The NFC West takes center stage in week 15, first with the Cardinals at Rams on Thursday night and then with the 49ers at Seattle in the primary late game Sunday afternoon. St. Louis may be all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they have been a thorn in the side for contending teams all season. The Rams defeated the Seahawks, Niners and Broncos earlier this year, and have won their last two games by a combined score of 76-0. Arizona has a share of the NFL’s best record at 10-3, but has lost two of their last three, is 3-3 on the road, and is only 4-3 with Drew Stanton at quarterback.


Who: Arizona Cardinals (10-3) at St. Louis Rams (6-7)
When: 8:25 pm ET, Thursday December 11
Where: Edward Jones Stadium, St. Louis MO
Television: NFL Network
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson
Weather: Not a factor: (dome)

Points Scored: Cardinals 21.2 (22nd), Rams 21.9 (17th)
Yards per Game: Cardinals 325 (23rd), Rams 317 (27th)
Points Allowed: Cardinals 18.3 (3rd), Rams 21.9 (14th)
Yards Allowed: Cardinals 355 (17th), Rams 345 (11th)
Turnover Differential: Cardinals +10 (T-3rd), Rams +4 (T-10th)
Takeaways: Both teams with 23 (Tied for 7th)
Giveaways: Cardinals 13 (4th), Rams 19 (T-15th)


As is often the case, a backup quarterback comes in an initially does well, but once opposing defenses have some film to study his productivity dips. Arizona quarterback Drew Stanton has thrown more picks (five) than touchdowns in his four games since replacing Carson Palmer as the starter. Stanton ranks 29th in the NFL with a 79.0 passer rating, and the Cardinals are without starting running back Andre Ellington (1,055 yards from scrimmage, five touchdowns) due to season-ending hernia surgery. Kerwynn Williams came off the bench to run for 100 yards on 19 carries in last week’s victory over the Chiefs. Arizona needs another strong performance from Williams – who had never touched the ball in a regular season NFL game prior to last week – so that the Cardinals can keep from having to rely on Stanton. The Rams have a very aggressive pass rush, with rookie DT Aaron Donald coming on strong with a sack in each of the last four games. Donald leads all rookies in the NFL with seven sacks on the season, and provides an excellent compliment to DE Robert Quinn (10.5 sacks).

On the other side of the ball the Cardinals need to bottle up RB Tre Mason. Arizona is allowing only 92 yards rushing per game (6th best in the NFL) and 3.9 yards per carry. Mason was limited to 66 yards rushing on 20 carries against Washington last week after having run for 292 yards in the previous three games. Similar to Arizona’s own situation at quarterback, the Rams would prefer to not have to count on a quarterback who was not expected to play back in August to carry the team to a win. The Cardinals have been very successful in generating turnovers, and much of that is due to placing opposing offenses in predictable 2nd-and-long and third-and-long situations.


The Rams have posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time in 69 years, a feat that has not occurred in the NFL in five seasons. St. Louis is playing much better with Shaun Hill rather than Austin Davis under center. Hill is 3-1 as the Rams’ starter, and one goal line play against San Diego from being 4-0. In the last two games Hill is 29-44 with no turnovers, passing for four touchdowns and running for another. However, those two games were against two of the league’s worst teams: Oakland and Washington. This is arguably the best defense he and the Rams have faced all year, and Arizona has a bit of extra incentive aside from a division title and playoff aspirations. Arizona’s slump began in week 10 when Carson Palmer tore his ACL against the Rams.


The Cardinals have about a 99% chance of making the playoffs, while the Rams have about a 99% chance of not making the post-season. Arizona can clinch a playoff spot tonight with a victory, plus any one of these five scenarios on Sunday:

– the Eagles beat the Cowboys; or
– the Cowboys beat the Eagles, plus the Packers beat or tie the Bills; or
– the Cowboys tie the Eagles, plus the Vikings beat the Lions; or
– the Vikings beat the Lions, plus the Packers beat or tie the Bills; or
– the Vikings beat the Lions, plus the Niners beat or tie the Seahawks


Odds and Trends

St. Louis -6
Over/Under 40½
Money Line: St. Louis -230, Arizona +195

The line opened up with the Rams favored by 3½, but that has moved steadily up to six points as the public heavily (about 68%) backed St. Louis. Once the line moved up that high the late money came in on Arizona’s side, making the final total close to 50-50. The point total was even more heavily weighted, about 80% on the under. Interestingly that number barely moved, with the late money going with the over to finish with a 53-47 split.


As impressive as the Rams have been the last two weeks, I’m hesitant to place too much stock in those performances based on the quality (or lack thereof) of the opposition. However, how can you have faith in an Arizona offense that is now without both their starting quarterback and running back?

At 3½ points I was leaning towards the Rams, but at six points I’m thinking Arizona’s defense will do enough to cover. Although the under is the logical play, I have a feeling that a turnover or three – a strong possibility in this game – may result in some defensive scores that throw that logic out the window.

Pick • Rams 23, Cardinals 20
Cardinals +6 (one unit)
over 40½ (one unit)


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