This season—equally full of promise and frustration both—comes down to one game. On Sunday, the Cardinals head to Los Angeles to play their nemesis the Rams, who will be led by something called a “John Wolford” at QB. Win and we’re in. The Redbirds are favored by 3 and seem to have a good shot to secure the team’s first playoff appearance since 2015.
I want to believe, but this has all the makings of a trap. And if the Cardinals have proved anything in 2020, it’s that they’re good at falling for traps.
Why do I think this game is a trap? For three simple reasons that I’ll explain below.
It’s the Rams
Everyone knows the recent history of this rivalry. We’ve lost every game to the Rams since Sean McVay became their coach in 2017. That’s 7 games in a row, only one of which was decided by single digits. They’ve shut us out twice, held us under 10 two more times, and have scored over 30 points in every single game. We haven’t been able to figure out their defense (although we’ve at least managed 20+ in the past two games), and McVay has just toyed with our defenses.
Of course, the Rams offense has been decimated by injuries. Jared Goff is obviously out after his thumb surgery, but McVay’s offense will also be without LT Andrew Whitworth, WR Cooper Kupp, RB Darrell Henderson—and RBs Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown are also questionable. If this offense hangs another 30 on us, I might throw my flatscreen out the window. The defense will be without DT Michael Brockers and perhaps LB Micah Kiser, but it’s still a formidable unit that will give Kyler Murray fits all afternoon.
We Struggle Against Backup QBs
Since Kliff Kingsbury (and Vance Joseph) took over last season, the Cardinals are 2-3 against clear-cut backup QBs. (We went 1-1 against Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts this season, but it’s hard to call either of them true backups given the circumstances.) We all remember the Kyle Allen loss to the Panthers last year, but we also lost to flippin’ Duck Hodges and the Steelers as well. This year, we fared a bit better, picking up back-to-back wins over the Joe Flacco Jets and Andy Dalton Cowboys. But then last week happened, as we got beat hard by the C.J. Beathard 49ers—basically the same 49ers team that lost 41-33 to the Andy Dalton Cowboys the week before. I was completely disgusted by that game; it almost ruined my Christmas weekend.
This week it’s undrafted Wake Forest QB—and Arizona Hotshots veteran—John Wolford. Wolford was a relatively mediocre college QB but did look pretty competent in the AAF’s brief existence. Still, this is a QB that a team with even a mediocre defense like the Cardinals has no business losing to. Yet you would say the same thing about C.J. “2-9” Beathard. Will Vance Joseph have this defense ready to dominate this practice squad–caliber QB, or will this defense be embarrassed yet again by an unheralded passer?
We Don’t Play Well as Favorites
The Cardinals have played in 10 games as the favorite this season, but are just 5-5 in those games. We have wins against Washington (-7.5), both New York teams (-7 against the Jets, -3 against the Giants), and the Eagles (-6). Okay, those should have been, and mostly were, easy wins. We also have the win against the Bills (-3) where we were strangely favored and probably shouldn’t have won anyway. But the losses are pretty damning—the Lions (-4.5), the Panthers (-3), the Dolphins (-6), and then last week’s game against the 49ers (-6). The Dolphins game doesn’t look as bad in hindsight as they charge toward the playoffs, although it was still Tua Tagovailoa’s second career start and that game was eminently winnable. But the Lions, Panthers, and 49ers losses? Inexcusable.
And now we’re 3-point favorites against the Rams. On the road. Against the best defense in the league. Even with a backup QB, this is still a dangerous opponent, and we have shown a tendency to come out lackluster against in games where we’re favored. Maybe this week will be different with the playoffs on the line… but the playoffs wouldn’t be on the line if we hadn’t come out lackluster against teams like the Lions, Panthers, and 49ers. Win or lose Sunday, Kliff Kingsbury and Vance Joseph need to get this team playing like the playoffs are on the line every week next season—and the players need to embrace it.
So we just need to win a game in which we’re the favorites against a backup QB. What could go wrong? Well …we’re favorites against a backup QB, which historically hasn’t gone well for us. Plus, oh yeah, it’s Sean McVay and the Rams (and their #1 defense).
But, and stop me if I’m sounding repetitive here, we’re favorites because we’re playing a backup QB. We should beat a guy like John Wolford. And we have to beat Sean McVay sometime, right? Why not on Sunday?
I’m going into Sunday’s game hopeful but more than prepared to be let down. That sounds pretty apt as we enter 2021, doesn’t it? Let’s hope the Cardinals can buck some concerning trends and enter the New Year with a clean slate.