The league's schedule-makers can take a bow with this late-season Monday Night Football matchup. Rams-Cardinals is a rematch of divisional foes looking to improve their place within the NFC playoff picture. Currently holding the best record in the NFL, the Cardinals can clinch a playoff berth with a win and inch closer to an NFC West title that has eluded the franchise since 2015. For the Rams, this a must-win game for their divisional hopes. With star quarterbacks going up against high-flying defenses, the table is set for a showdown in the desert.
Here are four things to watch for when the Cardinals host the Rams on Monday night:
- Kyler Murray re-enters MVP race. Ending a three-game absence last week in Chicago, Murray's return from injury was tempered amid a stress-free victory which warranted just 15 passing attempts from the Cardinals quarterback. Murray still accounted for all four of Arizona's touchdowns -- throwing for two and rushing for another pair -- to bring his TD total on the season to 24 (19 passing, five rushing) and climb back into MVP contention. An impressive performance on MNF to complete a season sweep of the Rams will only help that effort, and a home crowd that hasn't seen its star QB in well over a month will offer a pop that would conjure a significant moment that's so often laced within an MVP campaign. With DeAndre Hopkins also making his return last week (two receptions for 32 yards and a score), the Cardinals' passing attack is at full strength for the Rams rematch and they're coming off an ideal performance where their game plan is anyone's guess.
- Matthew Stafford, Rams in need of statement win. Everything seemed hunky-dory in Los Angeles until the Cardinals came to town and brought the Rams back to reality. L.A. has yet to beat a team over .500 since that Week 4 defeat and needed a lowly Jaguars matchup last week to end a three-game skid. The dominant win should serve as a confidence booster for the home stretch, but toppling a team like the Cards is necessary at this point, especially for their quarterback. Though his first season with the Rams has been a personal dreamscape, Stafford still needs to shed the stigma of playing 12 years in Detroit. Per NFL Research, Stafford is 0-9 in his career (including playoffs) against teams with 10-plus wins entering the week of a matchup and 0-17 for his career in regular-season games versus teams that entered the matchup five-plus games over .500. December football is the time to turn these harrowing statistics around for the 33-year-old, and a prime-time stage seems like a perfect way to start turning things around.
- Can the Cardinals limit Cooper Kupp (again)? Kupp enters Week 14 with a league-leading 100 receptions, 1,366 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns and has maintained his chance at becoming just the fourth player in NFL history to achieve the wide receiver "triple crown." However, the only blip on his remarkable campaign came against the Cardinals with a mere five catches for 64 yards off a whopping 13 targets. Aided by Arizona's blitz-heavy defensive front, the secondary zeroed in on Stafford's favorite target to contest most throws and, more importantly, limit his space to create yards after the catch. Cornerback Byron Murphy, who picked off Stafford in the win and leads the team with four interceptions, and play-making safety Budda Baker will be essential keys to limiting the NFL's most productive receiver. Configured by defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who's played to the strength of his unit's speed and knack for creating turnovers, the Cardinals defense has largely flown under the radar, allowing per-game averages of 18.7 points, 318.8 yards and 205.1 passing yards, and an 83.3 opponent passer rating, all of which rank top five in the NFL.
- Will L.A.'s acquisitions pay off at the right time? Things are trending in the right direction for wideout Odell Beckham, who has scored touchdowns in back-to-back games for the first time since Weeks 16-17 in 2019 with the Browns. Scoring in three straight games would be timely for Beckham and the Rams considering it hasn't happened for the star WR since his sophomore season with the Giants in 2015. Worry may be best spent on pass rusher Von Miller, however, as he has no sacks and just one QB pressure in three games since being acquired from Denver. Lastly, in a last-minute development after running back Darrell Henderson was placed on the reserve/COVID list, Sony Michel will be called upon for the second straight week to carry the Rams' running attack. Acquired from the Patriots in the preseason after the loss of Cam Akers, Michel delivered with a 121-yard performance in last week's win, but there are no Jaguars in the desert.