Wildcard Weekend is almost wrapped up, but not before a first-ever Monday Night Football playoff game today. Finishing up this round of the postseason will be the Los Angeles Rams taking on the Arizona Cardinals in a rubber match of their NFC West rivalry (8 PM ET; Live on TV: ESPN & ABC).
Only this time, it is for more than just a divisional crown on the line. It is for the right to stay alive in the postseason. Of all the wildcard matchups, the NFL may well have saved the best for last. Read on for our full preview of this Cardinals vs Rams matchup with predictions and betting picks.
It’s been an interesting wildcard weekend for sure. While the slate of games opened with a tightly fought contest between the Las Vegas Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals, what followed was a series of blowouts as the Kansas City Chiefs (over the Pittsburgh Steelers), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (over the Philadelphia Eagles) and Buffalo Bills (over the New England Patriots) all dominated their first-round matchups. The only other close game was between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, but even that matchup saw the Cowboys down double digits entering into the fourth quarter. Point being, wildcard weekend wasn’t really all that wild.
That leaves us with Monday’s game. Is it more likely that this contest could end in another uncharacteristic playoff blow out? Or will the Rams and Cardinals keep things close given how well they know their opponent? It’s tough to say but if we had to guess, we’d say to expect a close contest typical of what you would see in a meeting of divisional rivals.
The 49ers already booked their spot to the divisional round of the playoffs, ensuring that two NFC West teams will advance to that stage. Now the question is, who will join them?
The NFC West was the NFL’s best conference this year, with three teams making the playoffs and all teams winning at least seven games. The top-seeded group was the Rams, who won the West with a 12-6 record. The Cardinals, who stumbled down the stretch, finished second with 11 wins. Seven of these came in the season’s first seven weeks as the Cardinals opened the year 7-0 and were the NFL’s last team to remain unbeaten. Arizona had wins over three playoff teams during that stretch including the Rams, 49ers and NFL’s best team, the Tennessee Titans.
The Cardinals looked fantastic over much of the season’s first half. Then, as has happened with the Kyler Murray/Kliff Kingsbury teams in the past, the wheels of the air raid offense fell off. Some of this was inconsistent play and some of it was injuries as losing DeAndre Hopkins proved to be a significant blow. After going 7-0 to start the season, the Cardinals finished the proverbial back nine, which is now the back 10, with just a 4-6 record, losing to the non-playoff Carolina Panthers and three-win Detroit Lions. While the Cardinals were struggling, the Rams were enjoying consistency and even excellency thanks to their quarterback, running game, and the best wide receiving season in league history.
Los Angeles opened the season strong as well, winning seven of their first eight and keeping the West well within their sights. Then a three-game losing streak against three playoff teams, ensued. It left questions regarding how good the Rams could actually be. These questions ran juxtaposed to the Cardinals, who seemed to be the lone playoff contender without many holes. But then, the script flipped. As the Cardinals dealt with some head scratching losses, the Rams righted their ship, winning five of their last six to end the year. This included a big week 14 against the Cardinals, one which gave the Rams the lead in the West. They never looked back.
The Stafford Effect
You know what they say. You take the good, you take the bad, and then you have the career of Matthew Stafford. Okay, well the quote actually is, the facts of life, but the good and bad can be applied to Stafford as well. One of the longest tenured QBs in the league yet to win a championship, Stafford spent the first decade-plus of his career with the Lions. And in that time, he failed to win a single playoff game. That is a blemish that Stafford is ready to erase from his record no doubt. Perhaps in 2022, he’ll have his best chance to do so.
Stafford’s 2021 season was exceptional by many metrics. Showing why he’s an underrated signal caller, Stafford tossed for 41 touchdowns, second most in the league and tied for his career high from 2011. Much like he did that year, Stafford benefited from an incredible receiving corps. One receiver in particular, Cooper Kupp, was key to Stafford’s success. Kupp became the first receiver in several years to win the triple crown, meaning he led the league in receptions, touchdowns and total yards. The latter of which set a new record, one which previously belonged to Calvin Johnson. Johnson, who just so happened to have had Stafford throwing to him during their time in Detroit.
That’s the good of Matthew Stafford but the bad emerged this year as well. After a stellar start to the year, Stafford’s accuracy slipped as he threw eight of his near NFL-worst 17 interceptions in the season’s final four games. This included an uneven performance against the 49ers which sent San Francisco into the playoffs and left the Rams without a chance to win the NFC’s top seed.
With Darrell Henderson out injured, the Rams will need the Stafford/Kupp connection to be as strong as it was the last time Los Angeles played Arizona. Stafford claims he feels no pressure to win his first playoff game but it’s hard to imagine the thought isn’t at least in the back of his head. Under the Monday Night lights, Stafford’s performance and his career, may well be under a microscope. A lot rides on Monday night.
In a way though, the same can be said for Murray. In his short time in the league, the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray has vastly improved but he still has a way to go to be considered elite. His playoff track record isn’t quite like Stafford’s but now in their third year together, expectations for some level of playoff success are starting to creep in for the air raid offense. Murray and Kingsbury don’t have to win today, but a loss would further continue the questions regarding if the team’s offense is feasible as is.
Our Preview’s Arizona Cardinals vs Los Angeles Rams Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
In one of the closest anticipated games of the weekend, the line is just -3.5 in this one. At home, in the first ever playoff game at Sofi Stadium, take Stafford and the Rams to vanquish their playoff demons. The best odds are Rams -3.5pts @ -105 with EveryGame.
Also look for over 50 total points to be scored @ -105 with Bovada. Alternatively, it is over 49.5pts at -115 with BetOnline. We prefer the former. Don’t expect too much defensive stops in this one as both these offenses can go score for score.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.