The Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals play each other twice a year as members of the NFC West/ But despite the long histories of their franchises, across multiple cities over multiple decades, their matchup on Monday night to conclude Super Wild Card Weekend is just the second time the two teams will face each other in the postseason.
The last time the Rams and Cardinals met was in 1975 and the Cardinals were the team from St. Louis. These two teams, who have combined for just one Super Bowl, will meet for the third time this season, but in the only game that matters.
That 70’s show: The Rams take down the St. Louis Cardinals in 1975, in their only NFL Playoffs meeting
The NFC in the 1970s was dominated by two teams: The Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings. In 10 seasons from 1969-78, either the Cowboys or the Vikings were the NFC representative in the Super Bowl nine times, with the 1972 Washington Football Team the only one to crash the party.
So, basically, no matter how good you might have been in the 1970s, you were not getting past the NFC Conference Championship Game and you probably weren’t advancing beyond the Divisional Round.
The Los Angeles Rams and St. Louis Cardinals were good teams in the 1970s. But not good enough. And in 1975, they met for the only time in the playoffs in either franchise history.
In this instance, it was the Cardinals who represented St. Louis, while the Rams were still in their original iteration in Los Angeles.
The game was hardly memorable for either side. Ron Jaworski, quarterbacking the Rams in his pre-Eagles days, easily out-dueled Jim Hart in a 35-23 victory that was decided very early, with the Rams taking a 21-0 in the second quarter and never trailing by less than 12 the rest of the way.
Then the Rams did what they always did in the ‘70s and lost in the conference championship game to either Dallas or Minnesota, one of four such losses between 1974-79.
A split decision in the regular season helps the Rams take the NFC West title
Things got a little weird over the next three decades. First, the Cardinals left St. Louis for Arizona in 1988 and became the Phoenix Cardinals. Then the Rams left Los Angeles for St. Louis after the 1994 season, kept the name, while the same year the Cardinals changed their location name to Arizona. The St. Louis Rams won the only Super Bowl between the two franchises in 1999, but the Rams wound up moving back to Los Angeles in 2016.
That brings us to 2021, with both teams challenging for the NFC West title.
The Rams, who traded for quarterback Matthew Stafford before the season, were 3-0 when they hosted the Cardinals in Week 4. But Arizona, also 3-0 handed the Rams a 37-20 defeat that sent the Rams on a nine-game stretch where they played 5-4 and fell two games behind the Cardinals in the NFC West standings heading into their rematch in Glendale in Week 14.
This time, it was the Rams who seized the initiative, with Stafford playing one of his finest games of the season, completing 23 of 30 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception. The victory launched the Rams on a five-game winning streak to seize back the NFC West title while the Cardinals lost 4 of their final 5 to take a Wild Card berth.
The Rams and Cardinals prepare to bring a close to Super Wild Card Weekend on Monday night
Now the Rams are the home team as the script has flipped in just five weeks since the teams met on Monday night in early December. But in some ways, particularly on the Rams’ side, we’re right back where we were when the teams met in Week 14.
After a dismal showing in a Week 18 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers in which Stafford threw a pair of costly interceptions, there are again whispers about his ability to win a big game for the Rams, who acquired him precisely for a moment like Monday night.
The Cardinals have their own issues, with star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who hasn’t played since that Week 14 game, already ruled out, leaving the offense with a huge hole it has struggled to fill across its 1-4 stretch. But perhaps the return of J.J. Watt can change the calculus.
And if old friend Dallas, along with Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, wins this weekend, the winner of Monday’s night game draws the rested Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Just like old times?
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference