Just one game separates the final four NFL playoff teams from reaching the Super Bowl as we’ve reached Championship Weekend. First up is the NFC Championship, pitting the New Orleans Saints against the Los Angeles Rams in a rematch from the regular season (3.05pm ET Sunday).
The last time they met it was November 4, 2018 and the LA Rams were riding high. Undefeated at 8-0, the Rams were one of the league’s best teams and while it was just over midway through the season, people were already talking Super Bowl.
It was the team’s second year since moving from St. Louis to LA and the results were already improving. The relocation also coincided with the development of Jared Goff, who was drafted in 2016 and has improved each year he has been in the league.
The Rams headed to New Orleans for the week nine matchup where they faced the New Orleans Saints, who were 7-1, in a battle to determine the NFC’s best. That’s exactly what these two teams will be doing this Sunday only this time, a lot more will be on the line than just a better record.
New Orleans’ lone loss to that point came in week one of the season in a shocking upset against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Drew Brees and crew were never going to go down that easily and following that loss, the Saints strung off an impressive set of victories that showcased both the team’s excellent offense and rebuilt, much-improved defense.
It all led to week nine and a showdown with the Rams that did not disappoint. With the league’s two best offenses on display, the teams combined for 80 points and almost 750 yards passing and almost 250 yards rushing. Both quarterbacks excelled the way they had all season with Goff even managing to keep pace with the NFL’s all-time leading passer, which is no easy task.
The third year quarterback put up 391 yards with three touchdowns and one interception but it wasn’t quite enough to top the near flawless performance of Brees. The veteran threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns. Both teams had receivers topping 100 yards. Former Saint, Brandin Cooks, did so for the Rams but it was the 211-yard, 12 reception day for Michael Thomas that really stole the show. Not just for that game but across the whole season, Thomas’ performance was one of the best of wide receivers all year.
In the end, the Saints got a game-sealing touchdown from Brees to Thomas, helping them secure a 45-35 point win. It would prove to be important because when the season ended, both the Rams and Saints had identical 13-3 records. By virtue of the head-to-head, that meant that New Orleans would have home field advantage throughout the championship game, something that bodes very well for them this coming Sunday.
When the Saints Go Marching In – To Mercedes Benz Superdome
We touched on this point last week but since it proved fruitful, it’s worth noting again. The Saints are really good at home, especially in the playoffs, and especially within the past couple of years. Home field advantage is always a good thing but for the Saints. It has been the best thing and it could be something that helps lead them back to another Super Bowl.
Sean Payton, New Orleans’ head coach of 12 years, is 6-0 in playoff games played in the Bayou state. The Saints have been accused of being a dome team and that very well may be true. New Orleans playoff record outside of Louisiana certainly leaves much to be desired. But none of that matters this year because the Saints are at home and Payton’s never lost a postseason matchup when that is the case. Being a dome team could very well work out in the Saints’ favor this Sunday.
New Orleans’ own home success aside, there are also trends on their side coming into this championship game. Over the past five years, the home team has won the conference championship a remarkable 10 straight times, including both the AFC and NFC. In that same span, odds-on favorites, which the Saints are, have gone 8-2 in championship games as well. It has been six seasons since a road team has won in the championship game, something that certainly bodes well for New Orleans.
Can the Rams Stop Michael Thomas?
Los Angeles has their work cut out on Sunday as they will be faced with the task of containing one of the league’s best receivers from this past season. There is also the guy who put up huge numbers en route to the Saints winning the last time these two teams met.
During the regular season, Michael Thomas caught a league-high 125 receptions for 1,405 yards (6th) and nine touchdowns (tied-10th). Thomas’ quickness, elusiveness and just pure athleticism was too much for LA’s secondary to handle last time. With that game in hand, the team does have some tape to go back to in order to see where Thomas beat them and their coverage the worst. Stopping him isn’t as simple as watching film, something the Philadelphia Eagles learned last week. In his first postseason game of the year, Thomas was New Orleans’ hero, catching 12 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles played the Saints close despite scoring all of their points in the first quarter, but in the end, Thomas was the difference maker. He was the difference maker in week nine of this season too against the Rams and LA will have to be really careful and do a much better job than last time to avoid that fate again.
Our Preview’s LA Rams at New Orleans Saints Predictions & Picks Verdict
This is going to be a great game as two of the league’s best offenses go head-to-head on their conference’s biggest stage. The Saints enter this game as 3 or 3.5 point favorites with the legal offshore online bookmakers, which is a pretty fair spread all things considered. Last time they played the Rams, they won by 10 points but we don’t see the same outcome. So, for betting purposes, our Los Angeles Rams vs New Orleans Saints predictions go like this:
- This should be a close game so look for the Rams to stay within the 3.5 points given the Saints on the spread. Bet on the LA Rams +3.5pts @ -120 with Bovada. That same spread is -125 with Intertops. It is +3pts at Bookmaker (-110) and BetOnline (-104).
- The total points to be scored is set at 56.5pts generally (57pts at Bovada), which is high for a playoff game and the higher of the two championship games this Sunday, if only by a small margin. These two offenses are more than capable of hitting that mark. Look for a shootout and a total that goes over. So bet higher than 56.5pts @ best odds of -105 with Bookmaker. It is -110 with Intertops & BetOnline.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.