Arizona Cardinals (10-3 SU, 9-4 ATS) vs. St. Louis Rams (6-7 SU, 7-6 ATS)
NFL Week 15
Date and Time: Thursday, December 11, 2014, 8:25 pm EST
Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Mo.
TV: NFL Network, DirecTV 212
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Ariz. +3.5/St.L -3.5
Over/Under Total: 40.5
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Two teams that have had perhaps the worst luck with injuries thus far in the 2014 season, but yet have still put together two of the most impressive seasons in all of the NFL will clash in a classic NFC West division battle inside the Edward Jones Dome, when the 10-4 Arizona Cardinals put their NFC-best record on the line against the surging St. Louis Rams on Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network.
Both teams have already lost their starting quarterbacks this season, with the Rams Sam Bradford going down in the preseason and The Cardinals Carson Palmer going down four weeks ago, but a credit to both teams is that neither injury has stopped them from winning football games.
After a short two-game losing streak, Arizona got back into the win column with a nail-biting victory over the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday at home in the desert of Glendale, 17-14. The Cardinals have made winning ugly a weekly occurrence, and last week they hung on for dear life once again despite going just 1-for-5 in their offensive trips into the red zone and being forced to settle for 3-of-5 on field goal attempts in the win.
The Rams have put together a modest two-game win streak and theyve done it in spectacular fashion, busting out a giant can of whoop-ass on the Oakland Raiders two weeks ago (52-0) and following it up with a second consecutive shutout last Sunday on the road in Washington, 24-0. Anytime you notch back-to-back shutouts its easy to say the defense is carrying more than their share of the load, but with 13 sacks and seven turnovers in the past two weeks the Rams defense is making life miserable for anybody who straps it up against them as they play out the stretch in the final weeks of the 2014 campaign.
Just how good are the Rams and their defense playing these days? Well, you couldnt tell from the opening point spread which one of these teams is the 10-win team and which is the six-win one, as oddsmakers stacked the Rams as 3-point favorites at home on Thursday. Early bettors seem to agree with the number thus far too, as theyve actually bet it up to minus -3.5 at most sportsbooks with a few as high as minus -4 after the first 24 hours of it being up on the board.
The over/under total has also seen its fair share of early week line movement, as it opened as high as 41 at a few books and has already dropped to as low as 39.5 at some offshore sportsbooks on the Web. Although, currently most books are listing the total somewhere right in the middle, with most sitting at 40.5 with a few more days before kickoff.
Dont be fooled by the Cardinals and their 10 wins, as they have some serious concerns to address with their offense since the loss of Palmer. Drew Stanton is a career backup for a reason, and with a host of no-names at running back and a clearly ailing Larry Fitzgerald outside, Cards head coach Bruce Arians is somehow doing it with smoke-and-mirrors these past few weeks. With no running game to speak of (80 ypg 30th in NFL), more of the load is falling on Stantons shoulders and its just not a recipe for long-term success. With the way the Rams defense has been playing of late, the Cards should consider it a win-win just if Stanton makes it out of Thursdays game healthy, as they will pin it back and get after him in the leagues showcase game on Thursday.
After giving the starting QB job to young Austin Davis early in the 2014 season, the Rams have changed once again and given it back to journeyman Shaun Hill the past few weeks and Hill has done a decent job of managing the Rams offense. Rookie running back Tre Mason has sparked the Rams on offense in recent weeks and is starting to look like the reason Auburn made it all the way into the title game last season, while receiver Kenny Britt is bouncing back from a few down season to revive his career in St. Louis as the Rams have played inspired football under veteran coach Jeff Fisher. Hill will be to key to the Rams game-plan on Thursday, because despite injuries along the defensive line the Cardinals are still one of the toughest teams to run against (92 ypg 6th) and they just dont give up points in the red zone allowing just 18.3 points per game, the third-best scoring defense in the NFL.
These two have already met in their first meeting this season, in the aforementioned game that Palmer blew out his knee in back in early November, a 31-14, Cardinals victory at home in Glendale. But again, dont be fooled by the score. This was a 17-14 game for the Cardinals until a Patrick Peterson pick six and an Antonio Cromartie fumble returned for six made it a 17-point margin in the final five minutes. It was also one of the last games Davis played quarterback for the Rams, so any comparisons drawn from it will be apples and oranges.
St. Louis has won the last two seasons in the Edward Jones Dome straight up, and the two seasons before that both games in St. Louis were also close games won by Arizona by 3-points (23-20 in 2011) and 4-points (17-13 in 2010), so its unlikely this one will end in a blowout. Arizona has been the wager though, as they are 10-4 ATS in the last 14 head-to-head meetings and that includes a 7-3 ATS mark in the games played in St. Louis. However, neither of these teams seems to play well on a short week, as Arizona is 0-4 ATS on Thursdays over the years, and the Rams are just 1-4 ATS on Thursdays as well.
The under is also a solid betting trend wager, not only because both of these teams sports two of the finest defenses in the league combined with two offensively challenged quarterbacks, but also because the under is 9-4 going back through the last 13 meetings.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I dont think this game is going to be pretty by any means, as we may see the punter on the field for both teams more times than we see total points up on the scoreboard. In fact, this one may come down to which DEFENSE puts more points up on the board. A strip-sack and fumble return or a pick six from one of these backup quarterbacks is likely going to turn this game in favor of someone. The Rams are due for a stinker, and since the current point spread is giving me that extra half-point in favor of Arizona, Im going to take it. Ill take the hook and the Cardinals because even if the Rams do prevail at home, I dont think it will be by more than three. Im taking Arizona plus the 3.5-points.