Cardinals vs. Rams Odds, Picks, Predictions: Monday’s NFL Playoffs Showdown Has High-Scoring Potential
Getty Images. Pictured: Rams QB Matthew Stafford and Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (left to right)
|Time||8:15 p.m. ET|
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The Cardinals and Rams will meet for the third time this season, this time with a trip to the Divisional Round of the playoffs on the line.
Both squads come into this game with a top-six defense, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings. However, we’ve seen plenty of scoring in the head-to-head meetings between these teams.
We’ll do a deep dive into this matchup and examine whether we can expect that trend to hold true to form for Monday’s game.
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Cardinals vs. Rams Injury Report
We’re tracking practice participation and statuses of every player on the Cardinals’ and Rams’ injury reports here.
Cardinals vs. Rams Matchup
|Cardinals Offense||DVOA Rank||Rams Defense|
|Cardinals Defense||DVOA Rank||Rams Offense|
|Football Outsiders’ DVOA measures efficiency by comparing a team’s success on every play to the league average based on situation and opponent.|
Cardinals’ Injured Backfield Shifts Offensive Approach
Arizona’s offense has often relied on the run game this season, which is clear by its No. 10 rank in terms of run play rate of 44.05% this season. In its past three games, though, that number has dropped to 38.94%.
It’s entirely normal for teams to attempt to strike a balance with how often they throw or run the ball. However, according to rbsdm.com, the numbers show that it’s more of a challenge to have a positive Expected Points Added (EPA) running the football than throwing it. For example, only five teams in the league have a positive rush EPA while 21 teams have a positive pass EPA.
The Cardinals rank 10th with a rush EPA of -0.037. However, they could have fewer opportunities to run the ball with James Conner, Chase Edmonds and Jonathan Ward nursing injuries at running back.
Conner (202 carries) and Ward (nine) were upgraded from non-participants to limited in practice on Saturday and remain questionable, while Edmonds (116 carries) was upgraded from limited to full. The Cardinals also have Eno Benjamin on the roster, and he has 34 carries on the season.
Given the uncertainty in the backfield, it’s even more likely that the Cardinals put the ball more often in the hands of their quarterback Kyler Murray.
Murray can provide a threat in the running game, and he’s likely to ask some questions of the Rams secondary when he’s in some of the Cardinals’ run-pass option packages. Remember, Los Angeles will have to decide whether to keep a spy on Murray or walk a safety down into the box.
The Rams are already depleted in the secondary after losing free safety Jordan Fuller, their leading tackler and defensive signal-caller, to an ankle injury for the rest of the playoffs. Los Angeles’ other starting safety, Taylor Rapp, was ruled out of Monday’s game as he remains in concussion protocols.
Can Rams Avoid Typically Slow Start?
While we’ve established that the Cardinals try to be somewhat balanced on offense, that’s not necessarily the case for the Rams. Los Angeles ranks 24th with a run play rate of 39.70%.
I think that has something to do with the Rams’ performances in the first half vs. the second half of games. On average, Los Angeles has scored more points in the second half (14.2) than it does in the first (12.8). The Rams are 15th in EPA/play (0.031) during the first half compared to after halftime (.139 EPA/play).
For a team that’s ranked fifth overall in DVOA, the Rams often struggle to create separation on the scoreboard from opponents in the first half. Thus, they tend to compensate in the second half by taking a much more aggressive approach.
According to Pro-Football-Reference, Los Angeles averages 9.1 net yards per pass attempt in the second half compared to 6.7 in the first half. It’s that aggression and more of a willingness to take risks that catapults the Rams up second in EPA per play in the second half. We often see that aggressiveness against the better offensive teams in the league.
If you look at the Rams’ regular-season schedule, of the 10 games against teams ranked in the top half of offensive DVOA, seven finished with a combined total of at least 50 points. Two of the games that failed to eclipse that number were against the Seahawks. In the first game, Russell Wilson exited early due to an injury on his throwing hand. The second meeting was one of those quirky COVID games on Tuesday.
Finally, another factor that could lead to a high-scoring game is turnovers. Lately, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has shown a penchant for throwing the football to the other team.
— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) January 2, 2022
He has eight turnovers in his past four games and threw 17 interceptions on the season, including four that the opposition returned for a touchdown.
Turnovers create an incredible amount of volatility in scoring, and the Cardinals had the fifth most takeaways in the NFL this season with 27.
Cardinals vs. Rams Predictions
I want no part of these teams as a side when you factor in Matthew Stafford’s turnover issues or the Cardinals’ 1-8-1 against the spread (ATS) mark against the Rams in the previous 10 meetings.
One thing that’s remained consistent in this matchup is that the games tend to be high-scoring affairs since Kyler Murray arrived in the NFL.
The total is 4-1 to the over in the past five meetings between these teams, and the lone game that went under featured two backup quarterbacks who started for both sides due to injuries. These matchups tend to produce more points because neither head coach is entirely committed to running the ball.
We know that the Rams are in the league’s bottom half in run play percentage. As for the Cardinals, they’re often in their air raid offense with four wide receivers and one running back. Both teams have enough quality to put up points in a hurry, and it won’t surprise me if the Cardinals try to target the Rams’ depleted secondary early and often.
I can’t see both coaches opting for a passive game plan. If one comes out aggressive, the other is likely to follow. This seems like a matchup destined for points, so I’d look to play this one over the total at 49.5 or better.
Pick: Over 49.5 | Bet to 50
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