Free Expert NFL Picks: Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 12/9/2014
It's the penultimate Thursday night NFL game of the 2014 season, and you might want to enjoy the Cardinals-Rams matchup because we are stuck with the worst Thursday game of the year in Week 16: Titans-Jaguars. I suppose that has 2015 draft ramifications, but that's about it.
Certainly this game means everything for Arizona (10-3), which leads Seattle by a game atop the NFC West and currently would be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Cards hold a tiebreaker over Green Bay (also 10-3) based on best winning percentage in conference games. Arizona is 7-2 and the Pack 7-3. However, Sportsbook.ag lists Seattle as the -220 NFC West favorite with Arizona at +180. That's obviously because the Seahawks are surging and they visit Arizona next week. A win would give Seattle the head-to-head tiebreaker via a season sweep. So Arizona is a huge 49ers fan this Sunday when they visit the Pacific Northwest. Arizona closes at San Francisco, which might mean nothing to the Niners now, while the Seahawks host St. Louis in Week 17.
The Rams (6-7) only have the motivation of playing spoiler, getting momentum for next year and perhaps finishing with a non-losing record for the first time since going 8-8 in 2006. The team's last winning record was in 2003. St. Louis is playing as well as anyone right now, and that probably assures that head coach Jeff Fisher would return next season, although I don't think he ever was in much trouble. In one way losing out would be better for St. Louis to get a better draft pick and perhaps land a franchise QB like a Jameis Winston or Brett Hundley. There's just about no chance that former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford, lost for the year in the preseason, will be back in 2015.
Cardinals at Rams Betting Story Lines
I expected the Rams to have a Top-5 defense this season. Things didn't start that way -- losing star end Chris Long for a few months early in the year didn't help -- but no defense is playing better right now. In Week 11, the Rams held high-powered Denver to just seven points in a big upset. In Week 13, St. Louis destroyed Oakland 52-0, forcing five turnovers and holding the Raiders to 244 yards. Last week the Rams went to Washington and won 24-0. St. Louis had seven sacks, forced two turnovers and held the Redskins to 206 total yards. It was the first back-to-back shutout wins for the franchise since 1945 and first in the NFL since the 2009 Cowboys.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, whom the Rams chose at No. 13 overall instead of Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater, will get some Defensive Rookie of the Year votes. Donald had another sack against Washington, giving him one in each of the past four games and seven for the season. His seven sacks lead all rookies and are tied for fourth among all defensive tackles. Not bad for a guy who didn't make his first start since Week 6. The Rams lead the NFL with 34 sacks since Week 7 after having just one in the first six weeks.
Offensively, as mentioned the Rams still need a quarterback and a No. 1 receiver, but they found their running back in the third round back in May's draft in Auburn's Tre' Mason. He also has only been starting recently and his 628 rushing yards lead all rookies.
Arizona also has a tremendous defense, ranking No. 3 in points allowed (18.3 per game) and No. 5 against the rush (92.1 per game). The Cardinals haven't allowed more than 20 points in any of their 10 wins. In last week's 17-14 home win over Kansas City, that unit forced two big turnovers. Unfortunately, cornerback Antonio Cromartie was hurt in the game and could sit in this one.
It's on offense where the Cardinals have a problem. Backup QB Drew Stanton is a good backup. That's about it. He's just too inaccurate to be a full-time starter. Against the Chiefs he completed just 15 of 30 for 239 yards and a TD, although he didn't turn it over. He's completing an NFL-low 54.5 percent on the season. That's not even acceptable in the Mid-American Conference. Stanton doesn't get much help from a running attack that ranks 30th. However, the Cards may have found a diamond in the rough last week in Kerwynn Williams, who rushed for 100 yards on 19 carries a few days after being promoted from the practice squad. Starting tailback Andre Ellington is out for the season.
The Rams might have killed the Cardinals' Super Bowl hopes in Week 10 in a 31-14 loss in the desert. That was the game in which Arizona's Carson Palmer went down with his season-ending torn ACL. Stanton relieved him and threw a 48-yard TD pass with 7:40 left to give Arizona a 17-14 lead. The Cards then tacked on two defensive touchdowns -- one from Cromartie -- off turnovers from former Rams starting QB Austin Davis.
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams NFL Week 15 Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , St. Louis is a 4-point favorite (-110) with alternate lines of 5 (+103), 4.5 (-102), 3.5 (-117) and 3 (-142). The Rams are -200 on the moneyline, with the Cardinals at +170. The total is 39.5 points. Arizona is 9-4 against the spread (3-3 on road) and 4-8-1 "over/under" (2-3-1 on road). St. Louis is 7-6 ATS (3-3 at home) and 7-6 O/U (4-2 at home).
The Cardinals are 12-2 ATS in their past 14 vs. teams with a losing record. They are 5-1 ATS in their past six after a win. Arizona has failed to cover its past four Thursday games. The Rams are 4-1 ATS in their past five against teams with a winning record. They have covered just one of their past five on a Thursday. The under has hit in nine of Arizona's past 14 vs. the NFC. The over is 5-2 ATS in the Rams' past seven vs. teams with a winning record. Arizona has covered 10 of the past 14 meetings. The under is 9-4 in the past 13.
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams Expert Picks and Betting Predictions
The good news for Stanton is this game is under a roof. He's 3-1 and has completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 1,168 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions when playing indoors. Outdoors this year, Stanton is 1-2 and has completed 48.1 percent of his passes for 434 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
Still, I'm not biting. I'd probably take Shaun Hill over Stanton at this point and like the Rams' defense at bit more at the moment as well. Plus it's in St. Louis. This might be a blowout, but give the alternate line of 3 points and most certainly go under. Another shutout wouldn't be a surprise for St. Louis.
Want free NFL picks? Doc's has you covered. New clients can take advantage of this great offer of $60 in free Doc's Sports members' picks for any handicapper on Doc's Advisory Board. Just check out these guys' pages and see what great work they have done making money for themselves and their clients over the years. Click here for this exclusive $60 picks offer. Also, get three handicappers for the price of one when you sign up for a full-season football package! Click Here for details.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
Get all of this Weeks Free NFL picks
Get all of this Weeks Expert NFL Picks