Overview: The Los Angeles Rams can clinch a playoff spot with a win in this game, and on paper, the game is a total mismatch. The Jets are 0-13, and oddsmakers are picking the Rams by 17.5. Let's put it in perspective, that's the largest point spread in favor of the Rams since 2001 when favored by 18 points over the Carolina Panthers.
Having said all of that, this is the NFL, and big upsets happen regularly. Very few people expected the Giants to beat the Seattle Seahawks or The Washington Football team to defeat the then-unbeaten Pittsburg Steelers, but the underdogs came out on top in both of those matchups. Then there is the problem of the Rams playing down to the level of their opponents. Losses to the San Francisco Forty-Niners (twice) and the Miami Dolphins should not have happened, and an early-season win over a then-winless Giants team was uncomfortably close.
Games like this can consist of any given Sunday in the NFL. For example, Jared Goff getting into the spirit of the holiday season by giving away the football four times in a game. The Rams special teams, which have been shaky all season, are reverting to form. Yes, the Rams should win; but as the saying goes, that is why they play the games. You never know.
Coaching: Sean McVay vs. Adam Gase. Seriously, is this even a real question?
McVay is coming off a game where he outcoached Bill Belichick by Belichick's admission. Adam Gase is 0-13 this season and headed for the unemployment line. Yes, the Jets lack talent, but Gase has done little, either in New York or Miami, to prove he belongs among the 32 men who are NFL head coaches.
Rams Offense vs. Jets Defense: This is the side of the ball that Rams fans should probably be more concerned about in this game. Not so much because Los Angeles has a bad offense as that Jared Goff turns into Santa Claus with the football, giving it away repeatedly.
The Jets could celebrate Christmas with their first win of the season if that happens on Sunday. It may be the only realistic scenario for them to win this game, but it could happen.
Case in point—Dolphins game. Rams were the better team with the four turnovers that included a boneheaded pick thrown to a Dolphins defensive lineman. The stats showed that with the Rams dominating. But turnovers made the difference, and the Dolphins upset the Rams. Los Angeles hopes the good Jared Goff shows up on Sunday, the one who limits turnovers and makes the right decisions. It's not like the Jets have a good defense. They are rated 30th in the NFL and dead last against the pass. They are much better in rushing defense, coming in at 12th in the league.
As bad as this team is, they do have a standout in second-year defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. Williams was possibly the only Jet to draw serious interest from other groups before the trade deadline a few weeks back—so much so that the Jets came out and said he wasn't on the trading block. He has six sacks on the season and can be a disruptive force.
He'll line up across from Rams defensive lineman David Edwards, who pressed into starting duty for them for the second consecutive season after starting the year on the bench. Once again, Edward has played well, but Williams is no walk in the park. If he can pressure Jared Goff into making some bad decisions, the Jets could have a chance in this game.
Rams running back Cam Akers had a breakout game against New England, running 171 yards against the Patriots and earning him the NFC Offensive Player of the Week. The Jets gave up 174 yards on the ground against the Seahawks, a stat they will be looking to improve upon on Sunday. They need to, or they aren't likely to pull the upset.
The Jets secondary should be vulnerable to the passing game, although safety Marcus Maye is not a bad player. But the two young corners in Bryce Hall and Bless Austin don't figure to match up well against Rams wideouts Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Kupp and Woods both excel in YAC—yards after the catch. That means the Jets need to do an excellent job of coverage and tackle after the ball is possessed.
The Jets probably need to generate pressure upfront unless Hall and Austin can play their best games of the season.
The Jets defense needs to take the ball away and keep the Ram offense under control. That's a tall order.
Rams Defense vs. Jets Offense: Speaking of mismatches, this one has the potential to get ugly. The Jets offense has been, well, offensive (and not in the right way) this season. New York comes in dead last in NFL total offense, averaging 269 yards a game. The passing offense has been uglier than those old Joe Namath pantyhose commercials, averaging 166 yards a game. That's good for—you guessed it, dead last. They are likewise at the bottom of the league in points per game, with 14.
Many people are calling Jets quarterback Sam Darnold a bust at this point, although in fairness, it's not clear that Patrick Mahomes could do a whole lot with this unit either.
Even so, there are some matchups to keep an eye on, Jamison Crowder (if he plays) is probably their best receiver, and he could see a lot of Troy Hill. Typically the Rams match up Jalen Ramsey on the opposite team's best receiver, but Ramsey is a bigger guy who will likely lock onto the Jets Denzel Mims, a more physical receiver. Crowder was listed as questionable with a calf injury as of Friday, but it would be surprising if he doesn't play.
Of course, before any of that matters, Sam Darnold has to get the ball out of his hands. That could be a problem, considering the challenges posed by one Aaron Donald. AD leads the league in sacks with 12.5, and he's hit the opposing quarterback in every game this year except one. Making the situation even worse, the Jets offensive line, which is not one of the league's better, will be without two starters.
So what will the Jets do to contain Donald? It beats the heck out of us, but they better think of something. Jets head coach Adam Gase said this week that job one for every Jets lineman would be stopping AD. Of course, that is pretty much a weekly occurrence, with AD facing double and even triple teams and often getting held more than a tackling dummy. None of that has been beneficial, and it's hard to see why Sunday will be any different.
The Jets feature a possible future Hall of Famer in running back Frank Gore, the ageless wonder at running back. He's had a great career, but retirement must seem like a better idea these days. This battle may very well match the league's best defense against the worst offenders. Barring either an epic lapse by the Rams or [more likely] a rash of turnovers by the Rams offense, it's hard to see the Jets scoring 20 points in this game.
Special Teams: This is Ram's main weakness, although placekicker Matt Gay has been a step up over Sam Sloman and Kai Forbath [to be fair, Forbath had a limited audition]. Johnny Hekker deserves to be an All-Pro as a punter, but Nsimba Webster has been iffy returning kicks.
The Rams kick coverage units have not been great either.
Former Ram's kicker Sam Ficken expected to kick for the Jets on Sunday, although he is returning from injury. Ficken is decent, but who knows if he will be at his best. Former University of Miami star Braxton Berrios has his moments as a return man for New York.
Neither team is excellent in this area overall.
Prediction: 0-13 teams can be dangerous. After all, we are talking about a roster of NFL players here. The law of averages says the Jets should win a game at some point unless they want to join the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns teams that went 0-16. That rarely happens.
The other factors here are overconfidence and turnovers on the part of the Rams. Let's not forget, the Jets did almost beat a Dolphins team that upset the Rams and are one blown play away from having won against the Raiders. Yeah, the same Raiders team defeated the Chiefs once and came close to doing it a second time.
There is a reason the Rams favored by two touchdowns, having said all that. Los Angeles can be inconsistent, but they should win this game.
Rams 34 Jets 17
Overview: Rams Coach Sean McVay is 6-0 against Arizona, but this a much-improved Cardinals team. The Rams, meanwhile, are coming off an awful performance in a loss to a 49ers team they should have easily defeated. In particular, Jared Goff had a lousy game, throwing a couple of bad interceptions, including one inexcusably picked off by Niner's defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw touchdown. However, interceptions happen; however, getting intercepted by a defensive lineman should be an extreme rarity if it ever happens at all.
Goff did the same against the Miami Dolphins in Week #8. Even coach McVay who is rarely publicly critical of players, commented after the game last week that Goff needs to secure the ball.
The question, could Jared Goff become the next Jay Cutler, a quarterback who is physically talented but continually makes boneheaded decisions? Or just the evolution of a player who has a chance to be an elite-level quarterback at some point? Jared Goff has been both of those players at various times this season. The Rams badly need the good Jared Goff to take the field on today.
Coaching: Sean McVay got outcoached last week versus the 49ers. In general, his play-calling didn't seem up to par, and on Ram's previous series, when they could have won the game, it seemed wildly unimaginative. They ended up punting the ball away for what turned out to be the Niners game-winning drive against San Francisco.
He's facing a similar head man on the opposite side of the field, a young, offensive-minded coach in the Cardinals' Kliff Kingsbury. Many people believe that the Cardinals' hiring of Kingsbury was an effort to find the next Sean McVay.
The Cardinals also has one of the game's better defensive coordinators in Vance Joseph, and the chess game between McVay and Joseph when the Rams have the ball is yet another of the intriguing "game within the game" matchups that make this contest an interesting one. Similarly, the Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley is a rising star. What he will do to try to contain Murray and the explosive Cardinals offense remains to be seen, but Staley has made the right decisions more often than not this year.
Rams Offense vs. Cardinals Defense: The Rams still have one of the better offenses talent-wise in the NFL. But they haven't always played like it; last week is an excellent example. Jared Goff can't play like he played last week, or the Rams will lose this game; it's as simple as that. We are especially thinking of turnovers here, although the offense did not have a good match as a group. The Cardinals are without their best pass rusher in Chandler Jones, but they can still pressure the quarterback, having racked up three sacks in each of their last two games.
Meanwhile, the Rams offensive line had an off week against the 49ers after mostly playing well this season. There is a growing belief around the league that Jared Goff doesn't handle pressure very well. In fairness, no quarterback likes it, but Goff needs to either throw the ball away or take a sack rather than trying to be some magician when he's under pressure. A disturbing amount of Goff turnovers over the past couple of seasons have come because he didn't secure the ball when a defender has his hands on him. That needs to change.
Goff will need to keep his eye out for safety Budda Baker, a multi-talented playmaker on defense. Baker, much like the Seahawks Jamal Adams, can rush the passer, play up in the box like an extra linebacker, or make plays in coverage, including his fair share of interceptions.
Rams wideout Cooper Kupp will likely battle Cardinals corner, Byron Murphy, although Kupp could see Baker as well. We think Murphy will line up in the slot vs. Kupp, with fellow corner Patrick Peterson playing outside against Rams receiver Robert Woods for the most part. When Kupp plays well, the Rams seem to win. He only had 41 yards last week against the Niners. He needs to do better against Arizona.
Both of these units tend to be unpredictable. We'll check the box for the Rams, but it's close.
Rams Defense vs. Arizona Offense: There are a couple of fascinating matchups on this side of the ball, including an expected duel between arguably the best wide receiver and best cornerback in the game. No single trade in the offseason had as much impact on the league as the Cardinals acquiring wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans via a trade.
Meanwhile, Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey has been enjoying a stellar season, including clearly getting the better of Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf in a win a couple of weeks ago. The Kyler Murray to Hopkins connection has been one of the best in the league this season, and Ramsey needs to keep Hopkins under control if the Rams are to win this game.
Speaking of Murray, he's looking like one of the game's rising stars, a genuine dual-threat who can beat you with his arms or with his legs. He has 19 passing touchdowns and ten rushing touchdowns coming into this game, and you could argue that he is Lamar Jackson with a better arm. That's high praise considering Jackson was the league MVP last season.
The Rams linebacking corps, in particular, needs to be disciplined and do their jobs. That means the outside linebackers need to set the edge while inside linebackers Kenny Young and Troy Reeder maintain their lane discipline and don't get out of position.
Of course, there is always the little matter of a confident Aaron Donald upfront. Donald has had some of his best games against the Seahawks Russell Wilson, a player with a similar skill set to Murray. Donald is likely to see a lot of Cardinals guard J.R. Sweezy. Donald and Sweezy's became familiar with each other when Sweezy played for the Seattle Seahawks. Donald has mostly gotten the better of Sweezy in the past. No quarterback, even one as mobile as Murray, likes to see inside pressure, especially when A.D is applying it.
The Cardinals will be without future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, who is on COVID-19 restriction. But they still have plenty of other weapons, and the Rams secondary had better come to play on Sunday.
This game will strength against strength. We'll rate it as a tossup, and whichever team wins this battle will likely win the game, assuming the Rams don't get too generous with turnovers on the other side of the ball.
Special Teams: One of the few bright spots to come out of the Rams loss last week was the solid work of placekicker Matt Gay. He at least offers some hope that the year-long Rams kicking struggles have come to an end.
The Rams also have the league's best punter in Johnny Hekker. But the Cardinal's Andy Lee is no slouch either. And Arizona placekicker Zane Gonzales is a heady veteran who has faced pressure situations and come through more often than not. The Rams seem to be showing some overall improvement in special teams, but Arizona gets the edge here.
Prediction: The oddsmakers say Los Angeles by 2.5, but the Rams are so inconsistent that you can never be sure what you will get. If they can limit turnovers and score some points, they should win, but you never know with Jared Goff. Or even Sean McVay. The Rams coach is an excellent play-caller and play designer, but he can also be stubborn and overly pass-happy at times. Our advice for anyone tempted to bet on this game is "don't do it."
But for entertainment purposes only…
Rams 30 Cardinals 27