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Kliff Kingsbury and Sean McVay have a relationship that seemingly echoes the Machiavellian philosophy to keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer.
It's hard for best friends to beat each other because they both know each other too well. Especially if one has helped mentored them in the highest point of their career, and then they have to duel for the same coveted spot.
That's probably why McVay screamed "Yeah! Let's go!" as he ran away from the postgame media conference podium to celebrate the Rams' Monday Night Football road win over the Cardinals on Dec. 13.
That victory split their regular season matchups, and knocked off the Cardinals first chance to clinch a playoff spot and potential No. 1 seed to make them 10-3. The Rams were still in the running for a high playoff seed as well, and McVay couldn't stomach going 0-2 to Kingsbury in the same year.
The Cardinals dominated the Rams, 37-20, in their Week 4 game on Oct. 3.
The Cardinals coach Kingsbury and Los Angeles Rams coach McVay will square off for the third time this season on Jan. 17, during the Wild Card round at SoFi Stadium, their second Monday matchup in just over a month.
The Rams (12-5) and Cardinals (11-6) are the NFC's fourth and fifth seeds after they both lost to the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, respectively.
Kingsbury has only beaten McVay once in their six total regular season matchups.
Kingsbury told the media on Monday that McVay helped to groom him as an NFL head coach when he was hired in February 2019, the same month McVay led the Rams to the Super Bowl and lost to the New England Patriots.
“He’s been awesome,” Kingsbury said. “We have a great relationship. Probably would be even closer if we weren’t in the same division, but it’s kind of hard to share some trade secrets whenever you’re playing each other a couple times a year.
"But I think the world of Sean. The job he’s done there. The consistency they’ve had since he’s been there, so it’s been fun to watch him have that type of success and I’m always pulling for him except when they play us.”
Kingsbury was widely perceived as McVay clone after he was hired because they aesthetically mirror each other.
The 42-year-old Kingsbury and 35-year-old McVay are photogenic young guys with stubble beards, former quarterbacks who developed into respected offensive minds, and are both viewed as players' coaches.
They have team rosters loaded with star power on their rosters, quarterbacks who were early-season favorite for the MVP award, and had a close finish for the NFC West title.
And geographically, the Cardinals and Rams are based just about 400 miles apart.
The only thing that separates Kingsbury and McVay is postseason experience, which the latter guy has plenty. The Rams have been to the playoffs in three of his first four years in L.A.
“You just embrace the challenge," Kingsbury said. "Obviously, we haven’t been a part of that yet, but we’ve played some really good football games and teams, and we’ve worked our way to this point. So it’s about taking that next step and embracing it.”
In addition, McVay earned NFL Coach of the Year honors. Kingsbury had a strong odds to win that award earlier this season before tapering off as the Cardinals became the first team in league history to lose six games after a 7-0 start, per StatMuse.
Plus, they finished the season with a losing 3-5 record at home, including missing five straight after dropping their season finale to Seattle.
“I think our guys understand we got the opportunity to play a division opponent to advance in the playoffs. We’re very familiar with them and they are with us and we know it will be a dogfight. And so I don’t think there’s anybody sitting around wondering what happened yesterday. We know what’s out in front of us, the opportunity we have and so all the focus is on moving forward.”
Granted, losing DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt, and being marred by COVID-19 issues and injuries didn't help either. But most teams dealt with losing key players to injuries and COVID this season, and the Cardinals' saving grace is their 8-1 road record.
The Rams won the battle for the NFC West. But there's more on the line with two frenemies and their teams winning the war next Monday.
“I think it comes at the right time with some of the lingering injuries we’ve had with some key contributors, trying to get them back on the field," Kingsbury said about having an extra day this week to prepare for their playoff game.
"I think it will be good for us to reset with that extra day, prepare to try and win this week. It’s sudden death, one-and-done if you don’t get it done and so that is our sole focus. We’re not worried about anything past Monday night.”
RB Conner's rib injury update
Kingsbury said James Conner is still being evaluated for his rib injury.
The Cardinals' top rusher and touchdown leader was sidelined early in the fourth quarter in the Cardinals' home loss to Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
"We'll see how that kind of shakes out over the next couple of days,” Kingsbury said. “Hopefully it’s not too serious, but we won’t know for a couple days.”
Conner was a game-time decision for their third consecutive game because of his lingering heel injury.
Kingsbury said he played Conner to get him "some good work, and wanted to get him feeling good, comfortable again, knock some of the rust off" after his two-game absence against the Indianapolis Colts on Christmas and Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 2.
Cardinals activated LB Tanner Vallejo from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. They also released defensive lineman Zach Kerr from the active roster and linebacker Nate Hall from the practice squad.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Cardinals' Kingsbury, Rams' McVay are close friends, enemies kept closer