NFC Championship Preview

By: Thomas Capo
Posted: January 17, 2019

Los Angeles Rams (13-3) at New Orleans Saints (13-3)

Sunday, January 20th, 3:05 PM EST.


Who ya got in this one people?

Battle-tested Super Bowl winner Sean Payton, or offensive savant youngster Sean McVay.  I mean youngster very literally here, he’s almost a decade younger than the quarterback he’ll face on Sunday.

Crafty veteran Drew Brees, or talented upstart Jared Goff?

Both teams feature potent running games with multiple backs.  Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram carry the rock for New Orleans, Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson do the heavy lifting for the Rams.  The Rams ranked third in the league in ground yardage per game.  The Saints were sixth.  Both units can expect to move the ball in a variety of looks, as well as utilizing screens and slants with their running backs.

When the QB’s sling it, they’ll both have talented pass catchers to move the chains and long, athletic targets in the red zone.  New Orleans was the league’s twelfth-ranked passing offense, in large part due to the emergence of Michael Thomas this season.  He became a full-blown superstar this year with over fourteen-hundred yards and nine touchdowns.  He averages over ten yards per catch.  After their primary target, Brees likes to spread it around, using Kamara as a pass catcher in the flat, or speedy Ted Ginn to stretch the field.  Los Angeles, the NFL’s fifth-ranked passing unit, has an array of dangerous pass catchers as well, with deep threats Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks, even after the loss of Goff’s favorite target in Cooper Kupp.

Brees and Goff both threw for thirty-two TD’s this season, with Goff throwing for seven-hundred more yards.  But Goff also turned the ball over more, throwing twelve interceptions on the season to Brees five.  Goff was sacked thirty-three times this season, almost twice as much as Brees.

Defensively, it might be a bit of a toss-up.  Both teams were in the middle of the pack in yards allowed and scoring defense.  The Rams have a bit of an advantage in the passing game, allowing fewer yards per game in the air.  Their secondary also has a nose for the ball.  They’re tied with New England for the third-most interceptions in the league.  The Saints will have the advantage on the ground, where they allowed the second-fewest yards per carry in the league (3.6 YPC), while Los Angeles was the worst team in the league by that metric, allowing 5.1 YPC.

There’s one giant X-factor on the defensive side of the ball that needs to be accounted for, and that’s Aaron Donald.  The Rams pass rusher led the league with 20.5 sacks this season and can impact the game plan of any offensive coordinator with his ability to fight through double teams and influence the quarterback.  If he’s amped up, there might not be much the Saints can do to control him.  If that happens, expect to see sacks, batted balls, and generalized fear from Drew Brees.  Spoiler alert: Aaron Donald is very likely to be amped up.  That being said, the Saints as a team recorded more sacks this season than the Rams by a significant margin and have been better at protecting their signal caller.

Prediction: These teams squared off in week nine, with the Saints scoring a ten-point home win, 45-35.  I’m tempted at this point is to pick the Saints because of the experience in the coach’s room and under center, but Los Angeles was my preseason NFC Super Bowl pick, and I’m sticking with it.  I think the Rams have another big day running the ball and Aaron Donald does enough to force Drew Brees into making one costly mistake that tips the scales.

Rams – 35

Saints – 30

Photo Credit- Sporting News

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