NFC West playoff hopefuls look to rebound after heartbreaking losses last week
This is the first time this season in which two teams face off with each other after both teams suffered a loss via a last-play-of-the-game field goal the week before. Last Sunday, the Rams dropped a 23-20 decision to San Francisco after Robbie Gould kicked a 42-yard field goal on the final play to down the Rams. Earlier that day, the Cardinals saw New England rally and get a 50-yard field goal from Nick Folk on the final play to hand Arizona a 20-17 loss.
Both have reason for concern. The Rams' loss came against a 49ers team that had been decimated by injuries and had them facing a backup quarterback in Nick Mullens. Meanwhile, the Cardinals' loss was particularly painful given the fact that they could fall out of the playoff chase if they get in a rut and the losses continue. After scoring 30-plus points in five straight games, the Cards have been shut down pretty well by Seattle and New England the last two weeks, combining for 38 points in both.
Both teams remain in the hunt for a wild-card berth but neither Los Angeles nor Arizona can afford extended losing streaks at this point in the season with Seattle already up one game on the former and two on the latter in the NFC West race and several other teams, including division mate San Francisco, still lingering in the postseason chase.
Interesting side note: The Rams are 6-0 against the Cardinals since Sean McVay took over as head coach position in 2017.
Los Angeles at Arizona
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 6 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Los Angeles -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Jared Goff's generous nature
After turning the ball over three times against the 49ers, including a pick-six, the Rams quarterback drew the ire of his own head coach as Sean McVay stated afterward, "Our quarterback has got to take better care of the football." For the season, Goff now has 14 turnovers (10 interceptions, four lost fumbles), which ties him with Minnesota's Kirk Cousins for second in the NFL in this not-so-distinctive category.
Goff was 19-of-31 for 198 passing yards against San Francisco and is in need of a confidence-building performance. In last year's two meetings with Arizona Goff went 61-of-88 for 743 yards, five TDs and no interceptions. But keep in mind the Rams offense can be very hit-or-miss and has proven to go dormant at times. And this would be a bad time to do that, especially when you consider that Arizona's pass defense is third in the NFL, giving up just 203 yards per game through the air.
2. The Cardinals' offense needs a wake-up call
Hard to believe I'm writing this, but this Kyler Murray-led offense has been really ordinary of late. Though he is most dangerous when he moves his feet and scrambles for yardage, Murray is actually in the top eight of the NFL when he throws from the pocket, having an 82.7 passer rating on those throws. But the Cardinals are also 1-9-1 when Murray has 31 rushing yards or less. So he needs to get creative again to help shake up the offense. Arizona can't have another game where Kenyan Drake carries the ball 22 times for just 78 yards, as he did vs. the Patriots. Oh and by the way, DeAndre Hopkins vs. Jalen Ramsey should be one of the best WR vs. CB matchups all year.
3. Best advice? Stay away from Aaron Donald
To put it bluntly, the Rams' All-Pro defensive lineman was nearly unblockable against the 49ers. Los Angeles was dead in the water, down 17-6 late in the third quarter, until Donald busted through San Francisco's offensive line and forced a fumble for a scoop-and-score by Troy Hill. Donald also tipped a pass that led to an interception, had a sack and two tackles for a loss. He's on fire. Smartly, the Rams like to move him around from side-to-side and sometimes have him line up over center. So it will be critical for Murray to make good pre-snap adjustments and audibles throughout the game to keep Donald from complete domination.
If not for the "Hail Murray" answered prayer three weeks ago against Buffalo, Arizona would currently be on a four-game losing streak. The Cardinals are definitely scuffling and their defense must play better because they have their backs to the wall in what amounts to a must-win game for their playoff hopes. Jared Goff and the Rams just aren't clutch enough and shoot themselves in the foot too often. For that reason, I am leaning toward a Cardinals win which will help turn their season around.
And what for the fun of it, I'll say the home does so with a last-play field goal. These two teams are used to that type of ending.
Prediction: Cardinals 24, Rams 21
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.