RAMS (12-5) VS. CARDINALS (11-6)
When: Monday, 5:15 p.m.
Where: SoFi Stadium, Inglewood
TV/radio: ESPN; 710 AM, 93.1 FM, 1330 AM (Spanish)
Line: Rams by 3-1/2
Notable injury designations: Rams: S Jordan Fuller (ankle) went on IR; S Taylor Rapp (concussion) is out; WR Van Jefferson (shoulder) is questionable. Cardinals: RB James Conner (ribs), WR Rondale Moore (ankle), LG Justin Pugh (calf), DE Jordan Phillips (knee) and CB Marco Wilson (shoulder) are questionable; DE J.J. Watt (shoulder) is expected to return from IR.
What’s at stake? It’s time for the Rams to show what they’ve got after GM Les Snead and coach Sean McVay went all-in, acquiring QB Matthew Stafford last winter and WR Odell Beckham Jr. and LB Von Miller in-season, to try to reach the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13. McVay’s teams got past the first round in two of their three previous playoff appearances, and reached the Super Bowl after the 2018 season. Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury and QB Kyler Murray make their first playoff appearances, trying to extend their team’s breakout season.
Who’s better? The Cardinals had a case for most of the season, but that changed when the Rams beat them 30-23 in Arizona in December, a game in which WR DeAndre Hopkins was injured. The Rams won five of their last six, and the Cardinals lost four of their last five. Football Outsiders analytics rank the Rams’ offense and defense No. 8 and No. 5, respectively, and the Cardinals’ No. 15 and No. 6.
Matchup to watch: Rams LT Andrew Whitworth vs. Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones. Stafford was sacked five times in the 49ers game, and 13 times in the Rams’ last five. Jones had 10-1/2 sacks, and had six of the Cardinals’ 21 forced fumbles.
Rams win if … If blocking by the offensive line and an effective running game combine to keep the Cardinals’ pass rush from pressuring Stafford into turnovers. If the defensive front is able to contain Murray as it did in the Rams’ December victory. If the secondary, now minus both starting safeties, bounces back after allowing the 49ers 10.3 yards per pass attempt, most by a Rams opponent this season.
Fantasy pick: Stafford. If (that word again) he gets protection, the Rams’ QB could repeat his 23-for-30, three-TD, no-interception performance vs. Arizona last month. The Cardinals gave up 14 touchdowns and made one interception in their last five games.
Prediction: Rams 27, Cardinals 23. It’s going to be hard for the Rams to string together the three playoff victories needed to reach the Super Bowl after going 2-5 against playoff teams during the regular season. But they should get this win against a team that hasn’t been playoff-quality much since midseason.File source