The Worksheet, a fantasy football overview by Rich Hribar, breaking down everything you need to know for the Wild Card Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Monday Night Football game.
|41.44%||15||Opp. Rush %||39.62%||8|
|58.56%||18||Opp. Pass %||60.38%||25|
Against the Spread
Rams ATS at Home: 4-4
Cardinals ATS Away: 8-1
Rams ATS as Favorite: 6-9
Cardinals ATS as Underdog: 6-0
Our first ever Monday Night Football game during Super Wild Card Weekend features another rubber match between division rivals. Arizona went into Los Angeles back in Week 4 and won 37-20, part of a seven-game winning streak to open the season. These teams then linked up again in Week 14, with the Rams winning 30-23 in Arizona.
For Arizona, this is a bit of déjà vu. They closed the season losing four of their final five games a year after going 2-5 down the stretch in 2020. This time they hung onto a playoff spot, but they are not playing their best football of the year entering the playoffs.
The Rams have only lost one of their past six games and it was an overtime loss to the 49ers, but we have not seen them play their best football to close the season as well, squeaking out a win over a decaying Baltimore roster the week prior to last, while beating Minnesota by a touchdown before that in a game in which they turned the ball over three times. Turnovers have been a large story for the Rams to close the year, having multiple giveaways in six of their final eight games.
The offense of the Cardinals has been highlighted by many since losing DeAndre Hopkins, but their defense has taken a significant step back to close the year as well. Over these final five weeks, Arizona has allowed opponents to score on 53.2% of their possessions, which was 30th in the league over that stretch. Opponents scored a touchdown on 34.0% of their possessions, which was also 30th. This after allowing opponents to score on 30.2% of their drives (third) and a touchdown on 19.0% of drives (also third).
If Arizona does have one weird element in play here it’s that they have been the league’s best road team and underdog this season. The Cardinals have averaged 29.7 points per game on the road compared to 22.8 per game at home. Not only did they cover the point spread in all six games that they were underdogs this season, but they also won all six games outright. That includes a 25-22 win two weeks ago in Dallas during this rough close to the season.
Matthew Stafford: Stafford started last week’s game en fuego, carving the 49ers by completing 15-of-16 passes for 153 yards (9.6 Y/A) and a pair of scores. Then after the break, the 49ers started to get home up front as Stafford went 6-of-16 passing for 85 yards (5.3 Y/A) with a touchdown and a pair of interceptions.
The good news for Stafford is that he catches an Arizona defense that has been surrendering fantasy points to opposing passers. The Cardinals closed the season allowing five consecutive top-10 fantasy scorers to Russell Wilson (24.0 points), Dak Prescott (23.0 points), Carson Wentz (17.4 points), Jared Goff (20.6 points), and Stafford himself (23.5 points).
We know we can chase touchdown totals from Stafford as 80.4% of the offensive touchdowns by the Rams have come through the air, the highest rate in the league. In conjunction with that, 75.0% of the touchdowns allowed by the Cardinals have come via passing, the second-highest rate in the league.
That Week 14 game was also the last time that Stafford did not throw an interception. In the six games that Stafford did not throw a pick, he averaged 25.5 fantasy points per game with a low of 23.5 points scored. In his 11 games with at least one turnover through the air, Stafford averaged 16.1 points per game with just two 20-point games.
Kyler Murray: Murray was pedestrian again to close the season as a passer against Seattle in Week 18, completing 28-of-39 passes for 240 yards (6.2 Y/A) and a touchdown. Murray has now thrown for 6.2 yards per pass attempt over the four games since these teams last played, falling below 7.0 Y/A in all four outings. Prior to this stretch, the fewest yards per attempt Murray had in a game was 7.6 Y/A in Week 6.
On 220 dropbacks now this season without DeAndre Hopkins on the field, Murray has completed 65.2% of his passes for 6.6 Y/A as opposed to completing 72.1% of his passes for 8.8 Y/A on 323 dropbacks with Hopkins on the field. Hopkins played in both matchups between these teams. Hopkins is eligible to come off injured reserve this week, but by all early reports that is doubtful to happen since he was still on crutches last week. If he ends up playing, we will circle back, but early on we are approaching things as if Hopkins will not suit up on Monday.
For fantasy, Murray still does offer a floor and upside with his legs. Since returning to the field in Week 13, Murray has rushed for 276 yards (46.0 yards per game) after rushing for just 147 yards (18.4 yards per game) over his opening eight games this season. That has kept Murray’s point totals respectable. That also includes 61 rushing yards when these teams played in Week 14. That helped Murray still post 17.4 fantasy points despite not throwing a touchdown pass.
That last meeting saw the Rams give the Arizona front all kinds of issues. The Rams were able to pressure Murray on 50.0% of his dropbacks after a 28.2% pressure rate when these teams played back in Week 4.
Sony Michel: Even with Cam Akers getting his feet wet in Week 18, it was still Michel’s backfield in the season finale. Michel played 80% of the snaps and handled 22-of-30 backfield touches. Akers played just 13 snaps in total, carrying five times for three yards while catching three passes for 10 yards.
Now, it remains to be seen how much Akers is extended moving forward. Michel only managed 49 yards on his touches, but it was his sixth game in a row with 20-plus touches. While Akers still has potential to carve out a larger role, we may just see Michel end up on the front end of the split that we saw he and Darrell Henderson have when he was the backup. Those weeks saw Michel garner 28% of the backfield touches, so even giving Akers a third of the backfield touches moving into this weekend can be a generous extension while still making Michel the primary back.
Michel rushed 20 times for 79 yards when these teams met in Week 14 while failing to see a target. That is the real thorn for Michel as he has three or fewer receptions in every game this season. He needs to find the end zone.
Arizona can be run on, allowing 4.60 yards per carry to backs (28th) while allowing a gain of 10-plus yards on 14.7% of the carries against them, the highest rate in the league. What has saved Arizona from a points allowed perspective to backs is that they have allowed a league-low seven touchdowns to opposing backs.
Cardinals RBs: The Cardinals have had both James Conner and Chase Edmonds available together in just one of their past nine games as the pair has dealt with miscellaneous injuries. Edmonds missed Week 18 with rib and toe injures. Kliff Kingsbury said that they won’t evaluate Edmonds until Thursday at practice, so we will have to monitor his status entering Monday night.
Any time we have had an Arizona back with the backfield to himself that player has hit for fantasy. Arizona backs combined for seven RB1 scoring weeks this season and six of those came with either Conner or Edmonds missing the game. With both backs available in full, Edmonds has handled 49.8% of the backfield touches and Conner 46.9%.
Conner also has shown more overall upside since he has such a grip on touchdown production. Conner has accounted for six of those seven RB1 scoring weeks, registering a career-high 18 touchdowns this season. The biggest boon for Conner with Edmonds off the field is that he has had his receiving ceiling opened up. In the six games that Edmonds has missed, Conner has 30 receptions compared to seven catches in his other eight games. That includes catching nine passes for 94 yards when these teams met in Week 14.
The Rams have been strong against the run, allowing 3.72 yards per carry (fourth) to backs. After Arizona backs rushed for 30 times for 170 yards in Week 4 against the Rams, the Rams limited Conner to 13 carries into 31 yards (although two short touchdowns) in the rematch.
If Conner gets the backfield all to himself again, then he can be started in full confidence, but becomes touchdown-dependent if we revert back to a split backfield with Edmonds as a floor-based option with limited touchdown upside.
Cooper Kupp: Kupp closed the season with his two lowest target totals of the season, but that did not halt any production as he still had games of 6-95-1 and 7-118-1 to close the year as part of the highest-scoring fantasy season ever produced by a wide receiver. Kupp ended just short of a few individual season records, but his 145-1,947-16 line on 191 targets sits on the pantheon of fantasy seasons at the position.
Kupp received 13 (5-64-0) and 15 (13-123-1) targets in his two games against Arizona. The Cardinals were 31st in points allowed per game to opposing slot receivers this year (15.2 points per game) while allowing a league-high 18 touchdown receptions to wideouts from the slot.
Christian Kirk: The Seahawks have Kirk’s number apparently as he caught just 2-of-3 targets for 43 yards in Week 18 after catching 2-of-5 targets for 25 yards when those teams played in Week 11, both without DeAndre Hopkins in the lineup.
Those are the only two games he failed to score double-digit points without Hopkins on the field and the only two times over those seven games he received fewer than 23.0% of the team targets.
The hang-ups for Kirk are that he has not hit 100 yards in a game since Week 3 while finding the end zone in just one of his past 10 games played, leaving him as a low-ceiling fantasy play with a higher floor in full-PPR formats. The Rams have allowed production to wideouts this year, surrendering 8.1 yards per target (19th) and a 65.6% catch rate (26th), but have limited scores, allowing a 2.7% touchdown rate (third) to the position.
Odell Beckham: Beckham has looked the part for the Rams, but we have still struggled to see consistent fantasy output outside of catching short touchdowns. Since joining the Rams, Beckham and Stafford have connected on just 56.3% of their targets for 6.4 yards per target. In Cleveland, those rates were 50% and 6.8 yards per target, so we have not gotten a staggering increase in output. As a result, Beckham has posted fewer than 40 receiving yards in six of his eight games with the Rams. In his three games without a touchdown with the Rams, Beckham was the WR70, WR101, and WR82.
One of those good games was against Arizona in Week 14, when he caught 6-of-7 targets for 77 yards and a touchdown. Beckham is a boom-or-bust fantasy option tied to touchdown production, but this is a spot to keep the lights on for upside based on the outlook for Stafford.
Van Jefferson: Catching 2-of-3 targets for 31 yards in Week 18, we still know what we have in Jefferson as a touchdown-dependent fantasy play. Jefferson has averaged 46.1 yards per game since the loss of Robert Woods with four or fewer receptions in all but one of those eight games. Jefferson was a top-30 scorer in all six of his games with a touchdown but closed higher than the WR44 in just one of his 11 games without a score.
The positive news is that he did score in both games against the Cardinals if chasing in Stafford stacks, catching all six of his targets for 90 yards and a score in Week 4 while catching 2-of-3 targets for 58 yards and a touchdown in Week 14.
A.J. Green: Green is coming off a nine-target (23.1%) game to close the regular season, but with four catches for 23 yards, Green has had four or fewer catches in seven of his past eight games while he has not found the end zone since Week 6.
Similar to Jefferson above, while Green has been sporadic this season in bulk, he has delivered in these matchups. In Week 4, Green secured 5-of-6 targets for 67 yards and a score while then coming back in Week 14 to catch 7-of-10 targets for 102 yards. DeAndre Hopkins did play in both of those games to draw attention.
Antoine Wesley: Wesley has secured 18-of-29 targets (11.1%) for 201 yards in the seven games without Hopkins in the lineup. He had been reliant on finding the end zone since he has cleared 44 yards just once with 30 yards or fewer in each of the past four weeks. As noted above, the Rams are third in the league in touchdown rate allowed to opposing wide receivers, but if hanging onto hope for a score, they did allow ancillary option Jauan Jennings to slip through for a pair of scores last weekend.
Zach Ertz: Ertz continued to be the most consistent target for the Cardinals since losing Hopkins, reeling in 7-of-10 targets for 84 yards in Week 18. In seven games without Hopkins, Ertz has averaged 9.0 targets per game while receiving a team-high 24.0% of the targets in those games.
The only thorn is that Ertz has found the end zone in just two of his 11 games with Arizona, which has made him more of a floor-based fantasy play with a higher floor in full-PPR formats.
The Rams have been solid against tight ends all season, allowing 6.9 yards per target (14th) and a 3.2% touchdown rate (fifth) to the position.
Tyler Higbee: Weeks of chasing touchdown regression for Higbee finally came to fruition to close the regular season as he caught 6-of-8 targets for 55 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers. Higbee now has at least five receptions in each of the past four games while closing the season with five TE1 scoring weeks in his final seven games played.
Higbee caught 4-of-6 targets for 36 yards when these teams played in Week 4 and did not play in the second game in Week 14 due to COVID protocols. Arizona was stingy against tight ends in the regular season, allowing 6.5 yards per target (ninth), a 62.7% catch rate (fifth), and a 2.1% touchdown rate (second).
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