Arizona Cardinals at Rams: Who has the edge?


When: 1:25 p.m. Sunday

Where: SoFi Stadium

TV/Radio: FOX 11/710 AM; 93.1 FM; 1330 AM (Spanish); Sirius 85, 225

Line: Rams by 3

Notable injury designations: Rams: QB Matthew Stafford (questionable; concussion), LT Alaric Jackson (doubtful; knee), RB Malcolm Brown (out; hamstring), DL Greg Gaines (doubtful; elbow), LB Travin Howard (out; hip), C Brian Allen (questionable; knee), CB Robert Rochell (questionable; illness)

Cardinals: QB Kyler Murray (questionable; hamstring), S Budda Baker (questionable; ankle), C Rodney Hudson (out; knee), LT D.J. Humphries (questionable; back), WR Greg Dortch (questionable; groin), OG Cody Ford (questionable; illness), OG Max Garcia (out; shoulder), K Matt Prater (questionable; right hip/illness), CB Byron Murphy (questionable; back), LB Dennis Gardeck (questionable; ankle)

What’s at stake? Must-win situation in the middle of November. That’s where the Rams are after losing four of their past five games, and the Cardinals are in the same situation with head coach Kliff Kingsbury potentially on the hot seat. Yes, technically, the Rams wouldn’t be eliminated from postseason contention if they lose to the Cardinals, but a 3-6 record with eight games left would give the defending Super Bowl champions a daunting task. If they lose Sunday, is a 9-8 record enough to make the playoffs? The Rams would need to win six of their final eight regular-season games in that scenario. The Rams need a win Sunday to avoid the long-odds scenario.

Who’s better? The Rams because they have the mental edge after winning 11 of the past 12 games against the Cardinals. Both teams might not have their starting quarterbacks with Matthew Stafford in the concussion protocol and Arizona’s Kyler Murray dealing with a hamstring injury. This critical Week 10 game, with both teams in need of a win, could feature a starting quarterback matchup between John Wolford of the Rams and Colt McCoy of the Cardinals. If Murray does manage to play, he might not be able to utilize his athleticism to escape the pocket and extend plays with his legs, taking plenty of pressure off the Rams’ defense. Also, four of the five starting offensive linemen for the Cardinals are dealing with injuries and two have already been ruled out. This might be a game where the Rams’ defense finally applies consistent pressure on the quarterback with outside linebackers Leonard Floyd, Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis.

Matchup to watch: Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey versus Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Ramsey said after last week’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that he wanted to defend wide receiver Mike Evans in crunch time because he wants to face the best. Ramsey will probably ask defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to have him shadow Hopkins, but the Rams’ defensive system doesn’t operate that way. They play zone coverage that requires Ramsey to play in different areas. But if Hopkins finds a rhythm and the Rams are in desperate need of a game-changing play, Ramsey might need to shadow Hopkins. Two of the best players at their respective positions going one-on-one in a must-win situation would create must-watch TV on Sunday.

Rams win if: … They finally establish a running game, which they’ll desperately need if Stafford doesn’t play. The Rams’ committee approach at running back hasn’t worked this season, with the team averaging 68.4 rushing yards per game, second worst in the NFL. Rookie Kyren Williams will return this week to give the Rams another running back option along with Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers. The Rams haven’t shown they’re capable of establishing a productive ground game with a committee. They might need to pick one and give that running back more than 12 carries. If the Rams find a balance, that would create plays downfield, something they haven’t had much of this season. Last week, the Seattle Seahawks cruised against the Cardinals because they leaned on their running game.

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Fantasy sleeper: The Rams and Cardinals have struggled to run the ball, so stay away from the running backs. And probably do the same with the wide receivers not named Cooper Kupp and DeAndre Hopkins because they might be playing with backup quarterbacks. Take a chance on Rams tight end Tyler Higbee because the Cardinals have struggled to defend tight ends this season. It would, however, be a risky play because Higbee has compiled only three catches for 22 yards in the past three games.

Prediction: The Rams have been predictable for most of the season with their broken offense, making this an easy category for this reporter. But this game has plenty of unknowns with both starting quarterbacks listed as “questionable.” If Stafford doesn’t play, expect Wolford to do enough to give the Rams a much-needed 20-13 victory against the Cardinals. Beat reporter’s record: 6-2 for the season; 4-3-1 against the spread.



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