They’re at opposite ends of the NFC West standings, but according to the Week 15 NFL odds, the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams are evenly matched for Thursday night’s showdown at The Jones.
Jason’s record after Week 13: 34-46-1 ATS, 17-20-1 Total
It’s knuckle-up time for the Arizona Cardinals. They’re still on top of the NFC West at 10-3 (9-4 ATS), thanks to their 17-14 upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs (–2.5 away) in Week 14. But there’s no question that the Cardinals are playing at a lower level these days, thanks in large part to the loss of starting QB Carson Palmer. Winning the division is no guarantee. Making the playoffs might even prove difficult if Arizona doesn’t beat the St. Louis Rams this Thursday night (8:25 p.m. ET, NFLN).
It won’t be easy. The Rams (6-7 SU, 7-6 ATS) are coming off back-to-back shutouts over Oakland (+6 away) and Washington (+2.5 at home); Thursday’s NFL odds have opened with St. Louis laying three points at home, and as we go to press, the Rams have already been bet up to –3.5. Our consensus reports show 56 percent of early bettors sticking with St. Louis at the higher price.
The Hill People
In theory, the Rams can still make the playoffs. In theory. We knew they’d have a hard time getting out of the NFC West, even before they lost starting QB Sam Bradford (90.9 passer rating last year) during the preseason. But St. Louis has a pretty solid defense at No. 10 overall (No. 18 pass, No. 11 rush) on the Week 13 DVOA charts at Football Outsiders. Blanking both Oakland and Washington is darned impressive, however poor those teams may be.
The Rams running game (No. 11 in DVOA) has remained effective this year, too. Tre Mason (4.4 yards per carry) has emerged as the lead tailback ahead of Zac Stacy (3.9 yards per carry), and WR Tavon Austin (6.3 yards per carry) gives St. Louis an added wrinkle on sweep plays. Good stuff. And the Rams special teams are doing just fine at No. 10 in efficiency, with punter Johnny Hekker (41.5 net yards) earning a fresh six-year, $18-million contract extension.
So all the Rams needed was two things: a reliable quarterback, and a collapse from the other teams in the division. Shaun Hill was supposed to be that quarterback, but he was injured in the season opener and replaced by third-stringer Austin Davis. To his credit, Davis (85.1 passer rating) played far better than expected, but Hill was eventually given the job back in Week 11, and he’s been Bradford-quality for the most part (90.8 passer rating). The St. Louis Rams have beaten the football odds in each of the past four games at 3-1 SU. They even beat the Denver Broncos (–8 away) 22-7 in Hill’s first game back. Now, about that collapse…
Living with a Hernia
You can draw something of a parallel with Arizona’s situation sans Palmer (95.6 passer rating). The Cardinals have an excellent defense at No. 5 overall (No. 7 pass, No. 3 rush) through Week 13. However, Arizona’s special teams only rate No. 22 overall – losing punter Dave Zastudil (groin) in Week 5 didn’t help matters. As for Arizona’s No. 31-ranked rushing, Andre Ellington (3.3 yards per carry) has regressed in his sophomore season, dogged by a nagging foot injury, and now Ellington is out for the year with a sports hernia.
This could be good news in disguise. Kerwynn Williams stepped up against the Chiefs with 100 yards on 19 carries, so perhaps Arizona’s running game will be back up to snuff for the remainder of the season. But the bonus is still on QB Drew Stanton (79.0 passer rating) to produce at Palmer’s level. As with Austin, Stanton has had his moments, yet he hasn’t quite given Arizona’s offense the same spark as Palmer did. We’ll weigh the pros and cons of both teams and return later this week with our NFL pick against the spread.