Cardinals, Rams to meet in playoffs despite Week 18 losses
ARIZONA (11-6) at LOS ANGELES RAMS (12-5)
Monday, 8:15 p.m. EST, ESPN/ABC
BETTING LINE: Rams by 4, according to FanDuel SportsBook.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Arizona 8-9-0, Los Angeles 8-9-0.
SERIES RECORD: Rams lead 46-39-2.
LAST MEETING: Rams beat Cardinals 30-23 on Dec. 13 in Glendale, Arizona.
LAST WEEK: Cardinals lost to Seattle 38-30; Rams lost to San Francisco 27-24, OT.
CARDINALS OFFENSE: OVERALL (8), RUSH (10), PASS (10), SCORING (11).
CARDINALS DEFENSE: OVERALL (11), RUSH (20), PASS (7), SCORING (T-11).
RAMS OFFENSE: OVERALL (9), RUSH (25), PASS (5), SCORING (T-7).
RAMS DEFENSE: OVERALL (17), RUSH (6), PASS (22), SCORING (15).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Cardinals plus-12; Rams plus-2.
CARDINALS PLAYER TO WATCH: WR A.J. Green. It’s not a coincidence Arizona’s late-season swoon coincided with the loss of DeAndre Hopkins to a knee injury. In the four games without Hopkins, Green is averaging three receptions for 48.5 yards. He needs to step up and make the critical plays if the Cardinals are going to advance. Green did have five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown when Arizona knocked off Los Angeles 37-20 on Oct. 3.
RAMS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Matthew Stafford. With eight interceptions in his past four games, Stafford’s erratic finish to the season has brought back all the concerns he doesn’t have what it takes to succeed in the playoffs. But all three of Stafford’s postseason losses have been on the road, and he has never enjoyed the backing of a defense such as he has with the Rams, which is why Los Angeles went 3-1 down the stretch in spite of those turnovers. Stafford’s previous game without throwing a pick came in the December showdown with the Cardinals, when he was 23 of 30 passing for 287 yards and three touchdowns.
KEY MATCHUP: Cardinals QB Kyler Murray vs. the Rams secondary. Murray has been throwing the ball a lot without being able to push it down the field, failing to top 263 yards in any of his past four games despite attempting 41, 43, 38 and 39 passes. He will have to hit big plays against Los Angeles, which lost S Jordan Fuller to an ankle injury that will require surgery. Rams defensive backs not named Jalen Ramsey struggled mightily in the loss to the 49ers so there should be opportunities for Murray to find Green, Christian Kirk and TE Zach Ertz. Murray had two touchdowns and no interceptions in his lone win against Los Angeles in Week 4, but he has five touchdowns and six picks in his other five games against them.
KEY INJURIES: Arizona would have to make a deep playoff run for Hopkins to be able to return from his torn MCL, likely reaching the NFC championship game before he could be an option. … DE J.J. Watt (shoulder) is practicing this week to see if he can play for the first time since Oct. 24. … RB James Conner (ribs), RB Chase Edmonds (ribs/toe), DL Jordan Phillips (knee), CB Marco Wilson (shoulder) and WR Rondale Moore (ankle) are all trying to play and in the broad category of day to day. … Besides losing Fuller for the year, S Taylor Rapp will miss the game with a concussion. CB Darious Williams is expected to play through a shoulder injury, but the Rams loaded up their practice squad with defensive backs in response to the injuries, including luring two-time All-Pro S Eric Weddle out of retirement.
SERIES NOTES: This will be the second playoff meeting between the longtime foes. The first was in 1975 when the Rams defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 35-23 at the LA Coliseum in the divisional round. … The Cardinals have lost 10 of their past 11 games against the Rams. … Los Angeles has scored at least 30 points in eight of its past 10 games against Arizona.
STATS AND STUFF: The Cardinals have won two of their past six playoff games. Both of the wins were in overtime against the Green Bay Packers: A 51-45 win on Jan. 10, 2010, and a 26-20 win on Jan. 16, 2016. ... The Cardinals have just three players still on the roster from the previous time they went to the playoffs, including LB Markus Golden, OL D.J. Humphries and DL Corey Peters. Golden is the only one who actually played. ... The Cardinals had an 8-1 record on the road in the regular season. ... Murray completed 69.2% of his passes this season, which set a franchise record and ranked No. 2 in the NFL. ... The Cardinals might be known for their passing but they score touchdowns on the ground. The team’s 23 rushing TDs rank third in the league. … The Rams reached the playoffs for the fourth time in five season. They are 3-3 in postseason games with Sean McVay as head coach. … Stafford threw for 908 yards and four touchdowns against three interceptions in three playoff games with the Detroit Lions. He was sacked six times and lost two fumbles. … WR Cooper Kupp was held to season lows in receptions (five) and yards receiving (64) in the first game against Arizona. He had 123 yards and a touchdown on a season-high 13 receptions in the rematch. … OLB Von Miller will play in the postseason for the first time since getting 2 1/2 sacks in Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos. He also had 2 1/2 sacks in the AFC championship game during the 2015 postseason. … Aaron Donald has 2 1/2 sacks and 6 tackles for loss in six playoff games.
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL