For the first time ever, we will have a Monday night NFL postseason game. The Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams will meet for the third time to cap off Super Wild Card Weekend.
The two teams split their regular season series, with the road team winning each matchup. Will the Rams take care of business at home in the rubber match? Or will Kyler Murray pull an upset in his first career playoff start? Let’s break it down.
- Opening line: Los Angeles -4.5
- Current line: Los Angeles -4
- Total: 49.5
Cardinals Limping Into Postseason
One of my biggest causes for trepidation in betting this game is that both teams are ridiculously hard to trust. No team entered the postseason with less momentum than Arizona. After starting the year 7-0, the Cardinals finished the season 4-6, including losses in four of their last five.
Offensively, Arizona has fallen off. They now rank 15th in DVOA offensively after starting the year red hot. Injuries have certainly played a role in Arizona’s regression, as Kyler Murray, James Conner, and DeAndre Hopkins have all missed time.
Hopkins has been out since December 13, when he tore his MCL during Arizona’s loss to the Rams. His absence has been a devastating blow to Arizona’s passing game. Murray has struggled without his alpha receiver and has posted just one game with a QBR higher than 46.5 since he’s been out.
The other problem is Arizona’s secondary weapons haven’t really stepped up. A.J. Green is clearly a shell of himself. Christian Kirk has great downfield speed but isn’t as effective without Hopkins to draw attention away from him. Rondale Moore might be a great weapon someday, but he’s still rounding into a polished NFL product.
With their top pass catcher out, Kingsbury will need to get more creative. The days of protecting Murray from injury are over. I’d expect the Cardinals to implement more designed runs with their electric quarterback to make matters harder on Aaron Donald and Von Miller up front. Arizona will also need production from its 22nd-ranked rushing offense (per DVOA). The Rams rank fifth in run defense DVOA but yielded 319 yards on the ground in the first two meetings.
Can we trust the Rams?
When you look at the Rams on paper, everything looks enticing. They’re the fifth-best team in the NFL in DVOA and rank inside the top eight in offensive and defensive DVOA. They have plenty of star power, a necessary trait for a Super Bowl run.
But something just feels off with this team. And it might come down to the inconsistencies of quarterback Matt Stafford.
The stats look incredible for Stafford, and he and Cooper Kupp have made up one of the best quarterback-wide receiver duos in football. But just like with the Lions, Stafford has a knack to make a boneheaded decision that kills his team. He’s been a turnover machine as of late, tossing eight of his 17 interceptions in his last five games. To go on a Super Bowl run, the Rams first need Stafford to clean up the miscues.
Where the Rams could dominate this game is in the trenches. After recording no sacks on Murray in the first meeting, the Rams sacked him three times and recorded six quarterback hits. With Donald on the inside and Miller rushing from the edge, the Rams have a chance to put Murray under duress while preventing him from escaping the pocket.
Los Angeles’ offensive line has also been rock solid, ranking sixth in adjusted line yards while allowing the sixth-fewest sacks in the league. That’s important against an Arizona front seven that recorded 41 sacks on the season.
What can we learn from the first two matchups?
After taking a deeper dive into the box scores, my main takeaway was this: Arizona was actually the better team in both games.
In the first meeting, a 37-20 Arizona win, the Cardinals out-gained Los Angeles 465-401, had three more first downs, and held the ball for 35 minutes thanks to 216 yards on the ground. In the second meeting, a 30-23 Rams win, the Cardinals out-gained L.A. 447-356 and had four more first downs. What did Arizona in were two interceptions from Murray, one of which was inside the L.A. five-yard line that led to touchdown drives for the Rams.
While the Rams may be the NFC West winner and higher seed, Arizona might be the better of the two teams.
This is a really tricky game to gauge, as this line feels spot on. The question you have to answer before placing a wager is this: would you rather trust Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay or a Cardinals offense that’s without DeAndre Hopkins and led by Kliff Kingsbury?
Stafford is one more pick-six away from making me look awfully dumb. But I trust him and McVay more than I do a Cardinals unit that’s looked out of sync since Hopkins got hurt. I’d keep waiting to see if this line gets bet down any further, but my lean would be with the Rams.
The pick: Lean Rams -4
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