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2019 NFC Championship Preview – Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints

2019 NFC Championship Preview – Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams have been the two best teams in the National Football Conference for the entirety of the 2018-2019 season. It is appropriate that the two will clash in New Orleans for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Neither side has been exceptional against the spread (ATS), with the Saints going 10-7 and the LA Rams right in the middle at 8-8-1. Perhaps more surprising, the Saints are only 4-5 ATS as the home team while the LA Rams are 4-4 as the road squad. Those numbers give us absolutely nothing to lean on and their previous matchup was in week eight and resulted in a 45-35 victory for the Saints. Since then, the Rams have gone 6-2 and the Saints went 7-2. Again, there is no perceivable edge.

In the absence of that, let’s dive into the matchup. The New Orleans Saints game plan on defense is likely very clear. Limit the Rams rushing attack, send the pass rush on Jared Goff and force him to prove he can beat them. Robert Woods is a very good receiver and a clear number one option and Todd Gurley is a very capable pass-catching threat but Goff and the Rams really miss Cooper Kupp and it has made their offense slightly less dangerous. However, Todd Gurley looked great against the Cowboys last Saturday and recently acquired CJ Anderson looks like a wonderful addition. Both went for more than 100 yards on the ground against Dallas and New Orleans is now without stellar defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. The Rams had the NFL’s third-best rushing attack and their rushing game might be even more potent than it was for the backstretch of the season. The Rams will clearly want to move the ball on the ground and accentuate that with the passing game. The Saints know that far better than I do so it will be extremely interesting to see the chess game between Sean McVay and Sean Payton. If the Saints can limit the Rams on the ground, they will feel terrific about their chances.

On the other side of the ball, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is now officially a man after turning 40 this week. He is still playing at a very high-level and has perhaps the NFL’s hottest receiver in Michael Thomas. Thomas torched the Rams and corner Marcus Peters for 211 yards in the previous matchup. LA has Aqib Talib back in the fold and it would seem like a good idea to give him some snaps against Thomas, particularly in scoring territory. New Orleans has more than just Thomas though as they feature one of the more innovative and unique offenses in the league. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara will be featured as running backs while Kamara doubles as a receiving dynamo. The Rams defensive front features Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh and they’ll be tasked with making the Saints injured and depleted offensive line pay. Getting quick penetration to throw off the high-volume and rhythm passing attack of the Saints will be a key. Receivers like Tre’Quan Smith, Keith Kirkwood and the now-healthy Ted Ginn round out the offense and make it impossible to key in on just Thomas or Kamara. The Rams will also have to prepare for the role of Taysom Hill, a backup quarterback that Sean Payton gets involved in a lot of different ways.

The keys to this game are clear: the Rams need to run the ball successfully against one of the league’s better run defenses. Doing so will allow them to control the tempo and put Jared Goff into comfortable positions. They will also want to do everything possible to disrupt Drew Brees, at least a little bit, and make someone besides Michael Thomas beat them. The Saints will want to make Jared Goff have to be the focal point of the Rams offense by limiting Todd Gurley. The Saints come in as 3.5 point favorites, a position they were 7-7 ATS in. The core group of the New Orleans Saints has been here before and they are at home in what will undoubtedly be a raucous atmosphere but Todd Gurley is one of the brightest stars in the NFL and the Rams have looked the part of potential champions for much of the season. If nothing else, this showdown promises to be highly-entertaining.

 

 

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