Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams: Charging Rams to deal Cards losing hand

Without Carson Palmer at quarterback, Arizona's points have started to dry up
Without Carson Palmer at quarterback, Arizona's points have started to dry up

Much like St Louis, our NFL analyst Neil Harvey is bang in form. And he's hoping to continue it by backing the resurgent Rams to overcome tiring Arizona in this week's Thursday Night Football...

"Both these sides have just reached a tipping point in their seasons, and it's the Rams who are in the ascendancy, in terms of performance, confidence and results."

St. Louis (-4.5) to beat Arizona @ 1.9720/21

Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams  
Friday December 12th, 01:25
Live on Sky Sports 2

Arizona (10-3) look to be all but into the postseason now, following their 17-14 comeback win over Kansas, with a conspiracy-level number of calamitous results now needed to prevent that from happening. And it's just as well, because after making a strong start to the season the Cardinals have crawled over the finish line like a man in a Panda suit at the London marathon.

First, Bruce Arians' side suffered a major blow when they lost quarterback Carson Palmer for the season. And now, with their only credible running back - Andre Ellington - also out for good - it's left Arizona's defense having to carry an almost unbearable weight of responsibility.

For it's the Cardinals defense that's provided the backbone to their success. Palmer and Ellington were their shining jewels on offense that helped offer some semblance of balance. But without them, it's hard to see how the team will have much joy in the play-offs. Sunday's late win over the Chiefs had looked unlikely throughout, and required one almighty last effort from the Cards' defense to push them over the line. My feeling is though, that there's not much more to come from them as the season wears on.

By contrast though, St. Louis (6-7) are heading in exactly the opposite direction. The Rams had won just three of their opening nine games. But like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, Jim Fisher's team has since undergone a miraculous transformation, winning three of its last four games. The resurrection began with a stunning 22-7 win over the Denver Broncos.

The Rams narrowly missed out on following that with another big win, a week later, when they lost by just three points in San Diego. But they more than compensated for that by then putting up big back to back wins over Oakland and Washington. Granted, these weren't the strongest of opponents. But to produce consecutive shutouts, 52-0 and 24-0, is highly impressive by anyone's standards.

Not only has the Rams' defense now started living up to its pre-season hype, but the team has also unearthed a hidden gem. Running back Tre Mason was on nobody's radar through the first five games of the season. But when the rookie's chance came, he grabbed it with both hands and is yet to let go - proving himself a useful weapon in the passing game in addition to being a dangerous runner. Like with the Cardinals though, it's Rams' defense that deserves the lion's share of the credit for their successes.

It's a shame for St. Louis fans that their team left it a little too long before they got going this season. But on the bright side, they do look capable of ending their campaign with a real bang. Looking at the season's stats for these two teams, it amazes me to find the Cardinals with such a better record. On paper, I'd put the two neck and neck.

It's true, when these sides met in Week 10, the result was a routine 31-14 win for the Cardinals. But that game took place in Arizona. Palmer and Ellington were still playing starring roles for the Cards'. And Tre Mason was only just beginning to announce himself on the NFL scene.

There's absolutely no doubt now though, that it's the Rams who have the momentum and so we should get a very different result this time, especially within the confines of the Edward Jones Dome. Arizona's latest win took a lot out of them and must have been a source of huge relief. So it would be totally forgivable, and for me expected, should their game suffer a drop in intensity during this short week.

At quarterback, Drew Stanton has been unable to fill Carson Palmer's big shoes, throwing for less than a touchdown per game during his seven starts under centre. Meanwhile, Arizona's ground attack looks likely to be led by Kerwynn Williams - a player who has yet to start a game in his brief NFL career.

It might sound a little crazy to back a team with a losing record, against a winning team that's headed for the play-offs. But the reality is, both these sides have just reached a tipping point in their seasons, and it's the Rams who are in the ascendancy, in terms of performance, confidence and results.

Recommended Bets
St. Louis (-4.5) to beat Arizona @ 1.9720/21
St. Louis (-2.5) to beat Arizona at half time @ 1.9110/11 or better
Tre Mason to score anytime touchdown @ 2.001/1 or better

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