I don't think that Rams-Cardinals is the best matchup on what's just a so-so Week 4 of NFL football. But it's definitely time to talk about Arizona, which looks like maybe the best team in the league thus far -- yes better than the New England Patriots or Green Bay Packers by some metrics. And I will admit this: I was totally wrong on the team, at least so far. I expected major regression. And it could happen if Carson Palmer goes down. He's averaging 268 yards passing per game, completing 63.6 percent for nine touchdowns. The Cardinals are currently +900 at Bovada to win their first Super Bowl and +500 to win the NFC title. They are +110 second-favorites to win the NFC West behind Seattle (-110).
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As for St. Louis, I expected the Rams to be a playoff-caliber team this year with a terrific defense and the additions of quarterback Nick Foles and first-round running back Todd Gurley. And there's still plenty of football to be played, but the Rams have not looked good at all offensively the past two weeks after opening with a surprising 34-31 overtime win over Seattle. Coach Jeff Fisher isn't going to be back next year if the Rams don't finish with a winning record. Fisher is just 21-29-1 in St. Louis. If this team were to move to Los Angeles next year, it would be a prime job, and ownership could land about anyone it wanted.
Rams at Cardinals Betting Story Lines
Now don't get me wrong, the Patriots and Packers have looked fantastic, and that could well be your Super Bowl matchup. I don't think anyone is going to Foxborough or Lambeau and winning in the playoffs, so Arizona needs to get home-field advantage over Green Bay at least. The teams do play in the desert in Week 16.
A pessimist might say that Arizona hasn't played anyone yet in dominating the Saints, Bears and 49ers. And, yeah, that's probably true. But consider this: Arizona was 6-0 with Palmer playing full games last year and obviously 3-0 this year. They are averaging 42.0 points and allowing just 16.3. That's a differential of 25.7. The NFL record is 19.7 over a full season by the 16-0 Patriots in 2007. Arizona's point differential of plus-77 through three games is the sixth highest since 1980 through that stretch, and four of the five prior teams have gone to the Super Bowl. Two have won it, the 1991 Washington Redskins and 1996 Green Bay Packers.
The Cards are also juggernauts in the red zone. They have scored 11 touchdowns and one field goal on 12 trips to the red zone this year, thus averaging 6.6 points per red zone possession in 2015. It's not a total fluke as the Cards averaged 5.3 points per red zone possession last year when Palmer was healthy.
This is really the same group of guys from 2014. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald looks five years younger, though, with 23 catches for 333 yards and five scores. Left guard Mike Iupati, the team's big offseason free-agent signing, hasn't played yet due to knee surgery. He might this week. Ditto running back Andre Ellington, who has missed the past two with knee trouble. But Chris Johnson may have taken Ellington's job as Johnson rushed 22 times for 110 yards and two scores last week vs. San Francisco. Defensively, the team hasn't missed highly-respected coordinator Todd Bowles, now the Jets' head coach, much at all.
St. Louis, meanwhile, is dead last in total offense. Foles threw for 297 yards and a score in that Week 1 win but has combined for just 347 yards with one TD and a pick in the past two losses. He has no good receivers. The running game is No. 29, but I think that may get better following the Week 3 debut of Gurley. He had six carries for nine yards and probably needs a few weeks to get going. There's really no way St. Louis should have lost to Pittsburgh last week in allowing the high-flying Steelers only 12 points and knocking out Ben Roethlisberger in the third quarter. The defense did its job that day. The offense had just 258 yards.
Rams at Cardinals Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , the Cardinals are 7.5-point favorites (+115) with a total of 42.5. The Cards are -300 on the moneyline and the Rams +250. On the alternate lines, Arizona is -7 (-105) and -6.5 (-125). St. Louis is 1-2 against the spread and 1-2 "over/under." Arizona is 3-0 ATS and 3-0 O/U.
The Rams are 3-7 in their past 10 vs. the NFC West. The Cardinals are 8-1 ATS in their past nine at home. They are 5-2 ATS in their past seven against the NFC West. The under is 9-3 in the Rams' past 12 on the road. The over is 5-0 in Arizona's past five following an ATS win. St. Louis is 2-6 ATS in its past eight at Arizona. The under is 10-4 in the past 14 meetings.
Free NFL Picks: St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals Betting Predictions
Arizona swept St. Louis last year. In Week 10 in Glendale, the Cardinals won 31-14. That was the game Palmer was lost for the season. Palmer left with 11:28 to play and the Cardinals trailing 14-10. The Cards had two defensive touchdowns after that and one big play from Drew Stanton to John Brown. In Week 15 in St. Louis, the Cardinals won 12-6. Stanton suffered a season-ending injury in that one (so Palmer beware here!). It was the first win for the Cardinals without scoring a touchdown since 2004 Week 17 against the Buccaneers.
I think the Rams defense will slow Arizona a bit, but I'm not seeing St. Louis score much. Give the 6.5 points and go under the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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