As Week 14 comes to a close, every game feels that much more important as the playoff picture becomes increasingly intense. With only 4 more games to be played, the AFC and NFC are absurdly competitive as 6th and 13th place, and 6th and 11th place are only separated by 1 game, respectively. With a win tonight versus an up-and-down Rams, the Cardinals can essentially lock up the NFC West division and turn all their attention to securing a first round bye.
Of course that's easier said than done, facing a defense that includes Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Von Miller will give any offense fits.
Now, Let's dive into the official Monday Night Football Pick of the Week!
Week 14 Monday Night Football, with odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook:
Los Angeles at Arizona
Line: Arizona (-2)
Arizona's Outlook: Arizona has an incredible talent of finding ways to win in tough circumstances. Whether it was J.J. Watt going down early in the season, playing three games without both Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins suiting up, or being in arguably the NFL's most talented division, Arizona finds themselves in sole possession of first place in the NFC ahead of Green Bay and Tampa Bay. Arizona's offense this year is clicking on all cylinders and that's largely thanks to their offseason additions.
Obviously Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins are the reasons this offense is so dynamic, but signing veterans such as RB James Conner (12 rushing TDs), WR A.J. Green, and center Rodney Hudson, drafting a speedster like Rondale Moore, and trading for former pro bowl tight end Zach Ertz has made this offense more explosive. They have also developed into one of the hardest offenses in the league to contain. The defense has been a pleasant surprise for Coach Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. After J.J. Watt's injury, they statistically rank 3rd in pass defense and 15th in run defense. Luckily for them, the Rams haven't been able to run the ball this season like they have in years past.
LA's Recent Struggles: Let's address the obvious, this is a championship or bust year for the Los Angeles Rams. They are set to go seven straight years without a first round pick! That may be one of the craziest general manager moves in the history of the NFL. As much as I love the Rams going all in, they are 1-3 in their last 4 games. To make matters worse, their sole win was the laughing stock of the NFL in Urban Meyer. For the Rams moving forward, they need to address some offensive and defensive issues.
Offensively, the Rams have not looked nearly the same since Robert Woods ACL injury. Woods, the "X" receiver on the team was a phenomenal compliment to Cooper Kupp and quite frankly did all of the dirty work for a finesse Rams team. Whether it was run blocking, converting key 3rd downs or simply making his mark on the game with his ultra-tough demeanor, Robert Woods is not easily replaceable and that's been evident. Odell Beckham Jr. has been a nice breath of fresh air and gives the team an over-the-top option, but he hasn't been able to do the dirty work for this offense like Woods did.
Defensively, the Rams are a very stout team but they have a glaring weakness. They have proven to be susceptible to giving up the "big play" far too often this season. They make their opponents' lives a living hell for 90% of the game, but then allow the opponents to have 2 or 3 huge chunk plays to completely change the tone of the game. Maybe it's coaching, maybe it's a few too many mental lapses in the secondary, but the bottom line is they need to read their keys and clean it up moving forward.
Final Thoughts: There shouldn't be any surprises in this one. Both teams know exactly what is on the line. For the Cardinals, they can be in full control of their division and focus on securing the NFC. For the Rams, they need to win this game to get back on track. If they are able to upset the NFC-leading Cardinals and string together a few late wins to end the season, they were be a very dangerous team to face in the playoffs. A potentially red-hot Matt Stafford, Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr, Von Miller led by Coach McVay is not a team anyone would want to face in the NFC Wildcard game. The Cardinals are favored by 2 here, but they also have home field advantage so Vegas is essentially telling us that it's a pick'em. The Cardinals have been rolling all season long, and I cannot see myself betting against them versus a very streaky Rams team. At the same time, I really like the Rams to rewrite their season. With how even this matchup is, I would still lean taking the Rams. My official pick, however, is the under of 51. I think when two great coaches who are very familiar with each other matchup, a scheme-driven chess matchup ensues. This game should come down to the last possession with defense winning early, I like the Rams in a high scoring affair, but not as high as 51 points!
Game Prediction: Rams 27 Cardinals 21
Official pick: Under 51
Follow Jay Oppler on Twitter @JayOppler23
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