Arizona Cardinals @ Los Angeles Rams Preview: Familiar foes set to serve up a Wild Card shootout

Can Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp continue their amazing run or will Kyler Murray and the Cardinals have the last laugh? Planet Sport gives you the lowdown on the final game of Wild Card Weekend.

One of the biggest stories to come out of the extension of the NFL playoffs to 14 teams was the inclusion of the first Monday Night Football game in playoff history, with NFL fans hoping the Rams and Cardinals can see out Wild Card Weekend in style.

Each side won away from home in their clashes this season but Sean McVay's men ultimately ended up on top of the pile in one of the strongest divisions in the NFL, with the Cardinals claiming second place despite a late-season wobble.

A spot in the Divisional Round is on the line but the home side also have the added incentive that Super Bowl LVI will be contested at SoFi Stadium.

However, if they are to match the achievement of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and win the big one on home turf, they must not look beyond the Cardinals.

The Rams: All in for Super Bowl glory

Rams' Cooper Kupp

Say what you like about the Rams but no one can accuse them of lacking ambition as they look to improve on a Divisional Round loss to Green Bay last season.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford swapped the Midwest for the West Coast in a blockbuster offseason trade which involved Jared Goff and three draft picks heading in the opposite direction.

He was followed by wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr and Super Bowl-winning linebacker Von Miller, and given the draft capital required to make the Stafford and Miller trades happen, the Rams are certainly gambling with their future to achieve a Super Bowl victory this season.

Los Angeles are worthy favourites, having earned a 12-5 record and the fourth seed in the NFC, mainly thanks to the exploits of Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp.

Stafford threw for 4,886 yards, a total bettered only by Justin Herbert and Tom Brady, while Brady is the only QB who has thrown more than the LA signal-caller's 41 touchdown passes, 16 of which were hauled in by Kupp.

The Cardinals: Limping to the finish line

Even after 17 games no one knows quite what to make of Kliff Kingsbury's men, who raced to 7-0 in the autumn but lost four of their last five games to end up with one of the most disappointing 11-6 records in NFL history!

A Week 18 loss at home to the Seahawks was not the best preparation for their biggest game of the season, but prior to that, victory at the Dallas Cowboys did at least give Cardinals fans hope that there is some life left in their team.

The visitors will look once again to their rushing attack, with only the Eagles and Patriots having scored more touchdowns on the ground than the Cardinals' 23. And they are also ranked 10th in rushing yardage, with an average of over 122 yards per game.

The return of James Connor from injury last time out was a big boost to Arizona's chances of shocking the Rams, and Kingsbury will be hoping the former Pittsburgh man can recover from a couple of minor knocks in time for Monday night.

Rams vs Cardinals key stats

  • The Cardinals are the proud owners of the best record on the road in the NFL, winning eight and losing just one of their clashes away from Arizona.
  • Matthew Stafford has thrown a league-leading 17 interceptions this season and has eight picks in his last four games, leading to serious doubts whether he can replicate the heroics of his former college side Georgia against the Cardinals.
  • Kyler Murray is set to play his first playoff game in his third season at Arizona.
  • Murray has averaged 30.2 rushing yards per game this season, a significant drop from over 50 ypg last season.
  • The Rams defence has plundered 50 sacks this season, the third-most in the NFL.
  • An average of 55 points was scored in the two matches played between these sides this campaign.
  • Cooper Kupp finished the season leading all wide receivers in receptions, yards and touchdowns and he fell just 18 yards short of Calvin Johnson's single-season receiving.

Rams vs Cardinals key match-ups

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rondale Moore (4) and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk

If Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr can dominate the Cardinals banged-up secondary in the same fashion that Seattle's Tyler Lockett did last week, it could be a long night for the Arizona defence.

One glimmer of hope is that only six sides have conceded less than the Cardinals' 3,645 yards through the air, but they have shipped 30 passing touchdowns, the eighth-most in the league.

A lot will depend on the interception-prone Matthew Stafford's ability to protect the ball, but his cause should be helped by the fact that the Cardinals have just 13 interceptions to their name this season.

And speaking of picks, fresh off an "interception of the year" contender last week, Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey will be chomping at the bit to face a Cardinals wide receiving corps that has struggled since star wideout DeAndre Hopkins' injury.

In Hopkins' absence Christian Kirk has emerged as the Cardinals number one receiver, leading his side with 982 yards through the air, which means he should draw some significant attention from Ramsey on Monday night.

Ramsey is one of the NFL's best cornerbacks, with 16 "Passes Defenced" to his name, so his battle with Kirk could go a long way to deciding this game.

Planet Sport verdict

The Rams are worthy favourites to take the first step on a road they hope will lead back to SoFi Stadium, and will be confident of dispatching a Cardinals side who limped to the finish line in the regular season.

However, if Arizona can keep Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp quiet and Kyler Murray can repel the fearsome Rams pass rush, a Cardinals team who are always a tough proposition on the road can certainly pull off a shock.

Either way we're expecting an entertaining encounter under the lights, as these sides do seem to bring the best out of each other and the fact that it's the first Monday night playoff match should have everyone fired up.

Ultimately we reckon the Rams will have too much quality on both sides of the ball and should prevail in a shootout under the SoFi lights.

Prediction: Cardinals 27-34 Rams

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