The Arizona Cardinals are looking to become the first team in the National Football League to clinch a playoff berth when they host the Los Angeles Rams tonight.
The Rams, who have lost three of their most recent four games, are hoping to pull within one game of the NFC West Division leaders. A loss, drops Los Angeles three games back and in the dogfight for a Wild Card spot with more than half of the Conference.
So, who has the edge in this one?
The Cardinals are the better team, at home, and facing a struggling Los Angeles squad that they were able to beat earlier this year at SoFi Stadium when the Rams were healthier. Tonight, the Rams are facing a number of key players missing from their lineup, most notably is the loss of Jalen Ramsey, the defensive back out tonight while under the Covid protocol. The loss of Ramsey could be huge given the Cardinals have All Pro Wide Receiver DeAndre Hopkins catching passes from Kyler Murray.
So, take the Cardinals and give the 3 points?
This is a game that the Cardinals want but the Rams are more in need of. For the Cardinals to win this game they would be reaching a level of rarified air that they have never achieved in team history.
To face a division foe that has comparable talent this late in a season with a chance to go three games up in the standings is an accomplishment only teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 70’s, San Francisco 49ers of the 80’s and New England Patriots of the past 20 seasons have been able to predictably accomplish.
It takes a very special combination of talent and motivation to succeed as a division leader in the spot the Cardinals find themselves in tonight.
Are the Cardinals good enough to do it?
Are the Rams good enough to prevent it?
Los Angeles has long ago declared 2021 their season to excel. It started in the off-season when they shipped a boatload of draft choices and their starting quarterback to Detroit to get the man they thought would take them to the promiseland, Matthew Stafford. Then, mid-season, they shipped more draft selections to the Denver Broncos to obtain Super Bowl 50 Most Valuable Player Von Miller to further strengthen an already talented defense.
But, the only game they have won since acquiring Miller was last week’s romp over the talent challenged Jacksonville Jaguars. That victory ended a streak of five straight point spread losses and has the Rams show up in Arizona tonight not with the swagger of a team holding all the cards, but rather alert that they are an underdog on a talented opponents home field.
This is a real test for Stafford.
In Detroit, he only twice led the Lions to the playoffs and has never won a postseason game. Still, the Rams liked what they saw and thought all Stafford needed to join the elite quarterbacks of the league in winning percentage was a better team around him.
He now has that better team.
Will it be enough?
It better be, or the Rams, who have surrendered so much talent for the future with the trading of draft choices to assemble this roster, have a lot of explaining to do.
Qoxhi Picks: Los Angeles Rams (+3) over Arizona Cardinals