The two best teams in the NFC face off this Sunday in the first of two NFL Conference Championship games, and we really couldn’t ask for a better matchup. Both the Los Angeles Rams bring potent offenses and solid defenses to the table, and they are both well-coached to boot.
The winner gets to kick back and watch the AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs with the rest of us. Not much is at stake in both of this weekend’s contests, just a spot in a little thing known as Super Bowl LIII.
Let’s break down the NFC game in full detail, starting with the way the oddsmakers see it playing out.
For much of the year, it looked like these two squads were destined to meet for the NFC crown when all was said and done. The Rams burst out of the gates with a mark of 8-0, a streak that was snapped in New Orleans at the hands of the Saints by a score of 45-35. The team would go 5-2 down the stretch to lock down the NFC West and the #2 seed in the conference.
The Saints were stunned in the opener by the Buccaneers, but the team quickly proved that game to be a mere speed bump while ripping off 10 straight wins. They fell to the Cowboys in a memorable Thursday Night Football contest, but the team would not come up short again until a meaningless Week 17 game versus the Panthers. The stellar regular season run was good enough to win the NFC South and the #1 seed.
|LA Rams||13-3||527||384||W2||1-NFC West||NFC #2|
|New Orleans||13-3||504||353||L1||1-NFC South||NFC #1|
The regular season for both squads is nearly a mirror image. The Rams hit some turbulence in the month of December while dropping consecutive games to the Bears and Eagles, but that was about it for rough spots. The Saints received their wake-up call in Week 1 and never looked back.
|PPG||RuYdF||PaYdF||PtsAll||RuYdA||PaYdA||LA Rams||32.9||139.4||281.7||24.0||122.3||236.3||New Orleans||31.5||126.6||252.6||22.1||80.2||268.9|
As the above table demonstrates, these two teams are neck-and-neck in stats as well. The Rams have a very slight edge offensively on paper, but the reality is that both of those squads can go toe-to-toe with any team in the league. We can say the same will giving the nod to the Saints on defense, but there is a noticeable edge for the home team in run defense.
The Saints get the edge in both QB pressure and protection, while the rest of the miscellaneous stats are essentially a wash. In short, we have two very balanced teams who have every right to be here. There are no question marks looking over either side in this contest. The two very best teams in the conference are preparing to square off with a Super Bowl berth on the line.
The Rams visited the Saints in early November for one of the most anticipated contests of the regular season. The game lived up to the hype, as these two squads went back-and-forth in a thrilling affair. The Saints went into the locker room at the half with a 35-17 lead, but the Rams closed the gap by putting up 10 points in the third quarter.
The Rams tied things up in the fourth, but the Saints were able to drive for a field goal and a touchdown in the final minutes to put a ribbon on a 45-35 victory. While holding a victory over the other side is certainly a feather in the cap of the Saints, it’s important not to read too much into any one game. It’s incredibly challenging to take down an NFL team twice in the same year, barring a major skills gap.
Outside of the head-to-head meeting, these two squads have shared three common opponents including the postseason. The Rams took care of the Vikings and lost to the Eagles in the regular season, and they laid the smack down on the Cowboys in last Saturday’s Divisional Round playoff game. The Eagles handled business with the Vikings and Eagles in 2018, but they came up short versus the Cowboys.
For that loss, the Cowboys were able to hold the Saints completely in check while grinding out a 13-10 victory. That’s a stark contrast to last weekend when the Rams seemed to do what they wanted while rolling to a 30-22 victory over the same team. Again, we caution not to read too much into that as certain teams just match up well with specific opponents while struggling against others.
The oddsmakers seem to have it just right, as the Saints have been installed as a field goal on their home field. That points to a toss-up, and there’s a good chance a contest on a neutral field would be even, while the Rams would probably also be favored by three on their home turf. The first meeting of these two teams was a lot closer than the 10-point final margin indicates, and it could have gone either way as well.
Drew Brees has been playing like a man on a mission this season, and he has been inspiring his teammates to do the same. This may very well be his last chance to reach a Super Bowl, and you can rest assured that he is well aware of that. Bress and the Saints will be locked, loaded, and raring to go on Sunday.
We can expect Sean McVay and the Rams to bring similar effort to the table, and the end result should be a solid game. The Rams look like a team that’s built for success for the next few years, but they need to taste a little more disappointment to continue their ascent. Saints pick up the home victory in front of the raucous Superdome crowd.
We’ll take the Saints minus the points.