The final game of the Wildcard Round will see the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams reprise hostilities in the NFC playoffs on Monday Night Football.
What’s unique about this meeting is that both are coming off losses in Week 18. Arizona’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks cost the Cardinals dearly. It meant that they ceded the NFC West title to the Rams, even though Sean McVay’s side was also coming off a loss to the Niners.
Arizona had long been in the driver’s seat in the NFC West. But in the second half of the season, things took a decided southwardly turn and they limped to the finish line with a 4-6 record in their last ten games. That conspicuous about-turn on form, coupled with Los Angeles’ more impressive form underscored by a 5-1 record in their last six games of the season, has tipped the balance in favor of the Rams.
Bookmakers opened this game with the Rams laying four points on the NFL odds board. The line has held firm with most shops since open doors. Separately, the game total opened on 49.5 points but it quickly ticked up to 50 at most top-rated sportsbooks.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Rams
Monday, January 17, 2022, 8:15 PM EST at SoFi Stadium
Cardinals Stumble in Final Game
The eliminated Seattle Seahawks had little to play for save pride. But if the Cardinals were thinking they’d get a free pass as a result, they were sorely mistaken. Russell Wilson and Co. lit up on the way to a 38-30 victory at State Farm Stadium that stunned Arizona fans, the Cardinals side-line and sent shockwaves through NFL betting markets.
It was a disappointing ending to a season that started out with so much promise. From winning the NFC West title to clinching the No.1 seed, all that and more seemed to be within their grasps. All they had to do was reach for it. Unfortunately, injuries to key players such as Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, and J.J. Watt conspired against Arizona and the struggles began.
All is not lost, of course. The Cardinals are in the playoffs after clinching the fifth seed in the NFC. It does mean a date against the Rams at SoFi Stadium, but that may well be an advantage. Sometimes, it’s better the devil you know…..
The Cardinals beat the Rams at SoFi Stadium, 37-20, in Week 4. Granted, Murray and Co. were in full flight at the time, soaring at the top of the standings after winning their first three games. But so, too, were the Rams. The playing field was level, so to speak.
In fact, Los Angeles was practically dripping with confidence at the time. They were after reeling off three-straight wins to start their 2021 campaign, including a 34-24 win over the defending Super Bowl champions. That victory seemed to elevate the Rams’ stock in NFL futures market – a move that was upended the following week with the loss to Arizona.
The Rams did set the record straight with a 30-23 win over the Cardinals at Glendale in Week 14, coming through as the 3-point road underdogs in the upset win.
Rams Falter in Overtime
Sean McVay’s side finished the season strong with a 5-1 record, but they lost, arguably, the most important game in the worst way possible: a turnover. Matthew Stafford’s interception in overtime sealed the victory for the San Francisco 49ers, who needed the win to rubberstamp their passage into the playoffs.
It wasn’t all Stafford’s fault, although his two interceptions didn’t help. The Rams did race to the 17-3 lead at halftime before it slipped away and the Niners tied the game at 17-17. Stafford rose to the occasion to give the Rams the second lead late in the game, but the Niners answered back impressively and tied the game for the second time to send it into overtime.
The loss didn’t cost the Rams in the broad spectrum of the NFC West as they did clinch the division crown. It doesn’t, however, send the Rams on a wave of confidence into the postseason. Moreover, it raises questions about Stafford and his interception-prone ways, which is rearing its ugly head at a most inopportune time.
As a gunslinger, Stafford is bound to throw his fair share of interceptions. Thirteen in the last nine games is pushing it (1.44 per game); eight in the last four games is cause for alarm (2.0 per game).
The Rams are loaded in talent, quality, and depth. There might not be a more star-studded cast than the Rams in the league right now with better playmakers. However, all their good work can easily be undone with the erratic play of Stafford.
NFL Predictions and Picks
From the start of the season, the Rams have been the vogue NFL pick amongst bettors. So, it’s not surprising that they have the advantage in the betting for this game, which is underlined by a recent win over the Cardinals, a slightly better record on the season, and home advantage for this game.
But can the Rams be trusted? The answer, no.
They don’t feel remotely like a safe bet in this game. It’s worth pointing out that Stafford has never won a playoff game in his career. He is 0-3 in the postseason.
The pressure that’s on Stafford to deliver is different from the kind of pressure Kyler Murray might be feeling in his first-ever appearance in the postseason. Stafford has long been talked up as an elite quarterback, but for how much longer can he be held in high regard without any postseason success?
The Cardinals’ recent struggles have taken the shine off their odds and postseason prospects. Moreover, Murray is a greenhorn, an untried and untested product at this stage of the game. Similarly, third-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury is set to get his first taste of postseason NFL action. And yet, despite all this, Arizona is somehow the more attractive bet as the road underdog in this game.
Given all the uncertainties that are contained within this matchup between familiar foes, it’s precisely the kind of game where the underdog is bound to hold more appeal. It’s also the kind of matchup that is likelier to serve up the upset. Put it simply, if the Cardinals win outright, will it really be a shocker?
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.