The Rams and Saints, as the two best teams in the NFC should, will play for the conference championship Sunday. Top-seeded New Orleans earned the right to host the penultimate playoff game by beating second-seeded Los Angeles at the Superdome back in Week 9.
Not much separated the teams’ high-flying, balanced offenses in the first meeting. The Rams finished the regular season as the higher-scoring offense overall, ranked second in the NFL with 32.9 points per game. But the Saints were right behind them at 31.5 points per game. The Rams ranked No. 3 in rushing offense; the Saints were No. 6.
There was a bigger difference on the other side of the ball. The Saints ranked No. 14 in both total and scoring defense, including No. 2 against the run. The Rams were No. 19 in total, No. 20 in scoring and No. 23 against the run.
In just their second year together as Rams coach and quarterback, Sean McVay and Jared Goff are looking to advance to their first Super Bowl. Saints counterparts Sean Payton and Drew Brees are looking for a chance to win their second Super Bowl over the past 10 seasons.
Although the QBs are on the marquee, the Rams’ Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson and the Saints’ Alvin Kamara and Mark ingram are red-hot rushing duos working behind elite offensive lines. Defensively, linemen Aaron Donald and Cameron Jordan lead star-studded casts.
Given the volume of playmakers backed by great coaching, there’s no reason this sequel in the Superdome can’t be even more compelling than the original. Here is how Sporting News’ NFL experts think the game will play out.
Rams vs. Saints: Picks, odds for NFC championship game
- Date, time: Sun., Jan 20, 3:05 p.m. ET
- Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
- TV: FOX
- Odds: Saints -3.5; Total: 57
Vinnie Iyer: Offense has been the calling card for both the Saints and the Rams, but this game will come down to which team can play better defense. Los Angeles faces a much tougher run defense in New Orleans than the one it saw against, while the Saints get a much more favorable matchup for Kamara and Ingram.
The Saints’ secondary, which played well against the Eagles, also gets a break, as the Rams this time will be without Cooper Kupp, a key receiving factor in the first game. Meanwhile, the Rams’ corners should be having nightmares about Brees’ go-to guy, Michael Thomas. Thomas posted 12 catches for 211 yards against them in Week 9 and just burned the Eagles for 12 catches for 171 yards.
McVay’s team will move the ball with Gurley, Robert Woods and former Saint Brandin Cooks, but the coach can’t cover up his team’s numerous defensive deficiencies away from Donald. The Saints are solid and deep on every level, even after the big blow of losing tackle Sheldon Rankins in the divisional round.
Los Angeles and New Orleans match each other for the most part on offense and special teams, but give Brees the edge over Goff at QB, and the Saints will play better situational defense. The Superdome crowd also will provide a big boost as the Saints march on to that other Mercedes-Benz venue in Atlanta.
Pick: Saints, 38-30