The surging St. Louis Rams (7-6) welcome an Arizona Cardinals (10-3) team that shook off two straight tough losses to post a key win over Kansas City in Week 14. Basically, both of these long-suffering franchises are merely happy to be playing meaningful football in December. “For some teams, (playing in December) doesn’t mean a damn thing except the season’s almost over,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “This one means a lot because everything rides from here on in, so every game is a real playoff game, especially in the NFC.”
Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears
Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: St. Louis -4.5
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Arizona’s Key to Victory: Ask Kerwynn Williams
Who is Kerwynn Williams, you ask? The second-year back from Utah State was an oasis in an offensive desert for the Cards in a desperately needed Week 14 win over Kansas City. Williams, who had never touched the ball in a regular-season game prior to last Sunday, came off of the bench to replace an injured Andre Ellington and churned out 100 yards on 19 carries against Kansas City. Quarterback Drew Stanton is struggling — he’s thrown five interceptions in the four games since Carson Palmer’s injury — and the Cards will need the threat of a running game to take some pressure off of Stanton and open things up for receivers Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald, who have combined for only two touchdown receptions since the calendar turned to November.
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St. Louis’ Key to Victory: Continue the Clampdown
The Rams are the first team since 2009 to post back-to-back shutouts, a truly impressive feat in an offensive era. Yes, the victims were the lowly Raiders and Redskins, but a shutout’s a shutout, and if you go back a few weeks, the Rams surrendered only seven points to Peyton Manning and the reigning AFC champion Denver Broncos. A sputtering Cardinals offense presents the opportunity for something truly historic: three consecutive shutouts for the first time since the 1976 Steelers. Interestingly enough, the Cardinals’ offensive troubles began when quarterback Carson Palmer tore his ACL against the Rams in Week 10. Since then, the Cardinals have managed only four offensive touchdowns in four games, and leading rusher Andre Ellington has joined Palmer on the shelf due to injury. Jeff Fisher is confident that his team can maintain its recent defensive dominance. “I want to see it again,” Fisher said. “We need to keep playing, keep preparing the way we are.”
The injury-depleted Cardinals are clinging to a one-game lead in the NFC West, and a tussle with a Rams team that is at the top of its game defensively is a tough matchup for a team that is searching for its offensive identity. The Rams may not match the Steel Curtain with a third straight shutout, but they should be able to outscore the Cards.