The 10-3 Arizona Cardinals travel to take on the 6-7 St. Louis Rams on Thursday Night Football, and each team is headed in the opposite direction.
The Cardinals, despite a recent string of injuries, are looking to keep the NFC’s top seed and their one-game lead over the 9-4 Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. Bruce Arians’ team is looking to avoid a collapse, or even worse, missing the playoffs entirely after a 9-1 start.
The Rams would need to win out and have the Seahawks, Lions, Cowboys and 49ers lose out as well to help them get in.
Cardinals vs. Rams
December 11, 2014, 8:30 p.m.
Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Missouri
Rams by 4.5
Cardinals 31, Rams 14 on November 9 in Glendale, Arizona
The Cardinals have lost two of their last three games and are 2-2 since Drew Stanton replaced Carson Palmer after he tore his ACL in November. Stanton isn’t as impressive as Palmer, however, Arians’ offense is designed so that Stanton’s limitations (his accuracy) are designed by using the big play — the Cardinals regularly look to and succeed when it comes to “big play.”
They’ve also had to deal with the aforementioned injuries. Andre Ellington was shut down and placed on IR for the rest of the season with a reoccurring foot injury. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie suffered an ankle injury in last week’s game, but will play against the Rams. Larry Fitzgerald — who sees a resemblance of the San Antonio Spurs in this current Arizona Cardinals team — has been nursing a knee injury that has limited his play over the last three games.
The defense has also started to bend more, but still hasn’t completely broken. After not allowing 20 points in a game since Week 5, the Cardinals defense allowed 29 points to the Falcons on November 30. The unit got back on track last week with an impressive 17-14, come-from-behind home win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Scouting St. Louis
The Rams are coming off consecutive shutouts against the Raiders and Redskins, and have defeated the Seahawks, 49ers and Broncos this season. Before Week 11, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher switched back to Opening Day starting quarterback Shaun Hill after Austin Davis started from Weeks 2 through 10.
The Rams have found an offense in the last few games primarily due to the Rams receivers collectively getting on a hot streak and Tre Mason’s sneakily impressive rookie season. Mason has rushed for just 635 yards, but done so on an impressive 4.47 yards-per-carry — a mark that is hard to reach for rookies. The Auburn product finally seems like the player who can take over where Steven Jackson left off.
The defense has come alive. The re-emergence of Robert Quinn, the return of Chris Long from injury and the trade for former Buccaneers safety Mark Barron, which has helped fix a spotty secondary, has paid dividends for a Rams unit that is now currently 11th in the NFL in total defense.
Cardinals 20, Rams 17
There are a lot of similarities between these two teams; great defenses, good head coaches and each is starting their backup quarterback. Drew Stanton has received a lot of criticism, but there aren’t many backups in the NFL better than him.
The Cardinals are a resilient bunch, and know their backs are against the wall over these final three weeks. If they win one of their final three games, most likely, they’re in.
The game will be tight and low scoring, but Arizona does enough through the air to edge out a three-point victory, and all but assure one of the NFC’s six playoff spots in January. The Rams will drop to 6-8, officially eliminating them from the playoffs.