What is needed to know
The Los Angeles Rams clinched the NFC West despite a losing effort in the regular-season finale to the San Francisco 49ers, thanks to the Arizona Cardinals dropping their Week 18 contest to the Seattle Seahawks.
However, the Rams’ loss to San Francisco drops them in the playoff seeding, bumping them down to the No. 4 seed – two spots lower than previously seeded ahead of Sunday’s slate of games. That means, the Rams will host the Cardinals in the Wild Card Round for their third meeting of the season. Kickoff from SoFi Stadium is set for 8:15 p.m. ET.
The Cardinals had a breakout season under third-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury. They were the last undefeated team standing well into the season, but a string of injuries eventually caught up to them and saw them lose a few games in quick succession. They bounced back but have limped into the playoffs, losing four of their last five games dating back to Week 14. The defense has allowed 28.4 points per game in that span while the offense is scoring over a touchdown less, 21.2 ppg.
The Rams are built on offense, as we all expected. Matthew Stafford has come into the fold and led LA to the 7th ranked offense in the NFL, scoring over 27 points per game. Cooper Kupp has nearly eclipsed the 2,000-yard receiving mark and has 16 total touchdowns, so the Cards will need to wrap him up to have any chance.
Reasons why Rams can win
Quarterback Matthew Stafford played exceptionally well in his first season in Los Angeles. Stafford finished the year ranked third in the NFL in passing yards (4,886), second in passing touchdowns (41), and fourth in QBR (63.5). The 2009 No. 1 overall pick has tossed at least three passing touchdowns in nine games during the regular season. Stafford has also thrown for more than 300 yards in seven games. The Georgia product has one of the strongest arms in the league and can make any throw on the field. A significant advantage if the Rams have to play from behind.
Reasons why Cardinals can win
Quarterback Kyler Murray is one of the best playmakers in the NFL. Murray has completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,787 passing yards with 24 passing scores. He has blazing speed and can force defenders to miss in the open field. Murray has added 423 yards on the ground with another five rushing touchdowns. The Oklahoma product is averaging 301.2 passing yards per game. Running back James Conner has been a touchdown machine for Arizona. Conner finished the year tied for second in the NFL with 15 rushing touchdowns. The Pittsburgh product leads the team with 202 carries for 752 rushing yards. Receiver Christian Kirk is a reliable weapon for Arizona and leads the team with 77 receptions for 982 yards with five touchdowns.
NFL Wild Card Weekend Pick: Rams -4
Arizona has been struggling down the stretch and losing games by an average of a touchdown. Despite Stafford’s recent propensity for turnovers, their defense and explosive offensive playmakers should be enough to get the job done at home against this Cardinals team that has lost four of their last five games, each by six or more points. Finally, and most importantly, I give the head coaching edge to Sean McVay over Kyle Shanahan. With two talented teams, home-field and head coach advantages should be enough to pick up the victory.