The surprising Cardinals (10-3) have led the NFC West for much of this season. But the Seattle Seahawks (9-4), following an early season stumble or two, have won three straight and are one game behind Arizona. A victory for the Cardinals over the NFC West cellar-dwelling Rams (6-7) is essential, but in no way guaranteed as St. Louis has won three of its last four games.
In that four-game stretch, the Rams beat Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in St. Louis, lost by a field goal against the Chargers in San Diego, and have shut out both the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins.
The Rams have gone on this late surge due to a ground game featuring running back Tre Mason. Backup quarterback Shaun Hill has filled in admirably for an injured Sam Bradford. Wide receivers Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, and Stedman Bailey and tight end Jared Cook have produced in the passing game.
On defense, St. Louis gives up an average of just under 105 rushing yards per game to the opposition. Defending against the pass, defensive end Robert Quinn has 10-1/2 sacks to lead the club, followed by rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald's seven QB sacks. But defensive end Chris Long is questionable with a lower leg injury.
Speaking of injuries, the Cardinals have lost two major cogs on their offense. Starting quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Andre Ellington are both out for the rest of the season. Backup quarterback Drew Stanton has led Arizona to five wins so far this year. Running back Stepfan Taylor will step in for Ellington against the Rams.
The Cardinals defense is led by former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Larry Foote, who leads the team in tackles. Both Calais Campbell and Alex Okafor have seven sacks apiece. Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie make up half of a talented defensive secondary.
Back on Nov. 9 in Arizona, the Cardinals defeated the Rams, 31-14. St. Louis led, 14-10, at the half, but gave up three fourth-quarter touchdowns for the Arizona victory.
A little more history - both franchises have moved around the country and both have a Missouri connection. The Cardinals began their NFL membership in Chicago in 1922, moved to St. Louis in 1960, then left for Arizona in 1988. The Rams came into the NFL in Cleveland in 1937, shifted west to Los Angeles in 1946, then moved to St. Louis in 1995.
You can watch the Cardinals and Rams play on the NFL Network, beginning at 8:25 p.m. Eastern time Thursday.