Each day LT Profits Sports seeks an overlay side that has a better chance of cashing than its spread, offering long term value. Here is their Side Value Play for Thursday.
In a case where the standings do not paint an accurate picture, the home standing last-place team gets our call on Thursday Night Football over the first place team in the NFC West when the division leading Arizona Cardinals (10-3, 3-3 away) pay a visit to those cellar dwelling but streaking St. Louis Rams (6-7, 3-3 home) at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, MO at 8:25 ET in a game televised nationally on NFL Network.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has St. Louis as a home favorite for this contest with the current line at -4½ with odds of -101.
Trying to Hold onto Division Lead
After a 9-1 start that some felt made the Cardinals the team to beat in the NFC, they lost back-to-back games on the road at Seattle and Atlanta before regrouping to edge the Kansas City Chiefs 17-14 back at home last week. However, the complexion of the NFC West has changed as at 10-3, the Cardinals only lead the hard-charging defending champion Seahawks by one game with Seattle seemingly beginning to peak.
Then there is the case of the Rams, who would be legitimate playoff contenders if they played in any other division but are bringing up the rear in the West at 6-7 despite resembling the best NFL picks in the entire league in recent weeks. In fact, the Rams are on a 4-0 ATS run that has included back-to-back shutouts the past two weeks while outscoring those opponents by a combined 76-0!
Dominant Defense and Efficient Offense
Just ask the Oakland Raiders and the Washington Redskins if the Rams are a true last place team, as those were the victims in the aforementioned last two shutouts. The St. Louis defensive line is as good as any in football as that unit has averaged 4.5 sacks and helped create 2.5 turnovers per game over the last six games, and that was while allowing a grand total of 88 rushing yards in those last two shutout wins combined. That Rams’ front seven could potentially dominate an Arizona offensive line that has had protection issues all year.
But another key to the turnaround in the Rams season has been the improvement of the offense since Shaun Hill took over as the starting quarterback in place of Austin Davis. That is not to say that Davis did not have his moments as he did have a couple of 300-yards passing games, but he took far too many chances and was prone to turnovers.
Hill may not have the cannon-arm that Davis possesses, but he has been a better game manager in his last four starts (3-1 straight up, 4-0 ATS) with just two interceptions vs. six touchdown passes, and that has made the offense more consistent. It also helps that rookie running back Tre Mason and wide receiver Stedman Bailey have emerged, giving St. Louis a couple of potential game-breakers after it lacked any earlier in the season.
MASH Unit on Both Sides of the Ball
So, when was the last time a last place team was favored over a first place team in a game that the first place team desperately needs? That is a fair question but it also speaks to the state of these two teams right now, not only because the Rams are an emerging team reaching its potential but also because the Cardinals are decimated by injuries all over the field.
Starting with the offense, quarterback Carson Palmer was lost in a 14-6 win over the Detroit Lions on Novembers 16th, which was the last time Arizona had won a game before the rather unimpressive victory last week. Backup quarterback Drew Stanton has not looked good while completing only 54.5 percent of his passes with a ho-hum ratio of seven touchdown passes vs. five interceptions.
The Cardinals also lost running back Andre Ellington for the season, and while Kerwynn Williams came out of nowhere with 100 rushing yards on his first 19 carries of the season last week, he cannot be expected to replicate that here the way the St. Louis run defense has been playing. That means that Arizona will lean more heavily on Stanton, and we do not like those prospects vs. the Rams’ pass rush.
Moving on to the defense, the Cards have been without Daryl Washington and Darnell Dockett for practically the entire season and they then lost Tyrann Mathieu a couple of weeks ago. Now, they lost Antonio Cromartie to an ankle injury vs. the Chiefs on Sunday and he is doubtful for this game with the short week.
Revenge in Mind
Arizona was a much healthier team when it beat the Rams 31-14 back home in Phoenix earlier this season, and that final score was deceptive as St. Louis led entering the fourth quarter and the Cardinals were only leading 17-14 before scoring two defensive touchdowns in the game’s final five minutes. One of those was an interception return of the since benched Davis, and Hill is more unlikely to force those kinds of dangerous passes.
So we recommend ignoring the standings here and backing the last place Rams, and as favorites no less, to cover the spread at home vs. first place Arizona on Thursday.
NFL Pick: Rams -4½ (-101)