Some people may be disappointed to watch a divisional rematch in the playoffs, but I’m excited for the rubber match between these two NFC West teams. The Cardinals ended the regular season in quite the slump as they lost four of their final five games, including their Week 18 game against the Seahawks that would have made this a home game for them. The Rams, meanwhile, have been up-and-down all season but were working on a five-game win streak prior to their loss to the 49ers last week. Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury confirmed that DeAndre Hopkins wouldn’t play in this game, making Kyler Murray’s life much more difficult as he makes his playoff debut. Matthew Stafford, meanwhile, will be looking for his first career playoff win in his first season with Sean McVay. Both of these teams will see themselves as Super Bowl contenders, but first, they have to get through this highly-anticipated first-ever Monday Night Football playoff game.
Arizona Cardinals Vs. Los Angeles Rams Betting Odds
Arizona Cardinals: RB James Conner (ribs) Q, DT Jordan Phillips (knee) Q, WR Rondale Moore (ankle) Q, RB Chase Edmonds (ribs) Q, WR DeAndre Hopkins (back) IR, DE J.J. Watt (shoulder) IR
Arizona Cardinals Betting Odds
Kyler Murray has predictably been worse in his career games without All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins, and his absence has been a huge part of the Cardinals’ 1-4 finish to the season. In games without Hopkins, Murray’s career 93.9 passer rating drops to 87.9, his career completion percentage drops about 2%, and his touchdown rate drops almost 1%. Those numbers may not seem like much, but it shows out in the record as well – Murray is now 6-13-1 in his career without Hopkins. Christian Kirk and A.J. Green have done their best to step up, but they struggle with more intense coverage without Hopkins in the lineup. In this game, the X-factor for the Cardinals will be James Conner as he caught nine passes for 94 yards against the Rams in their last matchup without Hopkins. Conner was used as a safety valve to counteract the Rams’ pass-rush, and it worked wonders as he helped Murray immensely. Chase Edmonds can fill a similar role, but both running backs are on the injury report and need to be monitored with their respective ribs injuries.
It’s not fair to this playoff team to focus on the players who aren’t here, but the absence of all-time great J.J. Watt has been huge for them as well. Watt may not be at the peak of his powers anymore, but he was a massive part of the team’s pass rush during the early part of the season, and his absence limits the Cardinals’ ability to pressure the quarterback. Without the same pass-rush presence, Arizona’s secondary becomes more exposed. It always seemed a bit fishy when they were the best pass defense by DVOA through the first half of the season despite starting a fourth-round rookie at cornerback, and they have now experienced some regression in that regard. The Cardinals’ defense was the best on third downs in the NFL through the first part of the season, but that has regressed as well. In their latest matchup, Los Angeles converted on six of twelve red-zone attempts against them. Chandler Jones is still an impressive player, and the Cardinals play a fast, physical brand of football, but regression has caught up with them lately, and Vance Joseph’s squad isn’t what it was earlier in the year.
Los Angeles Rams Betting Odds
Matthew Stafford will be vying for his first career playoff win, and he deserves some credit for a successful first season in Los Angeles, but the real story has been Cooper Kupp. The fifth-year wideout had a career-best season and put together a triple-crown stat line of 145 catches for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns, becoming the first receiver to lead the NFL in all three categories since Steve Smith in 2005 and just the fourth of all time. Shockingly, this was Kupp’s first Pro Bowl nod, and I have a feeling he’s not done collecting accolades this year. However, the rest of the offense has to play better to ensure it’s not a one-and-done season for him. Stafford threw another two interceptions on Sunday, his third-straight game with multiple turnovers, and he has to take better care of the football. It didn’t help that he was sacked five times on Sunday as his offensive line fell apart, and we’re used to much better performances from that group. With a consistent run game provided by Sony Michel and a now healthy Cam Akers, better offensive line protection, and a historically excellent Cooper Kupp, Stafford should have everything he needs to win his first playoff game.
It has predictably taken some time for the Rams’ defense to fully gel this season, but the addition of Von Miller has started to pay dividends. Of course, playing as a pass-rusher next to the all-time great Aaron Donald has its benefits as Miller gets one-on-one matchups regularly. Kyler Murray was sacked five times last week and four times in his previous game against the Rams, and the ability to make him uncomfortable is the key to the game defensively. Los Angeles is dealing with some secondary injuries at the moment, including starting safety Jordan Fuller, who was lost for the year last week. Eric Weddle, a formerly excellent safety who retired two years ago, has agreed to rejoin the team he last played for and presumably be the starting safety opposite Taylor Rapp. However, Rapp is dealing with a concussion, while Darious Williams and Robert Rochell may not play this week. Still, as long as Donald, Miller, and Jalen Ramsey are active, there isn’t a better trio of defensive talent in the NFL.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Rams Picks & Prediction
The Cardinals are slumping at the wrong time of the year, and the absences of DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt have predictably been felt lately. Kyler Murray isn’t the same quarterback without Hopkins, and it doesn’t help that James Conner and Chase Edmonds are in question for this week, as well. Murray should theoretically be able to come up with some big plays against a banged-up LA secondary, but their pass-rush is thriving, and the Arizona offensive line has regressed in recent weeks. The Rams have suffered from some untimely Matthew Stafford interceptions lately, but he has become turnover-prone at the same time that they have ripped off a 5-1 finish to the season. The Rams are the more talented team in this game, and Sean McVay knows what it takes to win playoff games after taking this team to the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. Matthew Stafford will get his second playoff win this week to set up either a rematch with Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady in the next round.
There are a few ways you can bet on this game. I like the Rams’ money line on its own or parlayed with a big favorite you like on Monday night – looking ahead, the Mavericks at home against the Thunder could be a good option. Alternatively, you can buy some points – I like getting this line to about 3 points – or run a teaser with the over. I like the over on the points total in this game, as both of the prior matchups went at least a few points over this set total.
My Predictions: Rams win 33-27, Rams cover, over 49.5 points
Best Bet: over 49.5 points, Rams ML parlayed with another big favorite, or 7-point teaser: Rams +3 and over 42.5 points