As the football gods would have it, we're set for a trilogy.
The Arizona Cardinals will travel to SoFi Stadium and battle the Los Angeles Rams for a third time this season, with their matchup concluding what is set to be an entertaining slate of games during wild-card weekend.
The last meeting between the Cardinals and Rams, also taking place on Monday Night Football, saw Los Angeles walk out of State Farm Stadium with a 30-23 victory over Arizona. The Cardinals won the first matchup 37-20 at SoFi in Week 4.
Now, the bright lights of prime time will travel back to L.A. for the third and final installment of Rams-Cardinals this season.
Rams head coach Sean McVay spoke to reporters Monday on how playing against a divisional opponent changes preparations.
"You just have a little bit more familiarity with it. But it's going to come down to the same things that are in alignment with winning football games – executing, taking care of the football, getting takeaways, tackling, breaking tackles, being good situationally in third down and red area," said McVay.
“You take a lot from those games. You understand the trajectory of the season from when we played them, and I believe it was Week 4 to then when we played them a month ago. Very different. So, there's a lot more stock in the most recent game as it pertains to personnel and how they've evolved schematically in all three phases and kind of how they're accentuating their personnel and doing different things.
"And so, you do use both of those games. The most recent is the most beneficiary, and then those games that they've played lately, but the familiarity definitely changes the approach where you've seen every single one of their games. Sometimes you don't want to over prepare when you've got 17 games of inventory.
"That can be a lot where you can almost kind of water down information, but because we've played them in the beginning parts of the year, and then the later parts of the year, you got a lot of exposure to these teams and it's going to be a great challenge.
"But I think it's just the familiarity with it. And then especially just having played them when you look at when we played Seattle, it was a couple weeks prior. It was just about a month ago that we had played (the Cardinals) last. So, you got a lot of games in your breakdowns that we'll have seen on each other. So, familiarity is the biggest thing, but (we’ve) still got to go play in those three-hour windows and do a great job of playing our best ball to see if we can move on and advance. It's March Madness in the NFL now (laughs).”
Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury echoed similar feelings during his press conference on Monday.
He said, "I think our guys understand we got the opportunity to play a division opponent to advance in the playoffs. We’re very familiar with them and they are with us and we know it will be a dogfight. And so I don’t think there’s anybody sitting around wondering what happened yesterday. We know what’s out in front of us, the opportunity we have and so all the focus is on moving forward.
“You just embrace the challenge. Obviously we haven’t been a part of that yet, but we’ve played some really good football games and teams. We’ve worked our way to this point. So it’s about taking that next step and embracing it.”
Both teams will be at center stage come Monday for what will be the league's first ever Monday Night Football playoff game.
It's a unique circumstance that both coaches will have to adapt to.
“Like I was saying earlier, we're going to spend our energy on things that we can control. We're playing on Monday night, so the positive approach is we get an extra day of getting recovered and rejuvenated from a good, tough game yesterday. So, looking forward to a great atmosphere at SoFi on Monday night," said McVay.
The extra day of rest could pay dividends in getting major help back for the Cardinals.
“I think it comes at the right time with some of the lingering injuries we’ve had with some key contributors, trying to get them back on the field," said Kingsbury.
"I think it will be good for us to reset with that extra day, prepare to try and win this week. It’s sudden death, one-and-done if you don’t get it done and so that is our sole focus. We’re not worried about anything past Monday night.”
The friendship between McVay and Kingsbury has been well documented, which even featured a hilarious prank on Kingsbury shortly after accepting the job with the Cardinals.
Kingsbury hasn't been shy about roasting McVay in front of a microphone, as much of his comments surrounding McVay came from a place of humor, particularly for McVay having his shirt off when Hard Knocks was filming training camp with them.
“He’s been awesome,” Kingsbury said Monday. “We have a great relationship. Probably would be even closer if we weren’t in the same division, but it’s kind of hard to share some trade secrets whenever you’re playing each other a couple times a year.
"But I think the world of Sean. The job he’s done there. The consistency they’ve had since he’s been there, so it’s been fun to watch him have that type of success and I’m always pulling for him except when they play us.”
The respect runs deep not only on a personal level between McVay and Kingsbury, but on the opposing squads that will be across the field come Monday night.