Los Angeles Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals: Matchups, prediction for biggest game of the season in NFC

The Los Angeles Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals is arguably the biggest game of the NFL season. Can Los Angeles get back on track against Arizona?

The Los Angeles Rams face the Arizona Cardinals hoping to maintain the possibility of winning not just the NFC West, but the top seed in the NFC. The Rams looked like a well-oiled machine until they lost Robert Woods for the season. Since then, they have had a negative offensive expected points added (EPA) and are 1-2. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were taking care of business without franchise quarterback Kyler Murray. Can the Rams get back on their feet in a big way against their divisional opponent?

Los Angeles Rams offense vs. Arizona Cardinals defense

As the introduction eluded, the Rams offense hasn’t been what it was to start the season. That’s become a disturbing trend over Sean McVay’s tenure, as his offenses consistently start strong before fizzling later in the season. But this year, the offensive struggles come from injury and poor play from the quarterback they spent significant draft capital to acquire.

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Meanwhile, the Cardinals have one of the best defenses in the NFL. Don’t ask me how that happened — I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Heck, I thought that would be the team’s fatal flaw heading into the season, not the team’s strength! They’re second in EPA/play against and first in dropback EPA/play allowed.

Matthew Stafford vs. Cardinals defense

Matthew Stafford hasn’t played well recently. In fact, since Woods’ injury, Stafford is completing fewer passes than expected and has thrown caution out the window of a moving airplane. He threw a pick-six in each of the three games before facing the hapless Jaguars. Stafford has the talent to dissect defenses, but his streaky nature makes it anything but a sure thing.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals have the second-best turnover differential in the league at +12. Vance Joseph deserves a ton of credit for the Cardinals’ defensive success because this isn’t a defensive roster that screams top five. But I won’t argue their success, and unless Stafford turns back time to his early-season performance, he won’t outduel this team.

Advantage: Push

Rams skill position players vs. Cardinals secondary

Cooper Kupp is playing at a ridiculously high level for the Rams. In fact, I proclaimed him one of the best football players in the NFL. I don’t believe he’s necessarily the best receiver in the league, but he’s a 210-pound tight end as a blocker as well, making him far more helpful than most receivers when not catching the football. He alone allows McVay to run 11 personnel at the rate he prefers.

Odell Beckham Jr. is talented, but he’s not the receiver we thought he could be after his first few NFL seasons. Van Jefferson is growing into quite the player, but he cannot make up for the loss of Woods.

Meanwhile, Budda Baker is one of the best safeties in the NFL, and Byron Murphy has ascended into one of the better cornerbacks in the league. Starting Marco Wilson isn’t ideal, but Robert Alford has played incredibly well as Arizona’s third cornerback.

Still, from a pure talent perspective, I give the edge to Los Angeles.

Advantage: Rams

Rams offensive line vs. Cardinals defensive front

This is another area where the Rams might be able to take advantage. They’ve been running the ball well recently, and if there is a softer spot against the Cardinals’ defense, it is the rushing attack, where they are less efficient.

The Rams have good tackles and a solid center, allowing David Edwards and Austin Corbett to survive on the offensive interior.

Chandler Jones can take over a game, but he’s been inconsistent since breaking out in Week 1 with 5 sacks. The rest of the Cardinals’ defensive line is underwhelming compared to the Rams’ offensive line. Isaiah Simmons is still growing as a linebacker, and against the run, he is raw.

Advantage: Rams

Arizona Cardinals offense vs. Los Angeles Rams defense

If being the second-best defense in the NFL wasn’t enough, the Cardinals also rank second in EPA/play offensively and are third in success rate on the season. And that’s despite losing their best playmaker and franchise quarterback over a three-game stretch.

Meanwhile, the Rams’ defense has played like a top-10 unit throughout the season. They’ve had games where they’ve blown up and allowed offenses to walk all over them. But they’ve also been put in awful positions by turnovers at times too. They rank ninth in EPA/play and sixth in DVOA.

Kyler Murray vs. Rams defense

A healthy Murray can only properly be defended by himself. Defenses have to hope that he makes mistakes. Nobody, not even Lamar Jackson, is as elusive in the pocket as Murray. The Energizer Bunny can’t lift a finger to Murray’s foot speed. When you pair that with the most high-powered slingshot on the market, the best one can do is hope and pray.

We saw what happened last time these two teams faced off. Murray ran around, up, and down the Rams’ pass rush. He was sacked 3 times but made so many plays that they felt irrelevant.

Advantage: Cardinals

Cardinals skill position players vs. Rams secondary

The Cardinals have too many horses in the stable for the Rams to compete with. DeAndre Hopkins is back healthy. A.J. Green has looked revitalized in Arizona. Christian Kirk is having a career year in 2021. Oh, and fourth receiver Rondale Moore might be the second-most dangerous player in the league with the ball in his hands behind Deebo Samuel. And let’s not forget about Zach Ertz, who has been a massive addition.

The Rams are no pushover. Jalen Ramsey is still arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, and Darious Williams is having a fine season, even if he isn’t reproducing his outrageous 2020 output. Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp make for a serviceable safety duo as well. Overall, it’s a unity that matches up well with most teams.

But not against the best team in the league.

Advantage: Cardinals

Cardinals offensive line vs. Rams defensive front

Games are won and lost in the trenches more often than not. If the Rams want a fighting chance, this is where they’ll have to make a difference. Von Miller, Aaron Donald, Greg Gaines, and Leonard Floyd. That is undoubtedly a difference-making group.

I want to talk specifically about Gaines. I liked him coming out of Washington, but he’s been a menace on the defensive line this season, winning plenty of one-on-one matchups while showing off some surprising juice. Playing alongside the likes of Donald certainly puts him in a good position to succeed, but he’s flashing on his own.

D.J. Humphries is playing well at left tackle for the Cardinals, but the rest of the line is beatable. They aren’t awful by any means, but against the likes of Los Angeles, they’ll probably have Murray scrambling a bit.

Betting odds and game prediction

  • Spread: Cardinals -2.5 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: Cardinals -135, Rams +115
  • Total: 51

Quite frankly, I think the Cardinals are a better football team at this point, which in 2021 means they’ll get curb-stomped at home by an inferior team in a game with massive NFC playoff implications. The football gods are pulling strings harder than ever before. My head and heart say Arizona should walk away with the NFC, but nothing is that easy now.

But maybe Murray is destined to win the MVP this season.

Rams vs. Cardinals Prediction: Cardinals 28, Rams 27

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