Most oddsmakers are picking the Rams by about a touchdown in this game, and on paper you certainly have to like their chances. They won the first game in London by a 33-0 score that could potentially have been even more one sided. They are 8-3, while the Arizona Cardinals are 5-6.
The Rams are coming off an impressive win over the New Orleans Saints that they dominated more than their six point margin of victory would indicate. But...being the nervous sort that I am, I do have some concerns about this game. Will the Rams be looking ahead to the showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles next week? Will they be a little flat coming off a big win over the Saints? How about overconfidence against a team they trounced 33-0 (and it could have been worse) earlier this season? As for the Cardinals, they are on a little bit on a roll following a big win last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a likely AFC playoff team. They will no doubt be out for revenge, and they still have some faint playoff hopes. No NFL game is ever a slam dunk--unless it's against the Cleveland Browns--and there is a possibility of an upset. A few ''experts'' are actually predicting that..
Rams Offense vs Cardinal Defense
The Cardinals do have some talent on defense. Chandler Jones comes in with 12 sacks, Patrick Peterson is an elite cornerback, and Karlos Dansby is a smart, veteran linebacker. But they face a tall task in slowing down a Rams offense that is explosive and can beat you on the ground and through the air. MVP Candidate Todd Gurley ran for 106 yards in the London game, and the Rams rushing attack totaled 197 yards. A similar total on Sunday will probably spell victory for the Rams. Gurley is also a huge threat catching the ball out of the backfield. Rams leading receiver Robert Woods is still out, but it didn't seem to matter much last week as Jared Goff threw for 355 yards against the Saints. Peterson will likely be locked up with Rams receiver Sammy Watkins, which will be one of the more interesting match ups in this game. But even if Peterson can win that battle, The problem the Cardinals face is having only one Patrick Peterson against one of the deepest and best receiving corps in the league. Cooper Kupp had eight catches for 116 yards against New Orleans, and he seemed to be open all day long. Josh Reynolds had a touchdown catch and 37 receiving yards, and my guess is that we will see more of him on Sunday. Pharoh Cooper has shown what he can do in the open field as a return man, if Jared Goff can get him the ball. Tavon Austin has mostly been used as a decoy this year, and his yardage totals are pedestrian. But he is also one of the fastest men in the NFL, and as the old saying goes ''speed kills.'' Throw in the receiving skills of Todd Gurley out of the backfield as well as tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, and I just think the Rams have too many weapons for this Cardinal defense. That's especially true if Gurley can run the ball effectively, opening up the play-action passing game.
Cardinals Offense vs. Rams Defense
Blaine Gabbert will start at quarterback for Arizona. He threw for 236 yards with an interception against Jacksonville. He's no Carson Palmer, and I personally consider him average at best. He did beat the Rams last season (with the San Francisco 49ers), but this is a very different Rams team, with a completely different defensive scheme. The Cardinals do have future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver (who is still a very good player), and Jermaine Gresham is a decent tight end. But starting wide receiver John Brown is out with a toe injury, and the rest of the Cardinal receivers don't scare anyone. The last time I checked Adrian Peterson's playing status was listed as a ''game time decision'' because of a neck injury. He's been up and down this season for Arizona, but he is the Cardinal's only serious rushing threat. The other big problem Arizona faces is that their O-line just isn't very good. Mr. Gabbert, meet Mr. Aaron Donald. Not to mention Mr. Micheal Brockers and Mr. Robert Quinn. Quinn, by the way, played easily his best game of the season last week against the Saints. If he is getting it figured out, this defense could be truly scary. At the other outside linebacker spot, Conner Barwin is out with a broken forearm. Rookie Samson Ebukam, will start in his place. Ebukam is a freakish athlete who has been timed at 4.45 in the forty yard dash. That's faster than most NFL wide receivers or cornerbacks. Some scouts consider his football skills to be a little raw, but he played well last week against the Saints.
Greg Zuerlein was named the NFC special teams player of the month in November, winning that award for the second month in a row. He's the first guy to win that recognition in two straight months since....well, nobody actually, he is the first ever. Johnny Hekker is the best punter on planet earth. Last time I checked, Pharoh Cooper was leading the votes for return man from the NFC for the Pro Bowl. Add the coaching of Special Teams coach John ''Bones'' Fassel, and it's not hard to see why the Rams have the best special teams in the NFL.
As is mentioned in the ''overview'' section, there are reasons to think the Cardinals could win this game. But the Rams clearly are better than Arizona in all phases of the game, and unless they come out flat, or go into turnover mode, they should win and run their season record to 9-3.
Rams 35 Arizona 20
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