Rams, Cardinals play in critical contest for NFC playoff positioning

LEFT: Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals throws the ball against the San Francisco 49ers at State Farm Stadium on December 26, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) RIGHT: Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams throws the

There won’t be flag-draped banners around the field or fancy markings on the turf. Officially, it isn’t a winner-take-all game, either.

But make no mistake: the NFL playoffs begin on Sunday afternoon at SoFi Stadium (4:25 p.m., CBS) for the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams. The winner will take one of the two remaining NFC wild card spots into the seven-team tournament. The ramifications for the loser are pretty grim.

For Kyler Murray and the Cardinals (8-7), the only ticket into the tournament would be with a win over the Rams. Los Angeles (9-6) could get into the tournament with a loss if Green Bay were to beat Chicago and knock the Bears out at 8-8.

The wild card, however, is the Rams quarterback status. Jared Goff is out after undergoing surgery on a broken finger on his throwing hand. That means that backup QB John Wolford will get the start for Los Angeles, who have lost two straight games to the Jets and Seahawks to place themselves in playoff jeopardy.

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The sports betting information

On FOXBet.com Sportsbook, Arizona is a ½ point favorite on Wednesday afternoon with a money line for both teams at minus-110. (A $110 bet would be needed to win $100.) The over-under number on the game is 40 points.

The Rams are 8-7 against the spread this season while Arizona is 7-8.

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The history

The last meeting between the two teams on Dec. 6 was one of Los Angeles’ best performances to date as Goff threw for 351 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another while Troy Hill returned a Murray pass for a 38-yard interception touchdown in the Rams 38-28 win at State Farm Stadium. Los Angeles improved to 8-4 on that day and seemed well on its way.

Overall, Los Angeles has won seven straight in the series dating back to the final game of the 2016 season. The Rams lead the overall series, 46-38-2.

The storylines to watch

It’s time to get to know John Wolford, who will play his first NFL snap on Sunday afternoon with a playoff spot on the line. The 25-year-old from Wake Forest was second team All-ACC in his senior year behind Lamar Jackson (Louisville.) Wolford was an unsigned free agent who was cut by the New York Jets in training camp in 2018, then became the starting quarterback of the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football.

Wolford’s job could be more difficult as Rams wide receiver Cooper Kulp was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday, putting his status in danger. Running back Cam Akers is questionable as well. Add it all together and the Rams feel like they are wheezing to a finish line.The Cardinals are not much better, in a lot of ways. Murray appeared to suffer a leg injury last week in a 20-12 loss to the 49ers at home that has left Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury opaque about his status for the regular season finale. The Cardinals have not played well since  the middle of the season and Murray’s miraculous Hail Mary pass to DeAndre Hopkins that beat the Bills. The only wins since then have been against the New York Giants and Philadelphia, two teams with a combined record of 9-20-1. Yet, a victory can get the Murray/Kingsbury era into the playoffs and give Arizona a defined step forward in its building progress.

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