NFL expert Kyle Brown (@Kyleianbrown) takes us through the NFC Conference Championship clash between Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints on Sunday night.
Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans Saints | Sunday 20th January 2019, 20:05 | Sky Sports
A mouthwatering NFC Championship game is in store for us this weekend as the LA Rams travel to Louisiana to take on the New Orleans Saints.
Both teams average over 30 points a game, LA ranking #2 (32.9) and the Saints #3 (31.5), both just a couple digits off the electric Kansas City Chiefs (35.3). It would suggest that this match will be a non-stop shootout, but as the Saints showed last week against the reigning champions, they can win off the back of a stellar defensive performance.
Saints showing strength on both sides of the ball
Despite falling to a 14-0 lead last week, the Saints held the Eagles to just 250 yards of total offense last week as they came back to win 20-14 courtesy of a last-minute interception. 250 yards isn’t a figure to ignore considering that since Nick Foles retook the reigns of the Philadelphia offense he had driven them to 360+ yards on 3 /4 occasions (the lone exception being against the monstrous Chicago defence, who still only held them to 300).
The slow start turned into a strong finish, and when they took Philadelphia off the field it allowed Drew Brees to show why he is strongly considered for this years’ MVP. He went 28/38 for 2 TD’s and an INT, connecting particularly well with Michael Thomas, who finished with a stat line of 12/171/1.
The key for the Saints this week will be starting on the front foot and keeping the home fans loud. With all due respect to Philadelphia, they aren’t nearly as strong as the Rams, and if the Saints find themselves chasing a 14-point lead again they may not come back within touching distance of winning.
Donald to show why he is favourite for DPOY
For all the talk of how brilliant and exciting the Rams’ young offensive unit is, there is no bigger name on the team than defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Leading the league in both sacks (20.5) and pressures (74), he will be tasked with hunting down Drew Brees and stopping him from making plays. In the last outing against the Saints, he accumulated 4 pressures on the polished QB, albeit was unable to make a sack.
Donald’s main obstacle will be Saints’ Andrus Peat, although it was revealed he has been playing in pain following a hand injury. Injuries are the last thing you need when you’re stood opposite the Rams’ defensive line and Donald should capitalise.
Another positive note for the Rams is that they have the self-proclaimed “freshest running back in the league”, CJ Anderson playing alongside Todd Gurley III. Anderson has shown in recent weeks just how explosive he is, finishing 23/123/2 last week against the Cowboys – 123 yards was his lowest yardage output in the three games he’s been in a Rams uniform, which is simply incredible.
Both RB’s went for over 100 yards and a TD last week as they simply overwhelmed the Dallas defence, but they will be tested to the max against the #2 ranked rushing defence. The Saints were highly ranked in practically all defensive stats against the run: 1283 total yards allowed (#2), 3.6 yards per attempt (#2), 28 yard longest run (#1) and 12 TD’s allowed (T – #10). But if there is any coach around who can think outside the box to get both running backs working efficiently in this match, it’s Sean McVay.
The betting angles
The Saints were my pre-season pick to win the NFC conference, and had you backed them at 11/1 you’re now odds-on to get a winner (preview available here).
Despite talking up the talent that both teams possess on defence I still see this being somewhat of a shootout. It will be a game of fine margins, but both sides will be eager to start the game with a score and to build upon the lead.
I can’t imagine either coach will be pleased only coming away from a drive with a field goal – they will want the seven points. I can see both teams scoring early, and over 10.5 points in the first quarter at 1/1 on Sky Bet looks tasty.
I’m also going to double down on CJ Anderson. There isn’t a running back with a hotter hand left in the playoffs than CJ, and his line is set at a measly 50.5 rushing yards.
A 50-yard rushing game would be over 70 yards less than his lowest yardage output in a Rams uniform, last week for 123 yards against the Cowboys as I mentioned earlier. It shows the respect that the Saints’ run defence commands, but I believe McVay will find a way to get Anderson (and Gurley) running explosively.
A third angle for attack that intrigues me is in the market will either team score three unanswered times? Currently only available on Betway and Sportingbet (although hopefully more sites will add it closer to kick-off), I don’t believe either team will.
Both teams are highly capable on both sides of the ball, and so I can’t see either of them playing poorly enough to allow three consecutive scores without a reply. The game will likely be won by one score or less, and so I can’t envision either side running away with it at any point during the match.
Michael Thomas and CJ Anderson would be my two picks to score anytime for either side. Thomas is best priced at 10/11 on Sky Bet, and Anderson is 11/10 on Ladbrokes. The double is available on Sky at 11/4 if you fancy something a bit longer.
Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans Saints – CJ Anderson Over 50.5 Rushing Yards (5/6 Sky Bet)
Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans Saints – Will either team score three unanswered times? No (11/5 Sportingbet)
Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans Saints – Michael Thomas to score a touchdown at anytime (10/11 Sky Bet)