Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals: Betting odds, lines, picks and predictions

Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals: Betting odds, lines, picks and predictions

The rubber match between the Rams and Arizona Cardinals will decide who goes home and who goes to the NFC divisional round of the playoffs. After splitting the two regular-season meetings, both teams lost in Week 18, which allowed the Rams to back into the NFC West title and host this week’s playoff game.

The road team won both games during the regular season, so many will scoff at the notion of home-field advantage, but ask any coach or player and they’d say that hosting the game is preferred to sleeping in a hotel and dealing with the opposing fans. The Rams get that chance. Let’s see if they make the most of it in the first “Monday Night Football” wild-card playoff game.

Arizona Cardinals at Rams (-4, 49½); 5:15 p.m. PST, ABC, ESPN

The Cardinals actually might not mind being on the road. After all, last week’s home loss to Seattle dropped Arizona to 3-5 at State Farm Stadium and cost the team the NFC West title. The Cardinals went 8-1 on the road, which was the best mark of the season. Only two teams won seven road games and, coincidentally, the Rams were one of them.

The stakes are as high as they can get from this point forward. It seems only fitting that the Rams, who struggled throughout the season against playoff-caliber teams, wound up putting themselves in a position to face the wild-card team with the best record of the six.

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The Rams played well defensively throughout the season, but not in the two games against Arizona. They wound up ninth in the league in yards per play allowed with 5.2, but the Cardinals had 6.2 YPP in the first game and 6.0 YPP in the second game. Arizona ’s 216 rushing yards in the first game were the most that the Rams gave up in a game all season by more than 50 yards.

The second game featured a lot of Kyler Murray, as he threw for 383 yards in 49 attempts. Murray threw a couple of interceptions and both were extremely hurtful, as one happened inside the Rams five-yard line and the other happened deep in Arizona territory. The Rams scored touchdowns on both ensuing possessions.

Arizona also had two turnovers on downs in that 30-23 loss late in the season, one of which came inside the red zone. The Rams won, but that game could definitely have swung the other way.

We could say the same about the first game as well. The Rams had a turnover on downs deep in Arizona territory, missed a field-goal attempt and also had a fumble that led to a short field and a Cardinals touchdown. While the 37-20 score would indicate that it was not a close game, the box score suggests it was much closer than the outcome.

After highlighting Matthew Stafford’s splits in last week’s preview, he flipped the script and played a great first half and a terrible second half against the 49ers. The Rams had seven drives after halftime and gained 92 yards on one drive and 46 yards on the other six combined, including the game-sealing interception. The Jekyll-and-Hyde act is getting old for Rams fans and backers, but you’ve had a lot of good to take with the bad.

Can we trust Stafford in this spot? While the Cardinals moved the ball in both games, so did the Rams. Turnovers at inopportune times hurt the loser in each game, which tends to be how it goes with two teams that are virtual equals. The Rams were -3.5 in the first meeting at home and the Cardinals were -3 at home in the second meeting.

With that in mind, the -4 line looks a tad high here. The Cardinals did fall apart in a lot of ways in the second half of the season, but the Rams had their moments as well. While I think the Rams win and advance, I’d be more confident betting on the team getting points.

Pick: Cardinals +4

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