When this game first popped up on the NFL schedule, my first reaction was that it would be nice to have a free Thursday evening because this game wasn’t going to be worth watching. Turns out I was wrong. This isn’t the game of the week or anything, but it is far more interesting than it could have been.
The Cardinals are by far the biggest positive surprise of this young season with their unblemished record. The Rams have lost twice, but they are doing some things that are easy to like, and they have been a generally solid team. Given that both meetings last year were tight, hard-fought games, and both teams are better now than they were then, it suddenly seems as if the schedule makers knew what they were doing — or they just got lucky.
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The toughest thing to remember when dealing with this Arizona team is that they are not a fluke. Sure, they have had some luck. However, they have played a very legitimate schedule, they play disciplined defense, Kevin Kolb is maturing, and the coaching staff is completely in control. You can doubt that this team will win all their games, or even that they will wind up as a playoff team, but you can’t discount them or belittle what they have accomplished. I don’t necessarily understand how they are doing it, but they are unquestionably doing it.
Cardinals at Rams Betting Storylines
What happened last year has very little direct bearing on what to expect this year. If you do look back to last year, though, you would see that the Cardinals are 11-2 in their last 13 games. How many teams can match or better that record over that stretch? None. Not one. Not even the Packers, who are coming off a 15-1 season. Over that stretch they are an equally impressive 9-4 ATS.
What really stands out is how tight they seem to like their games to be — five of those 13 games have gone to overtime, and five more were settled by four or fewer points. Some would argue that that’s a sign that they aren’t as strong as their record would indicate. I look at it the other way. When a team keeps getting into tight spots, only tough, focused ones will handle the pressure and come out on top. The Cardinals have won all 10 of those tight games, so these guys are warriors who are very comfortable in the trenches.
We should see a lot of interesting things in this game. What we aren’t likely to see, though, are explosive offenses. St. Louis sits 27th in the league in total yards with just 287 per game. As underwhelming as that is, though, the Cardinals can only dream of offense like that — their 272 yards per game is better than only Jacksonville.
Each team has different issues. Arizona is absolutely brutal running the ball. Leading rusher Ryan Williams has just 131 yards, and they are averaging less than 70 yards per game. That puts a lot of pressure on the passing game and limits how effective the offense can be. The Rams aren’t running as well as they should be, but they are more than 20 yards per game better than Arizona. Their biggest issue has been through the air, where their 196 ypg is only 28th best. Sam Bradford is having his best year yet by some measures — completion percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating — but he still hasn’t proven that he is worthy of the top pick the Rams used on him three years ago.
With both offenses struggling, the kickers could play a big role in this one. Arizona’s Jay Feely is an established pro, and he’s 7-for-7 this year. That’s nothing, though, compared to the remarkable story that rookie Greg Zuerlein is spinning in St. Louis. He came out of Division II Missouri Western State, but he showed enough to get drafted. It’s remarkable that he wasn’t at a BCS school given the cannon he has attached at the hip. Last week he set a franchise record with a 58-yard field goal, then he broke that record later in the game with a 60-yarder. He’s the first kicker in NFL history to kick a 50-yarder and a 60-yarder in the same game. If he keeps it up then he could certainly be the difference here.
Cardinals at Rams NFL Odds and Betting Trends
The Cardinals are lukewarm favorites here, with about one point being given to the Rams. There has been a lot of movement within the small range of zero to 2.5 points, so the public is uncertain about exactly what they want to do with the game. The Cardinals are drawing about two-thirds of bets. The total opened at 38.5 and has been stable at that relatively low level.
Arizona is 6-0 ATS in their last six against NFC opponents. They are 4-0 ATS the last four times they have been road favorites of a field goal or less. St. Louis has not been a gracious host recently — they are 4-0-1 ATS at home against teams with a winning road record.
Cardinals at Rams Predictions and NFL Picks
The Cardinals are going to fall to earth at some point, but I’m not at all convinced it will be now. They have a strong defensive front seven that will make it a long day for the vulnerable Sam Bradford, and that should be the key here.
The biggest obstacle they have to overcome is maintaining their focus against a relatively weak opponent. Last week they didn’t take Miami as seriously as they should have until late, and it almost cost them. If they have learned from that then they will be in good shape here. I expect the Cards to win and cover in a game that will stay under the total.
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