After falling off the pace in the NFC West, the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals find themselves in a critical game at Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday.
The Rams fell out of a first-place tie with the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday after a last-second 23-20 home defeat to the San Francisco 49ers. Andthe Cardinals fell two games off the pace after they were clipped 20-17 by the New England Patriots, also on a last-second field goal.
The Rams-Cardinals winner could potentially gain a game in the standings, while the loser could fall even further from the top spot, while also sliding down the wild-card pecking order.
Outside of the standings picture, the game is a chance for a pair of teams with excellent offensive potential to show what they are capable of producing.
The Rams have scored more than 24 points just once in their last six games and have not put more than 27 on the scoreboard since their 30-10 victory over the Washington Football Team on Oct. 11.
They look nothing like the team that put a furious second-half rally together against the Buffalo Bills in September only to fall 35-32. That remains the only game where a Rams opponent scored more than 28 points.
The Cardinals have lost three of their last four games and are a successful Hail Mary pass from Kyler Murray to DeAndre Hopkins away from being on a four-game losing streak. Opponents have started to contain Murray's passing ability with blitzes and have stifled his running ability by focusing on him rather than the backs on handoff zone-reads.
But the Cardinals defense also will be in the spotlight Sunday after giving up at least 30 points in all six meetings over three seasons against a Sean McVay-coached Rams team.
"We can't worry about how streaky they can be," Cardinals linebacker De'Vondre Campbell said. "When they are clicking, they are a really good football team."
This season, the Cardinals' defense is giving up 227.2 yards passing per game, 13th best in the NFL. It is a vast improvement from last season, when the Cardinals gave up 281.9 yards passing per game, second worst in the league.
The Cardinals, no doubt, like what they are seeing on this week's game films. Rams opponents are starting to figure out what was considered just two years ago as a cutting-edge offense designed by McVay.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff lost a fumble in Sunday's defeat to the 49ers and threw two interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown. After the game, McVay said his quarterback has to take better care of the football. He did not back away from that statement this week.
"I know he can handle it, and I know he can acknowledge it, and we can all be honest about the expectations," McVay said. "And I'm not going to apologize for the high expectations that I have in him."
"I'm a big boy," he said. "I can handle it."
The Rams are expected to have outside linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (elbow) back on the field for the first time since Week 4, but linebacker Terrell Lewis (knee) did not practice Wednesday.
The Cardinals were without offensive lineman Justin Pugh (ankle) and safeties Jalen Thompson (ankle) and Charles Washington (groin) on Wednesday. Murray (right shoulder) was limited in practice but is expected to play.
--Field Level Media