The top seeded Saints are hosting the No. 2 seeded Rams in a grudge match from a Week 8 game that saw the Saints win 45-35. The NFC Championship Game is here, and the best two teams in the NFC are in it. The Saints jumped all over the Rams early in that regular-season game before the Rams stormed back. Since that game, the Rams have gone 6-2 and the Saints are 7-2, so neither team has really missed a step.
The Rams ran all over the hyped-up Cowboys defense last week, with C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley both going for over 100 yards. The Saints will be without a key piece in Sheldon Rankins on defense, so expect the Rams to try to exploit that. Of course, the Rams aren't without key injuries. The loss of Cooper Kupp has had a big effect on Jared Goff, and it showed in games against the Bears and Eagles. The Saints will try to make the Rams throw the ball often, and they have the offensive firepower to do it.
While this has all of the hallmarks of a revenge game for the Rams as a unit, it's especially one for Marcus Peters. Peters took issue with Sean Payton the last time these teams played, and this week he already tweeted "it's gumbo week" before deleting it. Michael Thomas had 12 catches for 211 yards the last time these teams played, and that memory is clearly still in Peters' mind.
Both teams have also returned some key pieces since they last played. Aqib Talib is back on the field for the Rams (and he may end up spending a lot of time on Thomas after the Rams see what Thomas did to the Eagles' zone coverage), while Ted Ginn is playing for the Saints. Ginn had three catches for 44 yards against the Eagles and five catches for 74 yards against the Steelers, and he's given Drew Brees another target that isn't a running back outside of Thomas.
The Rams were No. 3 in the NFL in rushing, and the way the Saints beat them was by forcing them to move away from the run. Gurley ran for 68 yards when the Rams and Saints first met, but he had just 13 carries. The Saints had the NFL's No. 2 run defense during the regular season, and they faced the fourth-most attempts. So it wasn't just a fluke. Although Goff threw for 391 yards, the Rams became more one-dimensional. With that being said, the comeback the Rams put together was impressive after going into the half down 35-17.
For the Rams, the key is up front. The Saints' offensive line is battered, and Aaron Donald is the likely Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. If he and Ndamukong Suh can wreak havoc on the Saints in the trenches -- particularly with the revelation that Andrus Peat is playing with a broken hand -- then they can force the Saints to throw the ball often. It may not be a surefire way to beat the Saints -- Brees is still a terrific high-volume quarterback -- but once Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara got rolling against the Eagles on Sunday it was all over. The Rams cannot have the same thing happen to them.
Watch Rams vs. Saints NFC Championship Round
- Date: Sunday, Jan. 20
- Time: 3:05 p.m. ET
- Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome -- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Line: Saints -3.5
- Channel: Fox
- Stream: stream on fuboTV (try for free)
- Odds: New Orleans Saints (-3.5)