The NFL season is roaring towards the end, but before then, there are still scores to settle and divisions to be won. One such division race, the NFC West, has once again been the highlight of the year and tonight, that race will be in the national spotlight when the Los Angeles Rams take on the NFL’s best, Arizona Cardinals (8:15 PM ET Monday; TV: Live on ESPN).
Before the 2021 NFL season began, experts and analysts did what they always do – they made preseason predictions about how things would go this year. It’s always worthwhile to revisit these early predictions in relation to where things are now. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some thoughts on the NFC West. The San Francisco 49ers, who are currently sitting in third place with a 7-6 record, were projected to finish in first with 10+ wins. The Rams were pegged for second with about 10 wins as well. Basically, there were negligible differences between where many thought the Rams and 49ers would finish. Then came the Cardinals who were projected to have just over nine wins. After week 13, Arizona has already passed that bar.
The Kliff and Kyler Show
Preseason rankings, predictions, and simulations only go so far as the games have to be played on the field. And the Cards have certainly played their games to the fullest. Arizona has been considered a boom or bust team ever since the head coaching/QB tandem of Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray took the league by storm in 2019. Now, with both in their third seasons, they are experiencing their greatest results yet. Murray has evolved into the player many believed he could be, adapting well to Kingsbury’s air-raid offense.
Murray can air out the ball deep and he can also make moves on the ground. Murray still has a long way to go before he will join the upper echelon of the league’s greats but he has made great strides so far and so has Kingsbury as a coach. The NFL has a history of great head coach/QB duos, guys who have won multiple Super Bowls together like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning, Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, the list goes on. Could Murray and Kingsbury be that next great duo? Only time will tell. But for now, both would surely be more than content just to have the success that they have had together this season.
Because the fact of the matter is that if you are looking for a reason offensively, why the Cardinals have been so good this year, look no further than these two.
Backup Running Backs Do Battle in Arizona
When the Cardinals and Rams first met all the way back in week four of the season, the guys in the backfield were a little different than the ones we’ll be seeing tonight. Arizona was led by Chase Edmonds, who was having a great year before an injury landed him on the IR. Now, Arizona is hopeful that they will get Edmonds back for this matchup. He last played in early November. At that point, James Conner took over the reins and much like he did while with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he made his presence undeniable. Conner has scored four touchdowns in the last four weeks and has certainly helped bolster the Cardinals offense. Even if Edmonds does suit up, it may be less of a lead back role and more in a 50/50 sort of split.
Meanwhile, the Rams will definitely be without their starter, Darrell Henderson Jr. Henderson is another guy who is having a great year, however, he landed on the COVID list last week and will be slated to miss this NFL game. Stepping up in his place will be Sony Michel, who is another very capable backup. While a starter with the New England Patriots, the fourth year back put up a back-to-back 900+ yard season and added 14 touchdowns. His role diminished in 2020, but Michel is still a great guy to have in the backfield, either as a second option as he has been this year, or as a starter, where he put forth a 121-yard, one touchdown performance last week.
The Matthew Stafford Effect
The Rams, under Sean McVay and Jared Goff, were a decent if not pretty good team at times. They even reached the Super Bowl in the 2018-19 season. But something was missing. Goff and McVay were a solid duo but they didn’t fully click. So the head coach did what he needed to do and after the 2020 season, made a rare QB for QB swap. Goff was sent to the Detroit Lions and in exchange the Rams got Matthew Stafford, one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the NFL. Stafford spent his entire career with the Lions and was never able to find the success there many believed him capable of. Largely, this was out of Stafford’s control as the Lions just did not field good teams during his time there. Stafford, nearing the end of his career, needed a change of scenery.
Thus far, that change in scenery has paid off in spades, not just for the Rams but for Stafford as well. Meanwhile, the Lions, with Goff, are still struggling, standing with just one win and one tie after 13 weeks. But back to Stafford and the Rams. The 33-year-old QB is having a renaissance of a season. Aided by offensive weapons in guys like Henderson and the NFL’s best receiver this year, Cooper Kupp, Stafford has risen back to the top of the league. He ranks fifth among all QBs in total passing yards with 3,611 and is tied for second with 30 touchdowns. His QBR is also ranked third. Stafford and Kupp have been a fantastic duo as Kupp leads all of the league in receptions (100), receiving yards (1,366) and tied for first in touchdowns (11). This makes Kupp and Stafford arguably the NFL’s top QB/receiving duo this season.
Our Betting Preview’s Los Angeles Rams vs Arizona Cardinals Predictions & Picks Verdict
The last time these two teams met, all of the major players were involved but some more than others. The Cardinals’ defense held Kupp to just 64 yards and Stafford to one of his worst games of the season as well. Meanwhile, Murray had a great game, one that was seen to many as a coming out party for the rising star. Will history repeat itself?
- Bet on the Cardinals -2.5pts on the spread @ 105 with EveryGame. It is -110 with Bovada and -108 with BetOnline. While we anticipate this being a much closer outcome than their last meeting, take the Cards at home to continue showing why they are the new class of the NFC West.
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.