The NFL regular season comes to a close on Sunday, but not before a divisional matchup with massive playoff implications. The 8-7 Arizona Cardinals need a win along with a Bears loss to make the postseason, while the 9-6 Los Angeles Rams can make the postseason with a win but will be severely shorthanded in the process.
Here is a look at the stats to know and a brief injury update, along with betting trends and a free pick. Right now, Arizona is a three-point favorite on the road.
The Cardinals enter the week in an unenviable position; they'll be playing in a must-win game while also relying on outside help. Arizona will also be without a few key players come Sunday.
Cornerback Johnathan Joseph, linebacker Chandler Jones, defensive end Corey Peters, and free safety Chris Banjo are among those that have been ruled out. Additionally, both wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald are questionable, as is linebacker Haason Reddick and free safety Budda Baker.
Fortunately, quarterback Kyler Murray was taken off the injury report and should be a full-go for Sunday. He leads a Cardinal offense that cracks the top-10 with 26.9 points per game. Their bread and butter is the run game, as their 146 average rushing yards is the big reason they have the second-most yards per game on offense with around 407.
On the defensive side, the availability of Reddick and Baker will be crucial. They are the faces of a defense that allows 23.3 points per game, 14th in the NFL. Their 374 yards allowed also ranks 18th, even though their pass defense is within the Top 10, thanks to a total of 46 sacks.
The Rams are still in control of their own playoff destiny but will be missing a few hugely-important players, most notably quarterback Jared Goff. He injured his thumb last weekend against Seattle and has been ruled out.
Joining Goff on the inactive list are a pair of significant offensive weapons; wide receiver Cooper Kupp and running back Darrell Henderson, while defensive tackle Michael Brockers will also be out. Also, running backs Malcolm Brown and Cam Akers are considered questionable, as is offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth.
With all those injuries on offense, new quarterback John Wolford will have his work cut out for him. Wolford, the third-year quarterback from Wake Forest, will oversee an offense that ranks 19th in the NFL with 23.6 points per game. However, L.A. ranks 10th with nearly-391 total yards on offense and a 43.6 percent success rate on third downs.
If the Rams are going to win this game, defensive standouts Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey will need to take charge of one of the best defenses in football. The Rams are third with 19.3 points allowed per game, but league leaders in passing yards allowed and total yards allowed with just 308 per game. Only the Steelers have more than the 49 sacks the Rams boast as a team.
Beginning with the visitors, the 8-7 Cardinals are 7-8 ATS, but 4-3 on the road both straight up and ATS. However, they have failed to cover in six of their last eight games and in their previous seven games against the Rams. Arizona has also won just three of their previous 13 games against opponents from the NFC West.
Meanwhile. the 9-6 Rams are 8-7 ATS, including a 5-2 home record overall and 4-3 home mark ATS. They have won nine of their last 12 conference games and eight of their last 10 games overall against Arizona. But Los Angeles has only covered once in their previous seven Week 17 contests, and in two of their last seven games played on a Sunday.
Regardless of who wins, this game should be a low-scoring affair between Wolford under center for the Rams and Murray at less-than 100 percent against a ferocious defense. However, I'm siding with the better quarterback and a team that more desperately needs the win.
Give me the Cardinals to leave SoCal with a victory and potentially a playoff berth.
Free Pick: Arizona Cardinals (-3).