Consensus line: Cardinals -1.5, total 39.5
Best line for ARI: Cardinals -1, -115 (Pinnacle)
Best line for STL: Rams +1.5, -105 (SportsInteraction)
Current betting percentage: 70% action on the Cardinals, 58% on the OVER
Individual Team Trends:
Cardinals are 6-0 ATS in their last six games against NFC opponents.
Rams are 3-0-1 ATS in their last four home games.
Rams are 1-6 ATS in their last seven games following a S.U. win.
Under is 7-2-1 in Cardinals last 10 games following a S.U. win.
Over is 22-7 in Rams last 29 home games vs. a team with a winning road record.
Under is 15-6-1 in Rams last 22 against NFC West opponents.
Under is 7-1 in the last eight meetings.
Cardinals are 4-1 ATS in their last five meetings.
Cardinals are 6-2 ATS in their last eight meetings in St. Louis.
I’m not sure that tonight’s Thursday Night Football game is one of those games that you can’t miss, but it should definitely be interesting. The Arizona Cardinals look to continue the franchise’s best start in 38 years as they travel to St. Louis take on the Rams. Arizona is one of three unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL, along with Houston and Atlanta, despite having had three of their four games come down to the wire. The Cardinals have also been dominant historically against the Rams, having won 10 of their last 11 games against St. Louis, including seven straight wins at the Edward Jones Dome.
Despite Arizona’s dominance over St. Louis in recent years, it’s going to be hard for me to pull the trigger with the Cardinals in this matchup. Aside from the fact that the public is betting on Arizona as if Vegas is giving away free money tonight, there are a couple of names on the Cardinals’ injury report that could be sorely missed. Cardinals’ defensive end/tackle Darnell Dockett and inside linebacker Paris Lenon are both listed as questionable for tonight’s game with injuries. Even if either of the two plays, they won’t be at 100 perecnt, and that could be enough to alter the outcome of the game.
Offensively, the Rams need to rely heavily on Steven Jackson, who’s a notoriously slow starter, and things are no different this year as he’s rushed for only 195 yards and no touchdowns through the first four games of the season. In his career, Jackson has rushed for 65.7 yards per game and scored a total of four touchdowns in 28 September games.
His October numbers are much better. In 29 career October games, Jackson has picked up 83.5 yards per game on the ground and scored a total of 20 touchdowns. The Cardinals have given up an average of 101 yards per game on the ground over their first four games, so I’d expect a heavy dose of St. Louis’ running game in this contest.
Ultimately, the Rams need to run the ball a lot to make up for their deficiencies at the quarterback position. Sam Bradford’s rookie campaign was decent, but it was nowhere near as good as most people remember it. In 2010-11, Bradford’s rookie season, the former first overall pick played in all 16 games and he threw 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He averaged 219.5 yards per game through the air and finished with a quarterback rating of 76.5. Bradford has now played a total of 14 games since his rookie campaign and his numbers during that span are nearly identical to the totals he posted in his first season, but there’s a completely different perception of him now. At the end of the day, Bradford is a prototypical game manager. He’s thrown only 25 interceptions in 30 career starts, and has thrown for over 300 yards just four times in his career. He can’t read any coverages before the snap, and he’s extremely uncomfortable when he’s under pressure.
Bradford has his work cut out for him tonight against a very quick and aggressive Cardinals’ defense. Cornerback Patrick Peterson will likely shadow Danny Amendola for the majority of the game, allowing Arizona to bring extra pass rushers into the equation. Other than Amendola, the Rams are really lacking weapons on offense, so I’d expect Bradford to really struggle moving the ball through the air. The Rams’ best chance of keeping the chains moving is to establish the run early in the game, allowing Bradford to work out of more favorable situations.
Defensively, St. Louis really needs to improve their rush defense. The Rams gave up 175 yards on the ground last week to the Seahawks and have surrendered a whopping 4.7 yards per carry on the season. They spent their first-round pick this season on LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, hoping he’ll be able to shore up the interior of their defense. Brockers was hurt for the first three games of the season and made his return in a limited role last week. If the Rams can make Brockers a bigger part of their defensive plan, they should be able to improve their ground defense.
The good news for St. Louis is that Arizona has really struggled to run the ball this season. The Cardinals are 31st in the league, averaging a measly 2.7 yards per carry, and they’re fresh off of being limited to a total of 28 rushing yards by the Dolphins last week. Ryan Williams is actually a fully capable running back, but he’ll continue to struggle because opposing defenses don’t have to worry about any plays down the field with Kevin Kolb at quarterback.
Kolb is one of the most ineffective quarterbacks in the NFL, and a lot of credit for his success so far this year goes to the Cardinals’ coaching staff for devising a game plan to make him look serviceable. The Cardinals’ passing game is predicated on quick passes, but ultimately Arizona isn’t really able to stretch the field like they could with John Skelton at quarterback. The Rams’ have two solid press coverage cornerbacks in Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins, so it’ll be interesting to see if Kolb will be able to handle the Rams’ pass rush and hit his receivers on slower-developing routes.
In the end, this figures to be a close game from start to finish. Neither of these teams really have the personnel to separate themselves from the other over the course of a 60-minute game. But ultimately, I just don’t like this spot for Arizona. The Cardinals are coming off of a grueling overtime win and have to travel on short rest.
The Rams have been playing hard for Jeff Fisher to start the season and I think that will continue tonight. It should also be noted that NFC underdogs are a ridiculous 23-4 ATS through the first four weeks of the season.
Prediction: Rams 16, Cardinals 13
Recommendation: I wouldn’t go nuts with this game as there doesn’t really seem to be a lot of value with either side. If the Cardinals had beat up on the Dolphins last week, they probably would have been a three to 3.5-point favorite here, but because they won a close game, we’ve lost all line value with the Rams. I’ll be making recreational plays on the Rams +1.5 and the UNDER 39.5 just to make the game a little more interesting. Both quarterbacks have done a really good job of protecting the ball this year, so I don’t see how this game goes over the total if neither team has short fields to work with. Good luck.