Rams vs. Cardinals Odds & Picks: L.A. Has Value — Even Without Jared Goff
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images. Pictured: Kliff Kingsbury, Sean McVay
Rams vs. Cardinals Odds
This is one of the most exciting games on the board as we have a true win-and-get-in scenario for this NFC West showdown: The Cardinals must win to punch their ticket to the playoffs while the Rams could sneak in even with a loss … if the Bears lose to the Packers.
What makes this game even more intriguing is the quarterback situations for each team.
Jared Goff will not suit up for the Rams with a thumb injury — that means former undrafted John Wolford will get his first career start. In fact, the former Wake Forest product has never taken an NFL snap.
The situation isn’t as dire on the other side: Kyler Murray has a good shot to play on Sunday with a leg injury (he said as much earlier this week). Even if he does, though, it’s reasonable to expect he won’t be anywhere close to 100%.
Still, there’s a chance we end up with a Week 17 game featuring two teams fighting for a playoff spot with a quarterback matchup of John Wolford vs. Chris Streveler.
By most metrics, the Cardinals have been very average this season: In their case, the 8-7 record tells an accurate story. I personally have them power rated approximately one point better than an average team on a neutral field.
They’ve played in nine one-possession games with a few that went their way (against the Seahawks in overtime and with the Hail Murray vs. the Bills) and some unfortunate losses (at the Patriots and Dolphins).
The offense has flashy names, but has been fairly disappointing. And they’re so reliant on Murray’s mobility, which they might not have at their disposal on Sunday — he could be under pressure all day against a Rams’ front that should dominate the line of scrimmage.
Los Angeles Rams
I haven’t been as high as some are on the Rams this season, but I still have them in the backend of my top-10.
The clear strength of this team is its defense, which has performed as a top-five unit all year. The stars of the show are Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, but Brandon Staley has crafted a beautiful scheme in his first year as a defensive coordinator.
Goff really limits what the offense can do and still really struggles when under pressure, but in the right matchup, he can still shine in Sean McVay’s offense. It helps to have a dominant rushing attack that ranks No. 2 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
If you’re ever going to trust an undrafted quarterback making his first start, it would be in a McVay offense that will lean on the run and short passes. It’s also not like Wolford is going in suddenly after an injury. A full week of practice will certainly help.
Wolford, who posted respectable numbers in his final season at Wake Forest and in the AAF, can lead the Rams to victory here by holding McVay’s hand throughout and relying on their backs, tight ends (which the Cardinals can struggle covering) and short passes *which Arizona ranks 30th covering).
These teams met in early December in Glendale in a game that the Rams absolutely dominated. Los Angeles, which closed as a 2.5-point road favorite, out-gained Arizona 463-232 in a 38-28 victory.
That previous line would imply LA should be about a 4-point favorite at home based on my current home-field advantage values. Per my latest power ratings (which help power our NFL PRO Projections), I’m in that same neighborhood.
However, the Rams aren’t healthy with Goff and wide receiver Cooper Kupp out in addition to some injuries in their backfield. Therefore, I adjusted this line down about six points, which would make the Cardinals close to 2-point favorites.
However, Murray also isn’t fully healthy. Assuming that he’s limited from a mobility perspective, I would make the Cardinals a very tiny road favorite, so I gladly grabbed the field goal with the home dog.
I expect this Rams defense to really play up here with Goff out. What also pushed me off the edge is this game with so much uncertainty is the coaching mismatch: I’ll happily side with McVay over Kliff Kingsbury in a do-or-die game any day of the week that ends in “y.”
Oh, and for what it’s worth, McVay is 7-0 straight up and and against the spread vs. the Cardinals.
Pick: Rams +3 (-120) or better