Cardinals to discover if Rams are still gold standard in wide-open NFC


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With so much chaotic and big-name movement within the AFC this offseason, be it through splash free-agent signings or monstrous trades, nobody seems to be paying much notice to the NFC this year.

Everybody is squawking about the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs, the top two favorites to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 57 at State Farm Stadium on Feb. 12. There’s also been a ton of talk about the Los Angeles Chargers, the Baltimore Ravens, the Denver Broncos, the Las Vegas Raiders, the Indianapolis Colts, the Miami Dolphins and last year’s AFC champion, the Cincinnati Bengals.

But remember, somebody has still got to represent the NFC, which has won the past two Super Bowls and eight of the past 15 overall. The problem this season is that the NFC just seems to be too wide open. There doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut favorite entering Week 3.

According to the Las Vegas oddsmakers, the NFC team with the best shot to make it to the Super Bowl is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Cardinals next in tow.

Like the AFC, there are only three undefeated teams in the NFC after the first two weeks — the Bucs, Eagles and New York Giants. In the NFC West, once considered to be the strongest division in all of football, all four teams are tied with 1-1 records, including the Cardinals and Rams, who meet Sunday at State Farm Stadium.

The Rams, reigning Super Bowl champions, have won 10 of the past 11 meetings against the Cardinals, including a 34-11 rout in a Wild Card playoff game last season. They’ve also beaten Arizona seven straight times in Glendale.

“They’ve obviously had our number here for a long time and that’s not lost upon us, but we’re just trying to improve,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “The last two weeks we have started so slow and we had 12 penalties last week (against the Raiders). There’s a lot that we have to focus on. We know they’re a talented team and the defending champs, so it’s really been about us improving this week.”

Are the Rams still the gold standard in the NFC? Let’s take a look.

Case for the Rams

Veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth, whose 15,736 combined snaps in the regular season and postseason are second-most in the NFL history behind only Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, retired. Star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. remains a free agent after suffering a torn ACL during the Rams’ Super Bowl win over the Bengals.

But Los Angeles added two huge new pieces in wide receiver Allen Robinson and linebacker Bobby Wagner during free agency, and it still has much of the core group that won the NFC West with a 12-5 record and made it to the Super Bowl for the second time in the past four years.

Although they got blown out by the Bills in their season opener, the Rams rebounded last week with a victory over the Falcons. Their schedule, which includes tough road games at the Buccaneers, Saints, Chiefs, Packers and Chargers, is daunting, to be sure.

But the Rams still have some of the best players in the business at various positions, from defensive back Jalen Ramsey, defensive lineman Aaron Donald, quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp. They also have one of the most innovative offensive minds in the NFL in head coach Sean McVay.

“They’re very methodical,” Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray said. “They get guys in space and they’re very smart. To be able to see what Matt Stafford, a Texas guy, do what he did last year, I’ve always been a fan of Matt in just the way he’s able to throw it and the different arm angles. You see all the no-look stuff and he was really underrated up until last year just because of being in Detroit and stuff like that, so I’ve always been a fan.”

But are the Rams still the team to beat in NFC or have they become just another face in the crowd?

“Yeah, I think they are (the team to beat) until somebody knocks them off,” Kingsbury said. “They’re still the champs and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We saw that and they did a great job I thought of building last year into the playoffs and playing their best football at the end.

“I’m sure they’ll do the same thing. We’re all kind of trying to figure out who we are as teams right now, but I think they’re as good as anybody out there.”

Scouting report: Rams vs. Cardinals: Who has the edge?

Cardinals left tackle D.J. Humphries agrees, although he left the door open for…



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