All In The Cards: New Year’s Edition (Week 16 Recap and Week 17 Picks)

With so much going on I have to yet again combine my week 16 recap with my week 17 preview. However, like I did in a previous combo article I’ll give my thoughts on big stories in the NFL between last week’s and this week’s picks. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Now here is how I did with my picks last week and what are picks this week:

How I Did With My Week 16 NFL Predictions:

  • Arizona 38, Green Bay 8 (1-0)
  • Oakland 23, San Diego 20 (2-0)
  • Washington 38, Philadelphia 24 (3-0)
  • Atlanta 20, Carolina 13 (3-1)
  • Buffalo 16, Dallas 6 (4-1)
  • Chicago 26, Tampa Bay 21 (4-2)
  • Kansas City 17, Cleveland 13 (5-2)
  • Detroit 32, San Francisco 17 (6-2)
  • Houston 34, Tennessee 6 (7-2)
  • Indianapolis 18, Miami 12 (8-2)
  • New York Jets 26, New England 20 (9-2)
  • Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 17 (9-3)
  • New Orleans 38, Jacksonville 27 (9-4)
  • St. Louis 21, Seattle 17 (9-5)
  • Minnesota 49, New York Giants 17 (10-5)
  • Denver 20, Cincinnati 17 (11-5)

NFL Thoughts Going Into Week 17:
  • While I’m very proud to see my Arizona Cardinals finally getting the respect they deserve, but all of this talk about them being the favorites over the Carolina Panthers is a little premature. While the Panthers did lose to the Atlanta Falcons, that loss isn’t worse than the two losses the Cardinals already had (vs St. Louis and Pittsburgh). However, if the Cardinals are able to wrestle away home-field advantage from the Panthers then you can slate the Cards as the favorites based on the two teams’ equal records and different ends to their seasons. One loss does not make a season unless that loss is in the playoffs or prevents you from making the playoffs and the Panthers’ loss to the Falcons was neither.
  • I would say that the Packers’ offensive performance against the Cardinals set the franchise back 50 years but the Packers were playing much better offensively 50 years ago. While the Cardinals defense had a lot to prove in their first game without Tyrann Mathieu, what really troubled me about the Packers is how much it seems Aaron Rodgers has checked out. Anytime there was a dropped pass or a missed block, instead of consoling or getting on the guy who made the mistake he just had this “I’d rather be anywhere else” look on his face and went right to the huddle. That’s not the look of a guy who wants to lead. Maybe whatever has Rodgers so lifeless can be patched up behind the scenes before the playoffs start but my guess is that this team probably just wants to start the offseason.
  • I’ll admit that I know 10x as much about the NFC West than I do about the AFC North so the St. Louis Rams’ upset over the Seattle Seahawks doesn’t surprise me nearly as much as the Baltimore Ravens’ upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers. As I have said numerous times in this column, the Rams seemingly transform from a mediocre team into a very gritty and tough team when they face their divisional rivals, and the Seahawks in particular seem to bring out the best in the Rams. That’s why I was so surprised that the Cardinals beat the Rams very easily a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know the intricacies of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry but in my opinion the Ravens, a team that is pulling guys off the street just to field a team, win over the Steelers exposes Pittsburgh as a team that only plays to the level of its competition and to me those types of teams don’t deserve to make the playoffs. They could prove me wrong by destroying the Browns by 20 but it might be too late for them.
  • My biggest question about the Philadelphia Eagles getting rid of Chip Kelly has less to do with the move than the timing of the move. Why couldn’t they just do after this week’s games when most teams fire their underperforming head coaches? If the early firing was meant to give interim head coach Pat Shurmur a chance to demonstrate how he would do as the coach going forward, I don’t think a single game against a New York Giants team that has probably checked out is a good enough indicator to change an opinion on his candidacy. To me this was more of a message by owner Jeff Lurie saying that he wanted Kelly gone long ago and only put up with him as long as the Eagles were still in the playoff hunt. Kelly’s plan to rebuild the Eagles was unnecessary and made the team worse so Lurie wanted Kelly out before the eventual rebuilding job became too big. I guess it’s possible that the extra game is to see if the Eagles should keep Kelly’s acquisitions or if they should go out with the head coach that brought them into Philadelphia.
  • I can understand the Indianapolis Colts giving Josh Freeman a chance (the team needs a backup for Andrew Luck as Matt Hasselbeck isn’t going to be around much longer) as Freeman has shown in the past that he can be decent and they way his career ended in Tampa Bay was a little unfair. However, there are no words for the Colts also picking up Ryan Lindley. Ask any Cardinals fan about Lindley and they won’t say anything in return. Instead they will just curl up into a ball and try to find their happy place. Let’s just say I hope the Colts start Freeman this week.

My Week 17 NFL Predictions:

  • Arizona 31, Seattle 27
  • New York Jets 27, Buffalo 17
  • New England 38, Miami 10
  • New Orleans 31, Atlanta 30
  • Cincinnati 16, Baltimore 13
  • Pittsburgh 28, Cleveland 16
  • Houston 27, Jacksonville 24
  • Indianapolis 15, Tennessee 10
  • Washington 21, Dallas 10
  • New York Giants 27, Philadelphia 23
  • Detroit 30, Chicago 19
  • Carolina 34, Tampa Bay 28
  • Oakland 24, Kansas City 20
  • Denver 26, San Diego 13
  • St. Louis 23, San Francisco 14
  • Minnesota 31, Green Bay 21

Week 16 Record: 11-5
Season Record: 149-91 (.621)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

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All In The Cards: A Matchup Of Different Emotions (Week 13)

Emotions will run high in St. Louis this week as both the Rams and the Arizona Cardinals get set for a must-win game. However, the reason for needing this win is different for both teams based on their emotions heading into this weekend. This week I’ll go over those different emotions and explain why this battle between a playoff team and a non-playoff team will end up a lot closer than you might think. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s dissect the emotions that will influence this divisional battle:

Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams

Last Meeting: L 24-22 vs. St. Louis (10/4/2015)

After barely getting past the San Francisco 49ers last week, I can understand some people’s hesitation about picking the Cardinals to beat the Rams. I can also understand the viewpoint of those who think the Cards will roll because the Rams look like they have given up. The truth is somewhere in the middle, as I expect a close Arizona win.

The reason the game will be close isn’t because the Cardinals are going to underestimate their opponent like they did with the 49ers or because the Rams only try against the NFC West. While both have the potential to be underlying factors, the main focus for both teams will be simpler emotions: desperation for the Rams and anger for the Cardinals.

It’s hard to believe that this is already Jeff Fisher’s fourth season with the Rams. Despite failing to reach .500 each of his first three seasons, Fisher’s job was never in jeopardy as the franchise and the fanbase accepted the rebuilding process and knew that soon the Rams would finish above .500 for the first time since 2003 and would then proceed to retake control of the NFC West. With one more loss (the Rams are currently 4-7), that streak of 11 seasons without a winning record will extend to 12. You can only sell hope to a fanbase for so long without showing results and right now the Rams are not showing results.

The Rams have proven to be thorn in every NFC West team’s side as they are currently 3-0 against the division. However, even if they sweep the division, 7-9 won’t get the Rams anywhere (this isn’t the 2010 NFC West were 7-9 earns you a division title) unless they can win games out of division against teams that they don’t know like the back of their hand.

With everything crumbling around them, the one thing they can hang their hat on (being undefeated against the NFC West) is on the line as a loss to the Cardinals would tear down the last remaining positive for this team and force the franchise to face the fact that it isn’t improving.

With all that being said, the Cardinals want this win just as much. Arizona’s loss to St. Louis during week four not only marks the Cards’ only loss in the division but also their only home loss. If the Cardinals had made one less mistake (Arizona committed three turnovers, one of which was an opening kickoff fumble that gave the Rams right from the start), a win this week would wrap up the division and the constant fear that the Seahawks will catch up would be gone.

However, this anger isn’t just from one game. There’s also the fact that last season not one but two Cardinals’ quarterbacks saw their seasons end against the Rams. While you can’t really blame the Rams for causing the injuries (especially Carson Palmer’s since it was a non-contact injury), the Cardinals still feel an emotional grudge against the Rams for being the opponent when their championship chances last season vanished.

With both teams showing such emotion, I expect a close game. However, I think that with both teams giving their all to win this game that the better team will triumph. The Cardinals are undoubtedly the better team.

Prediction: Arizona 26, St. Louis 20

How I Did With My Thursday Night Pick:

  • Predicted Result: Green Bay 23, Detroit 21
  • Actual Result: Green Bay 27, Detroit 23

 My Week 13 NFL predictions:

  • Tampa Bay 27, Atlanta 20
  • Houston 17, Buffalo 12
  • Chicago 23, San Francisco 13
  • Cincinnati 35, Cleveland 17
  • Jacksonville 21, Tennessee 20
  • Baltimore 20, Miami 17
  • Minnesota 26, Seattle 24
  • New York Giants 30, New York Jets 23
  • Denver 27, San Diego 17
  • Kansas City 28, Oakland 23
  • New England 38, Philadelphia 10
  • Carolina 30, New Orleans 14
  • Pittsburgh 34, Indianapolis 33
  • Washington 27, Dallas 16

 
Week 12 Record: 10-6
Week 13 Record: 1-0
Season Record: 111-66 (.627)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

 

All In The Cards: Midseason Grades For All 32 Teams (Week 9/Bye Week)

Welcome to a special bye week edition of All In the Cards! Just because the Arizona Cardinals have off this week doesn’t mean that I get the week off too. However, this week I’m going to take a different approach. Since the Cards’ bye week just happened to land at the midpoint of the season, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to give my midseason grades for every team as well as my midseason awards. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s grade every team so far this season based on expectations:

Midseason Grades:

AFC East:

  • New England Patriots: A+
    • If any team deserves an A+, it’s the Patriots. You would think they would be satisfied finally earning their fourth Super Bowl last year, but this team is gunning for history. Five championships would permanently cement Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as the best in NFL history at their positions. This team has a good chance to complete their second perfect regular season.
  • New York Jets: B
    • Todd Bowles has done wonders for the Jets, as they team has already taken on his personality. The defense is a typical aggressive Bowles defense and the offense has been better than expected thanks to the offseason additions of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall. Tendency to beat themselves and the recent loss to the Raiders prevented this from being an A.
  • Buffalo Bills: C
    • The Bills had such a great start to the season, but injuries have hampered what looked like a promising season, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Key offensive players such as Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, and Sammy Watkins have all missed playing time. The offense will be fine when everyone is healthy. The real surprise is the defense, which started off really well but has been burned multiple times the past few weeks.
  • Miami Dolphins: C-
    • The Dolphins under Dan Campbell would probably get a B+/A- grade, but I’m grading the entire first half of the season so that includes the ugly start under Joe Philbin. While the Dolphins have played great lately (minus the blowout loss to New England), this was a team expected to compete for the AFC East so a record of 3-4 is still disappointing. They still have a chance to turn things around a compete for a wild card.

AFC North

  • Cincinnati Bengals: A+
    • I expect the Patriots to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but if they don’t it will be due to the Bengals beating them. What’s so cool about this team in particular is that an organization is finally being rewarded for years of development as players like Andy Dalton and Tyler Eifert are having career years. As long as Dalton doesn’t revert, I think this team has to be considered one of the favorites.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: B-
    • The Steelers haven’t had the best of luck, never really having a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell at the same time. Luckily the defense has been better than expected, which is why the team was able to stay afloat when Big Ben was out. They have an uphill battle with the loss of Bell and a tough second half schedule, but this team has already shown this season they can grind through the hard times.
  • Baltimore Ravens: D+
    • I could be mean and give the Ravens a failing grade, but the truth of the matter is that the Ravens are a decent team but have been really unlucky. In all six losses,they have had the ball late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win. To me, the crunch time struggles has more to do with Joe Flacco’s unfamiliarity with Marc Trestman’s system and his receivers than it does with Flacco himself.
  • Cleveland Browns: C
    • Despite their record, the Browns been a decent surprise and have played good teams (such as Oakland, Denver, and Arizona) really tough. However, it’s the record that gives them a C grade and makes this season seem like another disappointment. There’s also the fact that the Manziel vs McCown debate doesn’t really have a definitive answer, which is hurting the identity of this offense.

AFC South

  • Indianapolis Colts: D
    • Despite all the turmoil Indianapolis has gone through this season, the Colts still lead the AFC South. For that reason alone, no matter how badly they have underachieved, I can’t give them a failing grade. What’s sad is that all three of the Colts’ wins have come against other AFC South teams. What’s even sadder is that all they need to do is win their other three games against the AFC South and they’ll win the division.
  • Houston Texans: C
    • Some people are calling the Texans’ first half of the season a disappointment but I didn’t expect a lot out of the Texans this season anyway. The fact that they have switched between quarterbacks, watched their franchise running back get injured again, and have seen their once strong defense get humiliated multiple times, just makes the fact that they are tied for first in their division both impressive and sad.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: B-
    • While this may look like your typical 2-5 Jaguars team at a glance, what we have here is a scrappy team that is finally showing progress but still can’t get over the hump. Besides getting annihilated by the Patriots, Jacksonville has been competitive in every one of its games. We are also seeing some promise from young guys like Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, and T.J. Yeldon. The wins should come soon if they continue to improve.
  • Tennessee Titans: C-
    • A lot has happened since the Titans blew out the Buccaneers in week one. For one thing, the Titans have a new head coach because they haven’t won since. However, I expected this kind of season from the Titans so I’m not going to give them too terrible of a grade. Being only two games behind the Colts in the AFC South, I think the Titans will try to make a second half push, even though getting another top five pick would be a better plan.

AFC West

  • Denver Broncos: A-
    • The reason the Broncos are the only undefeated team not to get an A+ from me is because the defense has deteriorated a lot faster than expected. They seem to have a plan going forward, becoming more of a running team, but sooner or later they will need Peyton Manning to throw to win an important game. I still think he can do it but he’s no longer a sure bet. However, that defense is a sure bet.
  • Oakland Raiders: A+
    • It’s been a while but there is finally light in the Black Hole. The emergence of Derek Carr has given the Raiders a shot at making the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. Like Jacksonville, Oakland is also seeing improvement from its young skill position players (Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray) and were able to hit the jackpot with the Michael Crabtree signing. Jack Del Rio won’t win Coach of the Year, but he deserves consideration.
  • Kansas City Chiefs: C
    • Everything looked like it was going downhill when Jamaal Charles was lost for the season, but the Chiefs have rebounded to win their last two. While they find themselves still very much in the playoff picture, I think the Chiefs will not be able to find reliable offense often enough to stay in the playoff race. If anything, the rest of this season can be used as a test to see if Alex Smith is this team’s answer at quarterback.
  • San Diego Chargers: D+
    • I knew the Chargers were going to bad, but watching Philip Rivers trying to single-handedly keep this team afloat is heartbreaking. The Chargers really need to improve their running game as it ranks as the fourth worst in the NFL (86.4ypg). Not only that, but the defense allows the sixth most points per game (28.4). If the Chargers are able to win three more games I would call that a success.

NFC East

  • New York Giants: C
    • Starting the season 0-2, winning your next three games then losing by 20 on national television to one division rival only to beat another division rival the next week? Yep, sounds like a typical Giants’ season to me. The only real problem I see going forward has to do with the defense allowing 52 to New Orleans. Defenses have hard time recovering after giving up so many points so that will be something to watch the rest of the season.
  • Washington Redskins: B-
    • I honestly thought the Redskins would only have one win at most and a new head coach by the time week nine came rolling along. However, I have been really surprised by the toughness this Redskins team has shown as they have battled every game, even against some good opponents. I don’t know if they can keep it up, but they have definitely been one of the pleasant first half surprises in the NFL.
  • Philadelphia Eagles: C-
    • The Eagles had one of the most bizarre and confusing offseasons that I can remember so it is only right that their season has also been bizarre and confusing to this point. Defensively the Eagles are better than expected, but that revamped offense has been hit-or-miss with Sam Bradford really struggling at times. If Bradford can’t string a series of good games together I don’t see the Eagles making the playoffs.
  • Dallas Cowboys: D
    • I wanted to give the Cowboys a pass or at least an incomplete grade due to the absence of Tony Romo, but the way they have handled Greg Hardy’s recent troubles is going to doom this team before Romo can get back on the field. Such a shame too as they looked very promising during those first couple of games, especially on offense post-DeMarco Murray. However, it looks like their window of opportunity has finally closed.

NFC North

  • Green Bay Packers: A
    • Even after a loss to undefeated Denver, I would have considered still giving the Packers an A+, but it was how they lost that game that made me slightly downgrade them. While the Broncos defense is without a doubt the best in the NFL, they completely shutdown the Packers offense. It’s only one loss and the Packers will be fine, but now we know there is a way to stop Rodgers and company. However only a few teams are capable.
  • Minnesota Vikings: A
    • It seems like ages ago that this same Vikings team was handled by the San Francisco 49ers 20-3. Since then the Vikings have won every game save a three-point loss to the Broncos. They haven’t been pretty, but this isn’t college football so you don’t need style points. All you need is wins and the Vikings keep finding ways to win. Reminds of last season’s Arizona Cardinals in some ways, especially how the Vikings’ defense has played.
  • Chicago Bears: C-
    • The Bears are a hard team to evaluate because they are only two two fourth quarter stops away from being 0-7. Yet this team has played much better than a potential winless team, especially when the got Jay Cutler back from his hamstring injury. I don’t think they are going anywhere this season, but if they can continue to improve as the season goes along, I think John Fox’s team be set up for the long run.
  • Detroit Lions: F
    • Every team has a bad day now and again, so I was going to look past the Lions debacle against the Cardinals. I was going to look past the fact that Detroit was the last team to pick up its first win. However, when you mess up so bad (firing your offensive coordinator and then losing 45-10 to the Chiefs the next week) that your owner fires both your general manager and team president midseason, I have no choice but to fail you.

NFC South

  • Carolina Panthers: A+
    • Each week the Panthers remind me more and more of the Seahawks team that won the Super Bowl just a couple of years ago. Their defense has passed all expectations and somehow Cam Newton is making it work on offense with only Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn Jr. as reliable receivers. It’s really hard to believe this is almost the exact same team that made it to the playoffs on a technicality. They will have earned it this year.
  • Atlanta Falcons: A
    • The defense has completely transformed under new head coach Dan Quinn, while Matt Ryan and the offense have been reborn in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme. The only thing keeping the Falcons from a perfect grade is the fact that they have had to rely on huge second half comebacks to earn the majority of their wins this season. While a win is a win and there are no style points, relying on comebacks can backfire very badly.
  • New Orleans: C
    • After a 1-4 start, the Saints have won three in a row and they have been against decent teams. There was a huge transition for the offense to start the season with the departure of Jimmy Graham but it seems Drew Brees feels comfortable again based on his seven-touchdown performance against the Giants. The defense still needs a lot of fixing and will probably prevent them from making a run at the playoffs.
  • Tampa Bay: C
    • Everyone knew this would be a transition year for the Buccaneers and it has played out exactly like one to this point. This team is constantly learning and sometimes you have to fail to properly learn. That’s what happened recently when the Bucs lost after blowing a big lead against the Redskins and then holding on the next week when they blew another lead to the Falcons. Things seem to be going right on track.

NFC West

  • Arizona Cardinals: A-
    • I’ll go more in-depth on my midseason evaluation of the Cardinals during my week nine recap, but the short version is that the Cards left some wins on the table. For as well as the Cardinals have played this season they should have won against St. Louis and they should have been able to adjust to the Steelers change at quarterback. The only surprising thing from the Cardinals has been the rebirth of Chris Johnson.
  • St. Louis Rams: B+
    • The Rams were a mess offensively to start the season, but they have since found their identity thanks to a historic start by running back Todd Gurley. With that front seven and Gurley to eat up time on the offensive end, opponents face a huge challenge when trying to overcome a deficit. Rams’ management has spent years planning this team out and they are finally starting to see the fruits of their labor.
  • Seattle Seahawks: C+
    • The Seahawks have had a roller-coaster of a season so far  and even though they haven’t performed as well as they did the last two seasons, the fact is that they sit at .500 with a huge opportunity to get within one game of the NFC West lead if the beat the Cardinals. The most surprising thing we’ve seen from the Seahawks is that the defense, and specifically the secondary, hasn’t been consistently great, which could cost them later in the season.
  • San Francisco: D-
    • All you need to know about the 49ers’ season is that they are benching Colin Kaepernick for Blaine Gabbert. The only reason I don’t give them a failing grade is that they have been competitive in quite a few games and even have the upset win over the Vikings. Other than that, this was the down season every 49ers’ fan was dreading after they fired John Harbaugh.

Midseason Awards:

MVP: Tom Brady

Offensive POY: Philip Rivers

Defensive POY: Aqib Talib

Rookie of the Year: Todd Gurley

Comeback POY: Chris Johnson

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick

Assistant Coach of the Year: Wade Phillips, Denver Broncos Defensive Coordinator

My Week 9 NFL Predictions:

  • Cincinnati 27, Cleveland 13
  • Miami 23, Buffalo 20
  • Green Bay 24, Carolina 17
  • New Orleans 31, Tennessee 16
  • Pittsburgh 23, Oakland 21
  • Minnesota 19, St. Louis 16
  • New England 38, Washington 17
  • New York Jets 24, Jacksonville 14
  • Atlanta 28, San Francisco 10
  • New York Giants 38, Tampa Bay 34
  • Denver 27, Indianapolis 17
  • Philadelphia 31, Dallas 20
  • Chicago 27, San Diego 21

Week 8 Record: 9-5
Week 9 Record: 1-0
Season Record: 79-41 (.658)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2
 

All In The Cards: Week 4

Welcome back a new edition of All In the Cards! This week the Cardinals high-flying offense faces its first formidable defense of the season in the St. Louis Rams. For whatever reason, the Rams play 10x better when they face a division opponent than when they face everyone else. This week I’ll go in-depth on how the Rams present a huge challenge and how the offense may have to change things up if they want to move to 4-0. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s see how these two teams stack up against each other:

St. Louis Rams @ Arizona Cardinals

Last Meetings: W 31-14 vs. St. Louis (11/9/14) & W 12-6 @ St. Louis (12/11/14)

If there is one thing that I’m more passionate about than the Arizona Cardinals, it’s statistics. However, I’m pretty sure by now most of you have heard about Arizona’s historic offensive start to the season so I’m not going to delve much into the numbers. My only comment (because of course there had to be at least one) is that 126 points is a lot regardless of it being the first three games, the middle three games, or the last three games. In addition to the praise, it has also been noted many times that the Cardinals’ offensive explosion came against three of the worst defenses in the NFL. I’d question grouping the 49ers defense with the porous Bears and Saints defenses but I can concede that the San Francisco defense is much worse than it has been in awhile.

That’s what makes this game against the Rams so intriguing. There’s no doubting that the Cards have a great offense, but just how great is it? Is it really going to challenge single-season scoring records? (nope) Can it win games if the Cardinals defense is playing badly? (that is something we probably won’t find out for awhile) Can it face heavy defensive pressure and step up their game to overcome it? That last one is what we will find out this week.

The Rams defense is 11th in the NFL in points allowed, giving up 22.3 points a game. In addition, St. Louis is only giving up 202.3 passing yards a game, which is tied for seventh best. This will definitely be the first big test for a Cards offense that is first in scoring (42 points a game) and ninth in passing yards (266.3 yards per game).

However, the biggest test will be at the line of scrimmage where the Cardinals offensive line (league-low one sack allowed) battles a Rams defensive line that has 13 sacks already on the season, tied for second most. I don’t think I need to reiterate just how important keeping Carson Palmer healthy is to the Cardinals success. I also don’t think I need to remind people which defense put Ben Roethlisberger on the shelf for the next several weeks. However, it is worth mentioning that both Palmer and Drew Stanton went down last year against the Rams in separate games. I am well aware that Palmer’s injury was non-contact but it was how they attacked Stanton last season that makes me and every Cardinals fan nervous. Any time they had a chance to hit Stanton, they took it.

Let me state right here that I believe there is nothing wrong with that approach as long as the hits remain legal, which they were most of the time. However, recognizing that a defense is going to be aggressively attacking your quarterback puts a lot of pressure on your offensive play-calling. There will likely be less passes downfield so as to limit having Palmer stand around and get hit. Instead, I expect more screen passes and run plays (the Rams have given up 122.7 yards per game on the ground).

It will probably result in the Cardinals’ lowest point total of the season, but luckily the Cards won’t need to score a lot to beat the Rams. The Cardinals 47 points against the 49ers are only three less than the 50 points the Rams have scored all year. With the exception of an inspired performance against the Seahawks, new quarterback Nick Foles has been abysmal and the promising running game hasn’t been able to function thus putting even more pressure on Foles.

With that being said there are still two potential problems facing the Arizona defense: overconfidence in their own performance and the fact that the Rams play so much better against NFC West teams.

This Cardinals team has enough hardy veterans that the locker room should prevent a potential letdown game. The worry actually comes from the same secondary that jumped routes against the 49ers and ended up scoring multiple touchdowns. Tyrann Mathieu said after the game that he and the other defensive backs were able to recognize the 49ers play call right from the snap and thus were able to get in position to pick off the pass. This happened because the 49ers limited the offensive playbook to make Colin Kaepernick more comfortable. It also made them very predictable and thus ineffective. The problem here is that the Rams know that. Thus they could run a play they’ve run one way all season and run it another way to trick an overzealous defensive back and get a long touchdown on blown coverage. Here’s to hoping that the Cards secondary anticipate this and take fewer risks.

The Rams performance against NFC West teams is the one variable out of Arizona’s control and honestly the whole situation is hard for me to explain. There are so many statistical differences between the Rams team that faced the Seahawks and the Rams team that faced the Redskins and Steelers that you would swear they were two different teams. Of all the statistical differences, the one that stood out the most was third down conversion. The Rams converted 6 of 11 third downs against Seattle, and 4 of 22 third downs against the Steelers and Redskins. If the Cards can stop the Rams on third down and run the ball effectively, they’ll  have a great shot at reaching 4-0.

Prediction: Arizona 27, St. Louis 16

Fantasy Advice:

If you have Larry Fitzgerald, you might as well start him as the Rams are one of the few teams he has dominated throughout his career, even when he had bad quarterbacks. Coming into this season, Fitzgerald has hauled in 138 catches for 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns against the Rams during his career. The catches and touchdowns are the most he has had against an opposing team while the receiving yards ranks second. If he’s truly back then bet on history repeating itself, even if he draws extra secondary attention. Now you might call me crazy, but the best play for the Rams this week is their Defense/Special Teams. Normally you wouldn’t start any defense against a historically-great scoring offense, but it’s about the intangibles. Expect at least one interception and/or fumble recovery and don’t be surprised if they’re able to rack up 3-5 sacks. That might not sound overwhelming but I just don’t see anyone on the Rams offense who would make a safer bet.

NFl Week 4 Predictions:

  • Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 17: I wanted to give up on the Ravens but the matchup (Steelers on a short week and playing their first game without Ben Roethlisberger) was too good to pass up. I’ll give credit to Michael Vick, he did an adequate job filling in at quarterback. It’s hard for a quarterback who came in just a month ago to run an offense as intricate as Todd Haley’s scheme. However, there’s no doubt this game would have been too far out of reach for a Ravens comeback if Big Ben was on the field.
  • New York Jets 29, Miami 13: The Dolphins have been one of the biggest disappointments early in the season and I don’t see things getting much better. The Dolphins have given up 435 rushing yards so far this season so Chris Ivory, who should be back for this game, is poised for a big fantasy day.
  • Atlanta 26, Houston 16: Depending on your thoughts about the Eagles, this is possibly Atlanta’s first easy game of the season. Sure the Texans are coming off their first win of the season, but Atlanta finally has good professional football again and I expect the Georgia Dome to be rocking.
  • Buffalo 27, New York Giants 23: The fact that I think the Giants are by far the best team in the NFC East (at least as long as Tony Romo is out) should show how much I believe in this Bills team. It looks like Rex Ryan is still one of the best coaches in the NFL; he just needed a change of scenery.
  • Oakland 24, Chicago 10: As of the time I am writing this, I’m under the impression Jimmy Clausen will be the Bears starting quarterback. Even if Cutler plays I doubt he’ll be 100% and the Bears need him 100% to beat a feisty Raiders team that is finally starting to see progress under Jack Del Rio. Could be another big day for Derek Carr against a bad Bears secondary.
  • Cincinnati 24, Kansas City 20: The Bengals made a statement last week that they are still a threat in the AFC and I think they reinforce that with a win against the Chiefs. Also I think Kansas City still has a good team and time to turn things around from a 1-3 start. They’ve just had a tough schedule up to this point. They should be able to rebound during their next four games.
  • Indianapolis 38, Jacksonville 17: You finally got a win Indianapolis so that monkey is off your back. Now it is time to dominate an inferior opponent at home. I’m not asking you to put up 51 points on the Jaguars like the Patriots did, but you should come away from the game feeling like you had complete control.
  • Washington 23, Philadelphia 20: Despite the loss last Thursday against the Giants, I remain impressed by how competitive the Redskins have been so far this season. I literally have no other basis for this pick other than thinking Eagles will probably choke away this game in the fourth quarter.
  • Carolina 24, Tampa Bay 13: Normally having your next game be at Seattle would be a potential distraction from your current game, especially against the Buccaneers. However, the schedule-makers blessed the Panthers with a bye week between this game and the Seattle game so there shouldn’t be any distractions or looking ahead.
  • San Diego 27, Cleveland 17: I’ll be honest; I have no idea what to think of this matchup. The Browns in particular really confuse me and I have no idea what to expect from them. I know what I’m getting from Philip Rivers and the Chargers so I’ll side with consistency and pick the Chargers.
  • Denver 20, Minnesota 13: Is it too late to flex this game to Sunday night? This should be a really great game but with Peyton Manning starting to get his form back and the Broncos defense continuing to wreck havoc on opposing offenses, I’ll go with the home team.
  • Green Bay 38, San Francisco 13: Although they haven’t scored as many points as the Cardinals, even I have to concede that the best NFC offense goes to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. If Pittsburgh put up 43 points and Arizona put up 47 points against the 49ers defense, how many will the Packers score?
  • New Orleans 23, Dallas 17: I originally picked the Cowboys, but with signs indicating that Drew Brees will back I decided to switch. Even if he doesn’t start, Luke McCown wasn’t terrible in his place so the Saints have a good shot at this one with either quarterback.
  • Seattle 19, Detroit 13: While I wasn’t overly impressed by the Seahawks in their win against Chicago, I have been impressed by the Lions for the wrong reasons. Maybe if this wasn’t Monday night you could have talked me into the Seahawks looking ahead to their matchup with Cincinnati next week but I see no plausible way they lose this game.