Even as the Arizona Cardinals are presented an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth, they have plenty to be concerned about.
Injuries, for one. No contender’s lineup has been more damaged than Arizona’s, with the latest being the sidelining of top running back Andre Ellington.
It’s somewhat astonishing that they not only lead the NFC West, but could grab a wild-card spot with a victory at St. Louis on Thursday night.
Much easier said than done. The Rams come off consecutive shutouts — yes, they were against Oakland and Washington, and we’re not exactly talking the John Madden Raiders or Joe Gibbs Redskins. Still, St. Louis is not a team anyone wants any part of right now.
Particularly the defense.
“They’ve always been as good a front four as anybody in the league and you’re watching them jell and become an outstanding defense,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians says. “(Safety) Mark Barron was a great addition. They’ve stayed healthy, that’s a big thing.”
Preparation is at a premium for a short week, but neither is a fancy team with a lot of tricks. Most important is keeping your own house in order, according to Rams coach Jeff Fisher.
“I’m fine with a Thursday night game. It’s just getting to Thursday night, which is the challenge as coaches,” he says. “In essence what you do is you pick up an extra bye week. This one is as late as it’s been for me in the season, almost mid-December.”
Despite their records, the Rams (6-7, No 19 in AP Pro32) are 3 1-2-point favorites over the Cardinals (10-3, No. 6 AP Pro32).
On a full week, with a healthier roster, the pick would be Arizona. That’s not the situation at all, so ...
No. 16 (tie) Miami (plus 7 1-2) at No. 2 New England — Patriots clinch division with win. BEST BET on it. ... BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 31-10
No. 31 New York Jets (minus 1) at No. 32 Tennessee — Loser might earn No. 1 overall draft pick, as well as bottom spot in power rankings. That would be J-E-T-S. ... UPSET SPECIAL: TITANS, 16-13
No. 4 Denver (minus 4) at No. 13 San Diego — Like Patriots, Broncos take care of their division. ... BRONCOS, 27-21
No. 15 Houston (plus 6 1-2) at No. 7 Indianapolis — Ditto for Colts, albeit in close one. ... COLTS, 30-27
No. 12 Cincinnati (pick ‘em) at No. 20 Cleveland — Johnny Football starts off with loss. ... BENGALS, 20-14
No. 1 Green Bay (minus 5) at No. 16 (tie) Buffalo — Packers could be playoff-bound by end of Sunday’s action. ... PACKERS, 24-20
No. 18 San Francisco (plus 9 1-2) at No. 3 Seattle — Not nearly the once-anticipated showdown it was. Niners keep it close. ... SEAHAWKS, 23-17
No. 9 Dallas (minus 3 1-2) at No. 5 Philadelphia — Still very anticipated. Eagles finish off sweep of Cowboys. ... EAGLES, 30-23
No. 30 Washington (plus 6 1-2) at No. 26 New York Giants — Not at all anticipated. ... GIANTS, 31-20
No. 22 Minnesota (plus 7 1-2) at No. 8 Detroit — Lions inch closer to postseason berth. ... LIONS, 26-17
No. 29 Jacksonville (plus 13 1-2) at No. 10 Baltimore — So do Ravens, who might steal AFC North. ... RAVENS, 28-13
No. 11 Pittsburgh (minus 2) at No. 23 Atlanta — Can banged-up Falcons lose their way into playoffs? ... STEELERS, 23-20
No. 27 Oakland (plus 10 1-2) at No. 14 Kansas City — Previous loss to Raiders ruined KC’s season. Won’t be a repeat. ... CHIEFS, 17-14
No. 24 New Orleans (minus 3) at No. 25 Chicago, Monday night — The Monday night mess. Any good hockey on TV that night? ... SAINTS, 27-26
No. 28 Tampa Bay (OFF) at No. 21 Carolina — Cam Newton’s uncertain availability eliminates betting line. ... BUCCANEERS, 16-13
2014 RECORD: Against spread: This week (10-5-1); Season (100-100-5). Straight up: This week (12-4); Season (137-69-1)
Best Bet: 5-9 against spread, 8-6 straight up.
Upset special: 7-7 against spread, 5-9 straight up.