You'd be hard-pressed to find a Week 13 contest more evenly-matched than the Sunday afternoon battle between the Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals. The Rams, 7-4, lost last week at home to the 49ers to fall back in the race to win the NFC West. Meanwhile, the 6-5 Cardinals dropped their second game in a row as they now cling to the final playoff spot in the NFC.
Here is a preview for Sunday's game between the Rams and Cardinals, complete with a free pick. Despite being the road team, Los Angeles is a three-point favorite.
Now two seasons removed from a trip to the Super Bowl, the Rams opened up their 2020 campaign with four wins in five weeks, the lone loss coming on the road to the Bills by three points. But the last few weeks have shown some inconsistency for L.A. Thanks to performances from stars like quarterback Jared Goff and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the Rams have beaten teams like the Seahawks and Buccaneers, the latter on the road on Monday Night Football.
However, they looked overmatched against teams like the Dolphins and 49ers during that same stretch. Now with a challenging lineup of opponents to conclude the season, including follow-up matchups with Seattle and Arizona, Sean McVay's Rams are hoping to get some consistency and punch their ticket to the playoffs.
As a team, Los Angeles is only 19th with a tick under 24 points per game, but on the seventh-most yards with 399. Like we've seen in the last couple of years, there's a good balance in the offense with the 11th-rated passing game and ninth-rated rushing attack. L.A. also boasts a top-10 third-down rate, converting on more than 45 percent of their attempts.
While the offense is good, and at times very good, in some areas, the Rams' defense is elite almost across the board. L.A. is giving up just 19.5 points per game, tied for the third-lowest in the NFL. Thanks to a pass defense that allows just over 200 yards and a run defense that gives up less than 95 yards on the ground, the Rams are second in average total yards given up. Los Angeles also has 34 sacks as a team, the third-most in football, as well as 11 interceptions.
In April 2019, the Cardinals were coming off of having the league's worst record and were slated to select number one overall. Since then, they added a new coach in Kliff Kingsbury, a franchise quarterback in Kyler Murray, and an elite wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins. That trio has helped the Cardinals compete for the playoffs in 2020, getting off to a strong 5-2 start that was capped off with an overtime thriller against the Seahawks.
However, since their bye week, Arizona has dropped three of their last four, with their one victory coming on a last-second Hail Mary to beat the Bills. Now just a game above .500, the Cards getting back in the win column, especially in a game against a team in their division, would go a long way towards returning to the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 season.
Kingsbury's offense is pretty solid across the board. Arizona averages 27.6 points per game, eighth in the NFL, but average the second-most total yards per game with just under 412. Their high yards total is thanks to a run game that gets about 160 yards per game, fourth in the NFL, and a passing game that ranks 15th. Arizona also cracks the top-10 when it comes to third-down percentage, converting just under 44 percent of the time.
On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals allow 23.5 points per game, which ranks 14th in football. They're somewhat average across the board, giving up a 16th-ranked 369 yards per game. They're fared a little better against the pass than against the run, ranking 13th and 22nd, respectively. But the Cardinals can make plays on defense, racking up 28 team sacks to go along with 10 interceptions.
The Rams enter Sunday with a 7-4 record overall, but a 6-5 mark against the spread, including 3-3 ATS on the road. L.A. loves playing Arizona, though, going 6-0 in their last six meetings and covering in all but one of them. Not only that, the Rams are 11-5 ATS in their last 16 road games and 13-6 straight up in the previous 19 NFC West showdowns.
The Cardinals come in at 6-5, but 5-6 ATS overall and 2-3 ATS at home. They've covered just once in their last five games and in three of their previous nine. In addition to struggling against Los Angeles, Arizona has only won three out of their last 11 divisional games.
For the Cardinals to pull off the upset, they are going to need a monster performance from Murray. However, the second-year quarterback is still hampered by a shoulder injury that has limited him in practice. Even if he were fully healthy, the Rams defense would present some challenges to him both as a runner and passer. Look for L.A., who has been playing the better football over the last month, to have a great defensive game and win this matchup on the road.,
Free Pick: Los Angeles Rams (-3).