?

Klein: Like I said: It’s all about the quarterback. Nacua has been great but Stroud should win.

Farmer: Yes, for the same reason I would name Stafford the team MVP, Stroud should be rookie of the year. It’s just the complexity of the position, and it’s not like Houston is loaded with offensive weapons. That said, Nacua has been phenomenal. He single-handedly iced the win over New Orleans, with his clutch jet sweep and onside-kick recovery.

Elliott: I’ll side with Sam and Gary on C.J. Stroud being rookie of the year because of the difficulty of his position but Nacua has been sensational — skilled, tough and charismatic. It will be fun to watch him develop.

Rookie receiver Puka Nacua was one of the stars of the Rams’ victory over the Saints.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Really don’t want to make this a weekly question, but it is a weekly bone of contention for the Rams. Lucas Havrisik missed his fifth field-goal attempt in seven games, and that 47-yard miss in the first half against the Saints was a momentum-changer. Bring back Mason Crosby or someone else before it burns the Rams?

(Editor’s note: On Friday, coach Sean McVay told beat writers — Gary Klein included — after this roundtable discussion that the Rams currently are not thinking of making a move at kicker.)

Klein: Sean McVay said Friday that the Rams were not interested in bringing in a kicker to compete with or replace Havrisik “right now.” You might recall McVay saying after a divisional-round loss in 2020 that Jared Goff was the quarterback “right now” before trading for Stafford. McVay indicated that Havrisik’s miss against the Saints was a snap-operation issue. Long-snapper Alex Ward has been on injured reserve for two games because of a neck issue and he will not be eligible to return until the playoffs. Carson Tinker has been the snapper in his place.

Farmer: The Rams need to look at their options. Havrisik is too much of a liability on kicks of 40 yards or longer, and the pressure is only going to increase in these next two games and, presumably, the postseason.

Elliott: The Rams can’t trust Havrisik on those longer field goal attempts, and after all they’ve done to overcome a bad start and get into the playoff picture, they can’t let that cost them in a big moment. Maybe Shohei Ohtani can help them? He seems able to do everything else …

On paper, the Rams should be able to beat a Giants team down to their third quarterback and with a horrendous offensive line for starters. What’s not on paper that should scare Rams fans?

Farmer: Right, the Rams should win that game. But we’ve seen a lot of should-win scenarios go sideways around the league this season. Traveling across the country to play is never a breeze. What’s more, it remains to be seen if these Rams have the requisite killer instinct. They’ve continued to struggled in the red zone, and they let the Saints right back into Thursday night’s game when they should have put the visitors away.

Elliott: The Rams should beat the Giants. But, yes, there can be a thin margin between what “should” happen and what does happen. I think the Rams have a strong enough team mentality to get through this. Closing out games remains a concern, though, so they can’t let the Giants stay close.

Klein: For the last month, this has loomed as the potential trap game for the Rams. The Giants are the inferior team. But the Rams’ momentum since the bye could be adversely affected by the aftermath of holiday gatherings and a long flight to the East Coast. The Giants have nothing to lose. The Rams could lose a playoff spot.

Rams head coach Sean McVay (left) congratulates 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.

The rivalry between Rams coach Sean McVay (left) 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan could become a factor in Week 18.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

If the 49ers have clinched the top seed going into the final game of the regular season against the Rams, do you think San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan would rest his starters for the playoffs, which would help the Rams’ chance to win and qualify for the postseason?

Elliott: If the 49ers have clinched the top seed and Kyle Shanahan doesn’t rest his starters in the season finale, he can always ask Brandon Staley about the consequences of that … oh wait, Staley isn’t coaching the Chargers anymore. Maybe put the starters in for a bit to keep them sharp but rest is most important for a team that wants to go a long way.

Farmer: Two schools of thought here. Getting healthy and resting starters offers big benefits, but if you’re Shanahan, do you want your players heading into the postseason with starters sitting for three weeks?

Klein: Remember the injury that Chargers receiver Mike Williams suffered last season in a meaningless finale before the playoffs? Whether that influences Shanahan or any other coach remains to be seen. As Sam notes, if Shanahan rested starters against the Rams, that would be a long layoff before playing again. But the Rams are no lock to beat the 49ers even if Shanahan rests starters. And you can be certain that Shanahan would love nothing more than to continue the 49ers’ regular-season dominance over the Rams and McVay by winning with backups.

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