The first of two rematches on Championship Sunday in the National Football League pits the two-seeded Los Angeles Rams against the top-seeded New Orleans Saints, and like their first encounter, this contest is in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but unlike that first game, I do not anticipate this being as high-scoring as it was in Week 9 when both teams peaked on the offensive side of the ball.
The Rams were the early favorites to win the Super Bowl in large part due to an offense that scored 29 points or more in ten of the first eleven weeks of the regular season. However, Sean McVay’s squad lost wide receiver Cooper Kupp to a torn ACL in mid-November and for the most part third-year quarterback Jared Goff has not looked the same since. Goff has rebounded to an extent from two poor outings in losses to the Bears and Eagles in Week 15 and Week 16, but I have little trust in him getting back to the form that even had him in the Most Valuable Player conversation during the first half of the 2018 campaign.
The Rams leaned on the running game in their divisional round contest in Southern California versus the Cowboys with both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson gaining over 100 yards on the ground. They face a Saints defense that was one of the league’s best against the run, but that will be without key defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins who is out after tearing his Achilles’ tendon last week against the Eagles. It is doubtful that the Rams will have as much success with the running game as they did last Saturday night, but I expect McVay to attempt to establish the run and take pressure off Goff in what is certain to be a hostile environment. This may or may not lead to a lot of offensive success, but it will certainly result in more time coming off the clock during possessions than in their 45-35 loss on November 4th when Los Angeles only ran the ball 19 times for a total of 92 yards.
Much like Los Angeles, the Saints were clicking on all cylinders offensively in their Week 9 outing in the “Big Easy.” They put up 35 points in the first half, were 7 of 12 on third downs and were 5 for 5 in the red zone that Sunday afternoon. However, since Week 13 the Saints have only scored over 20 points twice and veteran quarterback Drew Brees has not been able to throw the deep ball with anywhere near the efficiency he did during New Orleans first eleven games. This was once again evident against Philly on Sunday afternoon when on a few occasions he underthrew open receivers on plays that most certainly would have resulted in big gains.
I am sure head coach Sean Payton will draw up a few deep shots, but I expect most of the game plan to rely on short and intermediate throws and taking advantage of a Rams rush defense that gave up 5.1 yards per carry throughout the course of the regular season. Look for Payton to get the ball to Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram early and often on Sunday, which should help bleed the clock more than in the initial meeting.
I have liked the Saints chances of getting to and winning the Super Bowl for more than two months now, but the injury to Rankins and concern with what I have seen from their veteran QB has me unwilling to lay more than a field goal on Sunday. I think New Orleans has a strong chance to pull this one out and advance to the Super Bowl, but instead will roll with the UNDER. Sure, the 45-35 score in the first contest is concerning, but I still see value in that play since these two offenses have cooled off over the final part of the season.
Scott Shapiro’s NFC Championship Play – UNDER 56.5