‘Thursday Night Football,’ schedule and results: Rams host Cardinals in NFC West clash
The Cardinals are trying to hold on to the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but they’ll need to take down a red-hot Rams team in St. Louis Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 8:25 p.m. ET on NFL Network.
The Arizona Cardinals (10-3) remain in position for the NFC’s No. 1 seed after another narrow victory last Sunday, but they will be challenged to keep hold of that top spot when they face a huge road test against the St. Louis Rams (6-7) on Thursday Night Football.
The NFC West rivals last met in Week 10, a 31-14 win for Arizona. However, the two teams have been on different paths since. The Cardinals have struggled on offense after Carson Palmer was lost for the season with an ACL tear, while the Rams have played with renewed energy on defense, surrendering just 34 points in the last four weeks.
The Cardinals have already secured consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since a three-year run from 1974-76, yet they have no time to celebrate with the Seattle Seahawks breathing down their neck for the division lead. A win in St. Louis would not only match the franchise record for victories in a season (done in 1925, 1948 and 1975), but also could clinch a playoff berth if they get some help from other NFC teams. With a rematch against the Seahawks looming in Week 16, the Cardinals cannot afford to look past a very dangerous Rams team if they want to stay in control of the conference’s top seed and atop the NFC West.
St. Louis is one of the league’s hottest teams and perhaps the only sub-.500 team in the NFL that no one wants to play right now. The Rams are coming off back-to-back shutouts of Washington and the Oakland Raiders and have scored 83 unanswered points in the last three weeks, the longest such streak by any team since the ’92 Buffalo Bills. At 6-7 they are still mathematically alive for the postseason, but in reality are probably looking forward to playing the role of spoiler and trying to clinch their first winning season since 2003.
The Rams were 3-6 at the beginning of November and seemed destined for another last-place finish in the NFC West. Since then, they have rebounded to win three of their last four games. The key to their turnaround has been an overpowering defense that has allowed an NFL-best 8.5 points per game during the last month. St. Louis has been so dominant on that side of the ball that three of its last four opponents have not run a single play in the red zone.
The dramatic improvement in the Rams’ pass rush production since mid-October has been a huge catalyst for the team during its late-season renaissance. After setting an NFL record for futility with just one sack through their first five games, they have recorded a league-high 34 sacks since then. The Rams’ aggressiveness on defense over the past month has also fueled their recent win streak. St. Louis has already forced more turnovers (12) in its last four games than it did in its first nine games (11). If the Rams can win the turnover battle, they’ll have a great chance to pull off the upset against the Cardinals.
Arizona has another big challenge other than facing a surging team on the road — the Cardinals also have to overcome their poor history of playing on a short week. They are 0-4 in primetime on Thursdays, the worst record of any franchise and the only team in the league that has yet to win a Thursday night game. In fact, the last time the Cardinals won a game on a Thursday, regardless of the time of day, was a 28-14 win over the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day in 1948.
The Cardinals may have the best record in the NFC, but they’re hardly considered an elite team according to most power ranking lists around the Internet. Their 10-3 record has been buoyed by several close wins. They’ve outscored their opponents by a mere 37 points, the 15th-best point differential in the league and just behind the 7-6 Bills (+40). However, the Cardinals have been perhaps the most resilient team in the NFL this season. They have trailed at some point in the game in eight of their 10 wins, giving them the most comeback victories in the league.
Who to watch
Aaron Donald – The Rams’ first-round pick is making a case for Defensive Rookie of the Year despite not even entering the starting lineup until Week 6. The defensive tackle out of Pittsburgh has at least one sack in each of his last four games and leads all rookies with seven on the season. He is the top-rated defensive tackle according to Pro Football Focus, and ranks fifth in total pressures (34) at his position.
Kerwynn Williams - The second-year running back did not have a single NFL rushing attempt in his career before exploding for 100 yards on 19 carries last Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. The seventh-round draft choice in 2013 wasn’t even on the active roster until Friday afternoon, yet he came out of nowhere to provide a much-needed spark to a struggling Cardinals rushing attack that had averaged 43 yards in its previous four games.
The Edward Jones Dome has been home to the Rams since the franchise relocated to St. Louis in 1995. Originally named the Trans World Dome, the arena most recently underwent upgrades in 2009, including adding high-definition video boards to the end zones. As part of the America’s Center convention complex, Edward Jones Dome hosts other events besides football, such as concerts and conventions. The dome’s capacity for football games is 66,000, but it hosted more than 100,000 people in 1999 when Pope John Paul II held mass at the venue, which was the largest indoor gathering to ever take place in the U.S.
How to Watch
Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis
When: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson
Most of the experts are picking the Rams to win at home against the Cardinals. Six of the eight guys on our panel at SB Nation have St. Louis, and six of the eight at CBS Sports are also going with the Rams.
For more on the Cardinals, check out Revenge of the Birds.
To keep up on the Rams, head over to Turf Show Times.