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Rams-Cardinals: 4 bold predictions for the NFC West showdown

Cooper Kupp rebounds — and other bold predictions for Monday Night Football

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams will take on the Arizona Cardinals this Monday in a primetime NFC West showdown that features not only the two best teams in the division, but also two of the best teams in the league. Last time the two saw each other, the Cardinals were the better team and defeated the Rams for the first time in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure.

Just fresh off a victory against the defending Super Bowl champs in Week 3, LA came crashing back to reality in Week 4 against their division rivals. “Humbled” may be the defining word of the loss, but I would elect to say “embarrassed” is a better descriotion.

It was only 10 weeks ago that Arizona’s defeat over the Rams was one of the biggest upsets of the year, but this week an LA victory would be the same as the Rams opened up as 3-point underdogs against their division rivals according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Anything can happen on Monday, but these are my bold predictions for Week 14.

Darrell Henderson gets more carries than Sony Michel

Sony Michel absolutely devastated the Jaguars when he took over as the lead back last week while Darrell Henderson nursed an injured hamstring. Michel finished the game with 121 yards, a touchdown, and 5.04 rushing yards per attempt. For the first time this year, Stafford was introduced to a complimentary running game that set him up for his own outstanding showing. This was what a Sean McVay offense should look like.

Or should it?

McVay completely changed the script on his offensive identity in Week 13. Instead of his normal 11-personnel set up, the fifth year head coach instead built a wall of linemen and tight ends that bullied Jacksonville’s defensive line all day. Michel took advantage of mismatches up front, becoming the first Rams rusher to run over 100+ yards this year.

Yet despite a narrative that may have portrayed Michel to be the best option at the position, I predict McVay goes back to handing the ball the Henderson.

McVay has shown a lot of confidence in his third year back all season long after Cam Akers went down with a season-ending injury, so going into Week 14 nothing should change. Michel may have put on a great show, but Henderson has yet to run in the offensive system that was used last Sunday. With a week of rest, Henderson will be eager to get back on the field after watching Michel man-handle the opposition last week.

Henderson has also shown already that he can beat the Cardinals defense. In Week 4 Henderson averaged 6.36 yards per rushing attempt, finishing the game with 89 yards on just 14 attempts. Los Angeles ended up down early last meeting, but if they can start fast this time around Henderson should have plenty of opportunities to show why he is the better option at the running back position.

Kyler Murray does not get a rushing touchdown

Last week against the Chicago Bears, Kyler Murray made his return to the field after an injury sustained in Week 9 and finished the game with just 123 yards passing, but was also only asked to throw it 15 times the entire game. In those 15 attempts Murray completed 11 of them and finished the game with two touchdowns through the air. He matched that total with his feet, running two touchdowns on the ground as well to let everyone watching know that he was back.

Against the Rams I predict that he will not be able to get into the endzone using his legs, and the defense contains him effectively throughout the day.

After watching Murray extend plays last time the two teams met, McVay and General Manager Les Snead knew they needed speed to contain the third year quarterback—so they went and got a future hall of famer in Von Miller. Pair the acquisition with a quickly developing and bonified starter in Ernest Jones, Murray will face a defense that is different from the last time around.

If Raheem Morris can draw up a game plan that isolates Murray in the pocket, it may be the defining defensive game that Los Angeles has been waiting for. With Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, Von Miller, and an emerging Greg Gaines stacked on the defensive line, Morris has the personnel needed to cause a rough day for Murray.

Cooper Kupp doubles his stats from Week 4

Cooper Kupp has been putting up record breaking numbers all season long and is still within reach to beat Calvin Johnson’s all-time single season receiving yard record. The one game that may keep him from surpassing the hall of famer was in Week 4 against Arizona, where he put up his lowest output of the season so far with just 64 yards.

Since then Kupp has dominated the league and has 100 receptions that have gone for 1,366 yards. He leads the league in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns and would be the first receiver to finish top in all three categories since Steve Smith Jr. did it in 2005. Last week Kupp finished the game with 129 yards receiving and a touchdown and will hope to continue that momentum against the only team that has found a way to slow him down this season.

Though the Cardinals may have been able to contain one of the best receivers in the league last time around, 10 weeks later I predict that Kupp doubles his stats from that game and finishes with 128 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

Matthew Stafford finishes the game with fewer passing yards than Murray

The last time that Stafford and Murray were on the same field, the Rams veteran quarterback finished the game with just 12 more passing yards over his opposition. Murray finished as the more impressive quarterback that day, however, finishing with a QBR of 120.3 to Stafford’s 89.5.

I predict that it will be the exact opposite on Monday.

With McVay figuring out that he has a run game against the Jaguars, he will likely continue to implement goal-line type formations to open up holes for his running backs—especially against the Cardinals, who currently are the worst in the league at stopping the run. With a heavy dosage of Henderson and Michel, Stafford will only be asked to connect on opportunities when they present themselves. If all goes well, Los Angeles will start fast and never concede their lead, allowing them to control the clock.

While the Cardinals have been one of the worst at stopping the run, Los Angeles has been one of the best in recent weeks. Despite an outlier against the San Francisco 49ers that saw the defense give up 156 yards (on 44 attempts), in their last 5 games LA has allowed an average of just 83.8 rushing yards. If the trend continues and Cardinals cannot get anything going on the ground, Murray will be asked to save the day with his arm.

Passing yards are not an indication of a good day or a victory, sometimes it is the team that throws the least amount that is the most impressive on the field. If my prediction is true, that will be the case this Monday.