Overview: After last week's shootout in Santa Clara ended the Rams playoff hopes, this game has an anti-climatic feel to it. However, it is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First of all, it will be the Ram's last game at the L.A. Coliseum, where the team played the last three seasons since returning from St. Louis and before that for several years during the team's first incarnation in L.A.
The ghosts of Jack Youngblood and Lawrence McCutcheon will be watching (OK, they are not dead, but you get the point).
Secondly, this will likely be the last game for at least a few current Rams. Eric Weddle, Andrew Whitworth, Dante Fowler, Corey Littleton, possibly Brandin Cooks, and Clay Matthews are among those who may not play for the 2020 Rams. Weddle almost certainly not returning next season, we can hope to retain at least one between linebackers Dante Fowler and Corey Littleton. There are even some reports that Todd Gurley will not be back, although that seems unlikely because his dead cap hit of $25 million would cost more than keeping him at $17 million. An outright release seems unlikely, but we shall see. If the Rams can arrange a "salary dump" trade, as they did with Aquib Talib a few weeks ago, Gurley's departure is a possibility, but we would not bet the farm on it.
Rams Offense vs. Cardinals Defense: The big challenge for the Rams all season has been protecting Jared Goff, and that will be critical again. One key matchup will be Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth against Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones. This battle could be personally crucial for Whitworth, who has said he wants to play again in 2020. Big Whit seemed to have lost something early in the year but played much better during the second half of the season. A good outing on Sunday would bide well for continuing his career. A bad game would have the opposite effect.
Some reports indicated that the Rams would have taken a good hard look at rookie running back Darrell Henderson in this game if he were healthy. However, he is out with an ankle injury, so that will not occur. Will the Rams feature Todd Gurley in what is mostly a meaningless game, risking further injury to a player that many suspects is not healthy? Then again, he will have six months to heal, so who knows.
Assuming the Rams can protect Jared Goff, he could have a big day in what has been a suspect Arizona passing defense all season. Rams tight end Tyler Higbee can set an all-time NFL record for most consecutive games with 100 yards receiving by a tight end. His odds look pretty good.
Rams Defense vs. Cardinals Offense: There are so many injuries in this matchup that it is hard to know who will be on the field.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who has given Arizona fans hope for the future with a strong rookie season, is listed as "questionable." Normally we should expect a player listed that way to play, but whether Arizona wants to expose their future star to a severe injury in a game that does not mean much is an open question. It only takes one hit to change everything. Just ask former Heisman Trophy Winner RGIII, who has never been the same after an injury-marred a promising start to his career as an NFL quarterback.
Jalen Ramsey is out for the Rams with a knee injury, and fellow starting corner Troy Hill also may not play. We may see several other reserves get extended playing time, especially at positions where the current starters may not return, including edge rusher and inside linebacker. That could mean guys like Samson Ebukam and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo could see many snaps.
We are going to check this box for the Rams, but given the number of players on both teams who may not play, that is just a guess.
Special Teams: Yet another Ram who may--or may not--be taking the field for the last time as a member of this team is placekicker Greg Zuerlein, who is a free agent. Johnny Hekker is still the best punter in the NFL, in our opinion. The Rams special teams, in part, have somewhat underperformed this season. They have not been bad but indeed have not dominated as they did in previous years. That is yet another reason the L.A. Rams will be watching the playoffs on tv this season. Maybe they can go out on a high note.
Prediction: Who will play in this game, and how motivated will they be? We get it, these guys are making enormous paychecks to go out and play a game every week, and they owe it to themselves, their teams and the fans to give it a legit effort. Even so, we have to wonder if the Rams will not be a bit flat in the final outing of a disappointing year. Coach McVay has said all week that the team still cares about finishing with a winning record and going out on a high note. Is that coach speak? Do the players feel the same way? We may find out on Sunday. Still, the Rams are the better team.
Rams 30 Cardinals 24