Murray and Stafford seek first playoff wins when Cards visit LA

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — If Kyler Murray wants to understand how important it is to seize the opportunity every time a team reaches the NFL playoffs, the Arizona Cardinals star only has to watching his counterpart on the other side of the pitch at SoFi Stadium on Monday night.

Much like Murray, Matthew Stafford is a former No. 1 overall pick who has never won a playoff game despite being among the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

And Stafford has been trying to end that drought since Murray was in seventh grade.

Two elite passers will look for their first playoff wins when the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Rams (12-5) host fifth-seeded Arizona (11-6) in Game 1 playoff in history at the multibillion-dollar stadium that will host the Super Bowl less than four weeks later.

The Cardinals didn’t make the playoffs in Murray’s first two seasons, but Stafford’s Detroit Lions only made the playoffs twice in his prolific 12 seasons there.

While Stafford reveals little about his personal motivation to break into the playoffs, everyone knows the Rams acquired him in a trade for Jared Goff – who led LA to the Super Bowl – because they thought Stafford could take them further.

“Every time I step on a pitch, I prove myself,” Stafford said. “It’s a team game, no doubt, but at the same time, do I know that when the quarterback plays a good game, you have a better chance of winning? Absoutely.”

The match is the third meeting of the season between division rivals who have shared their opening two encounters, each winning on the other’s turf. Both teams stumbled into the playoffs after shocking home losses: The Rams were soundly beaten by San Francisco, but still won the NFC West because the Cardinals lost to last-place Seattle.

And both teams would consider a first-round exit a big disappointment: Los Angeles built its self-proclaimed All-Star squad with the high-priced midseason acquisitions of Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. specifically to attack this Super window. Bowl, while the equally star-studded Cardinals started 7-0 and 10-2 before clinching an impressive season.

Sean McVay had beaten the Cardinals eight straight before Kliff Kingsbury’s side broke through to win at Inglewood in October. The Rams then won at Glendale in December, but this rivalry is no longer one-sided.

“They really had our number as an organization,” Kingsbury said. “But the last two games have been a dogfight, back and forth. Lots of guys having awesome performances and keeping it close. That’s my expectation for Monday night. Lots of talented players on the pitch. »

ROAD WARRIORS

In an odd twist, the Cardinals are actually quite happy to go on the road to the playoffs. That’s because Arizona was much better coming out of the desert, finishing 8-1 in road games and 3-5 at home.

Arizona’s turnover margin is a big reason for success on the road: The Cardinals have 21 takeaways in nine road games and just three turnovers.

ROLLERS AND ROCKS

The Rams have won five straight before their season-ending weak effort against San Francisco. McVay seems confident his team is better represented by their late-season surge than their final flop, noting the steady improvements in their defense despite significant personnel losses – including leading tackle Jordan Fuller, now out for the season with an ankle injury.

The Cardinals finished the regular season on a 1-4 slump that included losses to three non-playoff teams and the Rams. DeAndre Hopkins hasn’t played since that loss to Los Angeles, and the star receiver won’t be returning from knee surgery this week.

KYLER’S THIRD YEAR

Murray has thrown for 3,787 yards and 24 touchdowns this season despite missing three games with an ankle injury. He completed a career-high 69.2% of his passes, which set a franchise record and ranked No. 2 in the NFL.

It will be interesting to see how much Murray runs in his playoff opener, as his athleticism has plagued the Rams in previous encounters. The dual-threat QB has rushed for a career-low 423 yards this season, but his running ability can be a huge advantage if used in the right situations.

“I think that’s what he’s been waiting for three years,” Kingsbury said. “He’s a guy who wants to play for something and knows he’s playing for something. It’s his first playoff shot, and I expect him to play probably the best game of his career. .

BE CAREFUL OF NEIGHBORHOODS

This game should be a beauty for passing enthusiasts. Murray and Stafford better have their heads on a swivel as they are chased by some of the best sack masters of this generation, especially if Arizona’s JJ Watt can return from his shoulder injury.

The Cardinals could have Watt and Chandler Jones on the field, while the Rams defense will counter with Von Miller and Aaron Donald. The foursome have a whopping 423 career sacks.

SECONDARY CONCERNS

The Rams’ already fragile secondary lost its second-best player when Fuller suffered an ankle injury. They’ll fill in the gaps behind All-Pro Jalen Ramsey with questionable saves and even 37-year-old Eric Weddle, who ended his two-year retirement to join LA this week. Murray will have plenty of opportunities to make plays for Christian Kirk, AJ Green, Rondale Moore and Zach Ertz.

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AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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