Like the AFC Championship game, the NFC Championship games featured two teams who held serve at home. The Saints got off to a sluggish start against the Eagles and then shook off a late Philadelphia comeback to take down the defending champions. The Rams, while not looking like an offensive juggernaut, won their game as it really felt like the team dictated the tempo against the Cowboys.
Both the Saints and Rams really dominated their schedules from beginning to end and are probably the two most balanced teams left (and my pick to win the Super Bowl over whoever they face in the AFC). The Rams have stars on both sides of the ball and have won in many different ways in 2018. The Saints offense carried them for the first half of the season, but as the offense has been relatively “figured out,” the defense has stepped up, creating key turnovers, making big stops and really put them in an amazing spot.
This game could be high-scoring as well, but it could be one that you look at the scoreboard in the 4th and see it is only 17-17 given how the defenses can play. So who will come out on top?
LOS ANGELES RAMS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS, 3:05, FOX
RAMS WIN IF
JARED GOFF PLAYS A FLAWLESS GAME: I feel with Goff is that when he is on his game he can be an elite quarterback. But I also feel with Goff is that when he is not on his game, he looks like Jared Goff pre-2017 and you want to run the other way. And he hasn’t been playing as sharp as he was to start out the year. But what Goff needs to do is be smart with the ball, make accurate passes, and not give the ball away. I’m not saying he needs to play shoot-out with Drew Brees as that is asking for bad news, but New Orleans will be focused on Gurley. Goff HAS to be on his A+ game Sunday.
THE DEFENSE KEEPS THEIR COOL: It felt like in the regular season match-up between the Rams and Saints, Los Angeles lost their edge a bit and got visibly frustrated. That can’t happen again and somebody needs to make sure that Ndamukong Suh is not trying to do underhand tactics because for some reason I feel like if he tries it Sunday, the refs will nail him for it and it could continue a Saints drive. If they let the emotions get the best of them, this will be the fourth straight NFC Championship game that may end in a blowout.
THEY PLAY PHYSICAL ON BOTH SIDES: The Rams defense is solid. And th thing about the Saints down the stretch was the passing game wasn’t as productive as the first half of the regular season (I had Drew Brees as my fantasy QB and needless to say, he wasn’t getting me the same points as the season got later). But when Dallas beat New Orleans in late November, teams took the Cowboys blueprint and used it. The Rams have to get to Brees and have to play tough on the likes of Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, etc. It isn’t the Saints don’t like it, but they aren’t accustomed to it. Similar on the other side. Have Gurley punish the Saints on the ground.
SAINTS WIN IF
THEY START OFF FAST ON OFFENSE: It nearly went to a nightmare with Philadelphia last week to begin the game. I don’t see the Eagles having the same depth as the Rams though. They also need to make sure Brees is protected. He’s been sacked 12 times in the last 6 games, but he’s been pressured a lot as well, unable to make those same passes he had earlier in the season. An early quick start is what New Orleans needs to really frustrate the Rams.
THEY ARE AGGRESSIVE, BUT NOT OVERLY AGGRESSIVE: Sean Payton against Sean McVay is one of the more intriguing storylines as they both love to get aggressive on offense and love to gamble. That said, at times you wonder if Payton in the past gets overly aggressive. Last week he made some great calls to really change the momentum for the Saints against Philadelphia. But in the past he has been burned as well when they have leads and try to do too much with it. Plus, the Rams are a team that will make you pay for mistakes.
THEY DON’T LET GOFF TAKE OVER: Goff nearly got the Rams back in that first game in New Orleans. That means the Saints defense will have to get after him (which is hurt a bit with Sheldon Rankins not playing) and pressure him as much as possible. Gurley will still be a focus, but he will still do his thing and the Saints will have to be ready for that, but Goff is the one they really have to zero in on.
OUTLOOK: I don’t think the Rams are as strong of a team away from Southern California than they are. I know that most fans who pack the Coliseum pull for the other team (Dallas, Philadelphia, Green Bay, etc.) but they do have their trip-ups against some of the stronger teams regardless. And they are going into a madhouse that is the Superdome. The more I think of it, the more I think the Saints will jump on the Rams early, get the Rams defense flustered and frustrated, and keep the pressure on Goff. People are thinking this is a close tilt, and I can see it. But I don’t think it will happen here. Too many things will have to happen for the Rams to win this, or even making this a close game. SAINTS 38, RAMS 16
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat