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Battle of L.A. between Rams, Chargers missing luster

Dec 25, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield (17) throws the ball against the Denver Broncos in the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the regular-season fate of both teams already decided, there will be just one prize at stake when the Los Angeles Chargers play host to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at Inglewood, Calif.

The defending Super Bowl-champion Rams (5-10) already have been eliminated from playoff consideration. The playoff-bound Chargers (9-6) earned a wild-card spot with a victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday.

The circumstances leave the Battle of Los Angeles as the only honor to focus upon this Sunday.

It is the second time the teams have met in a regular-season game since the Rams moved back to Los Angeles from St. Louis in 2016 and the Chargers moved north from San Diego in 2017. The Rams defeated the Chargers 35-23 in 2018.

But it is the first time the teams have met for a regular-season game in their shared home of SoFi Stadium. They have played each other in the preseason, including a matchup this past August.

The Rams continue to bask in the glow off their best victory of the season after they thrashed the Denver Broncos 51-14 on Christmas Day. The all-around performance came without a number of players, including a trio of stars in quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Keys to the victory over the Broncos were quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Cam Akers and tight end Tyler Higbee. There were also two interceptions from rookie cornerback Cobie Durant, including one returned for an 85-yard touchdown.

Mayfield has guided the Rams to two victories in three games since he was claimed off waivers from Carolina. He completed 24 of 28 passes against the Broncos for 230 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

“Because of the overall efficiency that (Mayfield) led the way with offensively, that enabled him to be able to play within himself where he didn’t have to press,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “I thought he saw the field really well. It was a great reflection of taking what a great defense gives you and being able to be patient.”

The Chargers poured onto the field at Indianapolis at the completion of Monday’s 20-3 victory in a playoff-clinching celebration. It is just the second playoff berth for the franchise in the last nine seasons.

Crushed by injuries earlier in the season, the Chargers are nearly at full strength now — although they still are awaiting the return of star defensive end Joey Bosa (groin), who hasn’t played since Week 3.

Quarterback Justin Herbert has steadied the Chargers’ offense since recovering from an early-season rib injury, although he has not thrown a touchdown pass in the past two games while tossing three interceptions.

The Chargers’ defense has guided the team to three consecutive victories by allowing 11.3 points per game, best in the NFL over that stretch. Now it faces a confident Rams team followed by a season-ending trip to Denver in Week 18.

“You have to prove your toughness, and that’s what we’ve proven so far this year,” said Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, who served as defensive coordinator under McVay. “We have a tough enough football team — mentally and physically — to be where we are right now, which is in the tournament.

“But our season is not over. We have two more games against really, really good teams.”

Rams wide receiver Ben Skowronek (calf) was listed as a non-practice participant Wednesday. Chargers safety Derwin James (concussion) was listed as out, while running back Austin Ekeler (knee) was limited.

–Field Level Media