After a weekend of lopsided contests, the wild-card round will wrap up tonight when the Rams host the Cardinals for the first playoff game ever on Monday Night Football. Los Angeles and Arizona split the season series 1-1, making this a rubber match between two really good teams – two legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
The Rams are at home after winning the NFC West and earning the No. 4 seed, but they enter this game coming off a heartbreaking loss to the 49ers in Week 18. The Cardinals also lost their season finale and come into tonight’s matchup having lost four of their last five games.
The winner will head to Tampa Bay next Sunday afternoon for a divisional round matchup with the Buccaneers. Everything is on the table for the Rams to make a deep playoff run, but it all starts with beating Arizona tonight.
Doing so would give Stafford his first career postseason win in four tries, continuing what’s been a terrific first year with the Rams. But if he and the Rams come up short, the narrative will still be about Stafford failing to win the big game against a quality opponent.
On paper, this is a game the Rams should absolutely win. They have the better receiving corps, offensive line and pass rush, and you could easily make the case that Stafford has played better than Murray.
But the Cardinals showed in Week 4 that when they can run the ball and stay on script, they’re a very difficult team to beat; they crushed the Rams 37-20 that week. The problem is their secondary is riddled with injuries, the offensive line has had its struggles in recent games and they don’t have DeAndre Hopkins.
The Rams have issues of their own, of course, with both of their starting safeties out due to injury. They also don’t have Ernest Jones at inside linebacker and the secondary has had some communication issues in coverage lately.
But even with those concerns, the Rams should beat the Cardinals at home tonight. They have to stop the run, prevent big plays when Murray escapes the pocket, protect Stafford from the Cardinals’ edge rushers and avoid costly turnovers – which might be the most difficult task on this list.
Stafford has eight turnovers in his last four games and the Rams were fortunate to go 3-1 in that span. Overcoming multiple picks or fumbles against a solid Cardinals team that started the year 7-0 will not be easy.
I think Stafford will clean things up, play within himself and lead the Rams to a win in the first postseason game ever at SoFi Stadium.
Final score prediction: Rams 31, Cardinals 26