Championship Sunday gets underway with the NFC Championship Game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. Game time is set for 3:05 EST on Sunday, January 20, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The game will be broadcast nationally on Fox.
Oddsmakers list the Saints as 3.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 57 points.
After New Orleans dominated the NFC for much of their 13-3 regular season, the Saints were holding their breath during last week’s game against the Eagles. They were stunned by Philadelphia jumping ahead 14-0 in the 1st quarter, forcing them to play catch up. However, the Saints eventually found their groove offensively, dominating time of possession and out-gaining the Eagles by 170 yards. Of course, the Saints needed a late turnover deep in their own territory to secure a win and a spot in the conference title game.
Meanwhile, the Rams had a slightly more comfortable 30-22 win over the Cowboys in the Divisional Round. The Los Angeles offense scored on nearly every possession while accumulating over 450 total yards. Defensively, the Rams didn’t exactly put their foot down and dominate the Cowboys. However, they did have one of their better performances of the season, stifling the Dallas running game and forcing the Cowboys to do most of their damage through the air. In the end, it was enough to secure the win at home and set up a conference championship game between the best two teams in the NFC.
As most people will recall, these teams had an epic showdown back in Week 9. In that game, the Saints led 35-14 late in the 2nd quarter. However, the Rams scored the next 21 points to tie the game, only to see New Orleans score the final 10 points to win 45-35. If Sunday’s game is anything like that meeting, this year’s NFC Championship Game should be an instant classic.
To be honest, it’s tough to swallow more than a field goal when I know that both teams are capable of scoring a lot of points. However, in a game of this magnitude, I trust Drew Brees a lot more than I trust Jared Goff. Perhaps more importantly, I trust the New Orleans defense more than the Los Angeles defense. For me, that’s enough to lean toward the Saints to win and cover.
All things considered, Goff has had another outstanding season. However, he didn’t look like the same quarterback down the stretch. He was inconsistent with his accuracy and created fewer big plays during the final month of the regular season. This makes me hesitant to think that Goff and the Rams can keep up if this turns into another shootout. It’s also worth noting that the Rams are without Cooper Kupp, who played a big role when these teams met earlier in the season.
To be fair, the Rams have responded to Goff’s somewhat diminishing performances by leaning on their ground game last week. Both Todd Gurley and his new backup C.J. Anderson rushed for over 100 yards against a solid Dallas defense. In fact, Anderson ended up getting more touches than Gurley, who was only targeted twice in the passing game. That could indicate that Gurley still isn’t 100% after missing time late in the season due to injury, which doesn’t bode well for the Rams. Also, the New Orleans defense presents a greater challenge for the L.A. rushing attack. The Saints gave up just 3.6 yards per carry during the regular season.
I don’t doubt the explosiveness of the Los Angeles offense. But Gurley’s health and Goff’s inconsistency down the stretch can’t be ignored against a quality defense. In the nine games since playing the Rams earlier this season, the Saints are giving up less than 17 points per game. After a slow start last week, they shutout the Eagles for the final three quarters of the game. It’s not out of the question for the New Orleans to provide some serious resistance against the Rams.
On the other side of the ball, I still have some concerns about the Rams defensively. They may have done a great job stopping the run last week, but they were still a little vulnerable against the pass. The Rams will once again have to pay special attention to the New Orleans running game this week. However, Brees is better able to hurt them through the air than Dak Prescott was last week.
Despite scoring a modest 20 points against Philadelphia, the New Orleans offense was close to unstoppable once they got rolling. On their 3rd quarter touchdown drive, the Saints held the ball for over 11 minutes. Brees was accurate with his passes, the running game was a steady contributor, and Michael Thomas was electric. Obviously, the Saints would prefer to get a little more out of Ted Ginn Jr. or Tre’Quan Smith. But if Thomas plays at the same level he did last week, the Rams may not have an answer for him or the New Orleans offense.
While it’s hard to imagine the Saints turning this game into a runaway, I think they’ll be able to win by a comfortable margin. New Orleans is the more complete team on both sides of the ball, which will force the Rams to be close to perfect if they want to win on the road. In the end, I like the Saints to win by a touchdown and cover the spread on their way to the Super Bowl.