Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams (-4.5, 39.5)
Even though the Arizona Cardinals (10-3, 3-3 away) are currently in first place in the NFC West – and the NFC as a whole – there’s a sense that every game from here on out is a must-win.
Three weeks ago, Arizona held a comfortable three-game lead over Seattle in the NFC West. Then the Cards dropped two of their next three games – including a 19-3 blowout in Seattle, where they failed to cover despite having 6.5 points to work with – and that lead has shrunk to one. The recent decline has created a sense of urgency in Glendale.
Said Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, “For some teams, [playing in December] doesn’t mean a damn thing except the season’s almost over. This one means a lot because everything rides from here on in, so every game is a real playoff game, especially in the NFC.”
Quarterback Drew Stanton, who was forced into action after a season-ending injury to starter Carson Palmer, has been shaky at best lately, with five picks in his last four games. However, his squad did manage a 17-14 win over Kansas City last weekend.
Running back Kerwynn Williams, who was filling in for the injured Andre Ellington, had a break-out game. The second-year back rushed for 100 yards on 19 carries.
Williams said, “I didn’t know what my role was going to be. I just wanted to be prepared whatever it was.”
Up next for the Cardinals is perhaps the hottest team in the league, the St. Louis Rams (6-7, 3-3 home). In the last two weeks, St. Louis blanked both Oakland and Washington (winning by a combined 76-0 score).
After losing his starting job to rookie Austin Davis earlier in the season, veteran quarterback Shaun Hill is back under center for the Rams. Hill’s performance since retaking the starting job has made some people question why he was ever on the bench. The 13-year vet out of Maryland has thrown six touchdowns to only two picks in the last four games.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the turnaround in St. Louis, though, is the pass rush and, in particular, the play of defensive end Robert Quinn. Quinn has 4.5 sacks in the last two games and the Rams are now top-ten in the league with 35 sacks as a team.
Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell – who has seven sacks of his own on the year – said, “They’re playing as good a football as anybody now. It’s a division game, a team you know. They know us, guys you’ve played against multiple times. It’s going to be a good football game.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher has been pleased with his team’s recent efforts and wants to see the same preparation this week.
“I want to see it again. We need to keep playing, keep preparing the way we are,” said Fisher.
While one could argue that any shutout in the NFL is impressive, the Rams’ recent bagels came against weak teams. The Cardinals, while not potent on offense by any stretch of the imagination, are first in the NFC for a reason and will pose a much tougher challenge.
There’s nothing the public loves more than a favorite and a storyline, so there will be plenty of money on the Rams to continue their shutout streak, but the smart play is the Cardinals’ money line (+205).
(Photo credit: Landry Heaton (flickr) “Arizona Cardinals Concept-White Pants” [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)
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