The Los Angeles Rams travel to face the New Orleans Saints for the third time this year in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, January 20. Both teams have changed dramatically since their last meeting in Week 9. With that in mind, the Rams and Saints will provide a much different game than what we’ve previously seen. Here are five bold predictions for the Rams – Saints NFC Championship Game.
5. It will not be a shootout
These two teams scored a combined 80 points in their last meeting. Drew Brees and Jared Goff combined for 737 passing yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas caught 11 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown. Rams wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp combined for 11 receptions, 203 yards, and two touchdowns. It was an offensive show for 60 minutes. That’s not what will happen this Sunday.
Both defenses have settled in since that fateful meeting. New Orleans’ front seven has been nearly unstoppable for weeks, and the secondary appears to be settling down after a few rough outings. The Rams defense transformed with cornerback Aqib Talib back in the lineup, which has allowed Marcus Peters to be more of a zone corner. Finally, the Rams’ front seven has dramatically improved against the run, as evidenced by them holding Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott to 47 yards on 21 carries last weekend.
Both defenses have toughened up throughout the last part of the season. We won’t see another 80-point game this time.
4. Michael Thomas will still get at least 125 yards
Even with the improvements in the Rams’ secondary, Thomas remains one of the biggest playmakers on the Saints roster. Meanwhile, the Rams must figure out how to cover both Thomas and Alvin Kamara out of the backfield. Talib would be the player most trusted to cover Thomas after Peters struggled against him in November, but Los Angeles will be forced to move Talib up to the line of scrimmage from time to time. Thomas is a tough matchup for the Rams, and he will make them pay.
3. The Rams’ front seven will get to Brees
The Saints have done a great job protecting Brees over the past couple of seasons. They kept Brees nearly untouched in the Week 9 meeting with the Rams, and he torched them as a result. It will be different this time. The Rams’ front seven has finally squared away some of its fundamental issues in the last couple games, and it’s almost impossible to believe that Aaron Donald would be held without a sack again.
Perhaps more importantly, Donald’s teammates on the defensive line, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers, finally seem to be getting pressure as well. The Rams’ more disciplined defensive approach might not mean huge sack numbers, but they will pressure Brees far more than last time.
2. Saints will hold Rams to 100 rushing yards
New Orleans will come into this game focused on stopping the run, and they will not disappoint. The defensive line remains one of the deepest units on the team, despite losing Sheldon Rankins to injury. The Saints will focus stuffing the run and forcing Jared Goff to win the game, which is something he hasn’t done since the Rams’ 54-51 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in November.
Running back Todd Gurley may be the best all-around back in the league, but it won’t matter much if the Saints can force the Rams into third and long situations. An on-point Goff is what the Rams need to overcome the Saints defensive line.
1. Rams will beat the Saints
The crowd noise of the Super Dome definitely affected the Rams during the first and second quarters of their November meeting. However, the Rams adapted quickly and nearly came back to win the game in the second half of their Week 9 meeting. What it really comes down to is weapons, and while these are two similar teams, one of them has more.
The Rams have weapons at every skill position on offense. They run two-deep at running back and three-deep at wide receiver. Tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett have also made critical plays throughout the season. Los Angeles simply has more firepower than New Orleans. If the Rams can protect Goff, they will beat the Saints. The Rams did well against the crowd-noise in the first game, and we can all be sure that the team will be ready to deal with it again on Sunday. I’m saying it now. The Los Angeles Rams will beat the Saints and go to their first Super Bowl since the 1999 season.