Who has the edge in Thursday night's NFC West matchup between the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals? Don Banks makes his pick below.
• Last week: 8-8; Season: 138-69 (.666).
• Best pick in Week 14: Detroit 34, Tampa Bay 17 (Actual score: Lions 34-17).
• Worst pick in Week 14: New Orleans 33, Carolina 19 (Actual score: Panthers 41-10).
Judging from recent results only, it feels like the surging Rams (6-7) are the first-place team and the slumping Cardinals (10-3) the last-place club in this intriguing NFC West matchup. St. Louis has won three of four, four of six and earned three consecutive victories at the Edward Jones Dome, with its last home loss coming in Week 6 against San Francisco. The Rams are probably the only NFL team currently in favor of an 18-game regular-season schedule, because with a little more time, they might have been able to make a playoff run. As is, they’re coming off the franchise’s first consecutive shutout wins since the long-forgotten Cleveland Rams pulled off that feat in 1945, interestingly as they were planning a move to the Los Angeles market in 1946 (care to find any parallels, anyone?)
St. Louis is trying to get back to .500 for the first time since being 1-1, and a seventh victory is a pretty familiar benchmark for the Rams -- who have finished either 7-9 or 7-8-1 in three of the past four years. But with their home finale against the woeful Giants next week, St. Louis has a good shot to post at least eight wins and record its first non-losing season since 2006. If it wins out (St. Louis travels to Seattle in Week 17), it could finish with its first winning mark since 2003. The Rams are playing with supreme confidence these days, and by drubbing Oakland and Washington by a combined score of 76-0 the past two weeks, they’ve actually squared their points for, points against total at 285 each this season, a pretty good trick for a last-place team.
The Cardinals stopped the bleeding last week at home against Kansas City, winning 17-14, but a short-week road trip to play the other, more formidable team from Missouri is a difficult task. Arizona quarterback Drew Stanton has not inspired much faith on the road thus far, going 1-3 as a starter, with only an early season win at the Giants and three losses in a row. He has just one touchdown pass and three interceptions in away games, and the pressure is starting to build to uncomfortable levels in Arizona. With home against Seattle and at San Francisco looming on the schedule, this might be the Cardinals’ last, best chance to avoid a catastrophic late-season slide that could cost them both the division title and perhaps even a wild-card berth.