Saints vs Rams :The New Orleans Saints (13-3) are one win away from a Super Bowl berth. They’ll have to beat a talent Los Angeles Rams team Sunday (Jan. 20) at 2:05 p.m. in the NFC Championship Game if they plan to make it to Atlanta.
== MATCH INFO ==
Event : NFC Championship Game
Team : Saints vs Rams
Date : Sunday, January 20
Time : 03:05pm,ET
Saints vs Rams Live
The Saints bounced back from a slow start to earn a 20-14 victory over the Eagles in the NFC Divisional round. The Rams are coming off of a 30-22 win against the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional round.
Saints 33, Rams 20: The Saints have pointed to this game since they walked off the field at U.S. Bank Stadium a year ago. This was their goal when they broke camp in September. They have been the best, most complete team in the NFL all season and they will prove it on Sunday. The Rams aren’t ready for the chaos that awaits them.
X-factor: Alvin Kamara. With all due respect to Todd Gurley, Kamara was the best running back on the field when the Saints beat the Rams in Week 9. He scored three touchdowns and averaged a 5-yard gain every time he touched the ball. The Rams had no one who could defend him then and they won’t have anyone that can stop him on Sunday.
Bold prediction: Kamara will break multiple tackles and score the momentum-turning touchdown on a screen pass in the third quarter.
Saints 34, Rams 27: If the Saints follow their historical trend, they’ll start slow, but that doesn’t spell doom. I think we could see a back-and-forth game, but I don’t expect it to be as high scoring as the first matchup. Both teams will try to establish the run, and I have more faith in the Saints to get theirs going, though that would change if the Saints struggle to block Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
X-factor: Vonn Bell should play a key role for the Saints on Sunday. If he’s at the top of his game, the Saints should be able to limit the Rams rushing attack, and he could have some opportunities to pressure Jared Goff, too.
Bold prediction: Michael Thomas will exceed 150 receiving yards again as he finds openings in the Rams zone and continues his postseason tear.
Record: 12-4 overall, 7-9 vs. spread
Postseason record: 1-0 overall, 0-1 vs. spread
Luke Johnson, Saints writer
Saints 31, Rams 30: Honestly, the way this season played out, did you expect to see any other teams than these two playing for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl? The Saints and Rams got together for a classic in the Superdome earlier this season, and with so much on the line, I expect another exciting game. The Rams should be a tougher out this time, considering their rejuvenated rushing attack and the presence of Pro Bowl corner Aqib Talib, but these Saints have risen to the occasion so many times this season it is hard to see them folding in the biggest moment. Wil Lutz recreates some 2009 magic with a game-winner at the buzzer.
X-factor: The Rams do everything in their power to keep Michael Thomas in check, and forget that Ted Ginn Jr. can also beat Marcus Peters deep. I think the veteran wideout will have a big game Sunday.
Bold prediction: Both the Rams and Saints call a fake punt, and both are successful.
Saints 24, Rams 23: The players understand what’s at stake. The Saints are 60 minutes from a Super Bowl appearance and expect them to play like it. Starting faster was a focus this week so expect to see a fired up defense and an even more pumped up offense as they build an early but small lead. The Rams won’t make it easy. But expect the Saints to be able to hold off one of the league’s most talented rosters and earn a trip to Atlanta.
X-factor: Tyeler Davison, Taylor Stallworth, David Onyemata. The Saints held the Rams to 92 yards rushing in the Week 9 matchup. That was with Sheldon Rankins in the rotation. This unit will have to step up in order limit a rushing attack that now not only features Todd Gurley but also CJ Anderson, who rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns in last weekend’s divisional win against the Dallas Cowboys.
Bold prediction: Drew Brees connects with Taysom Hill on a pass over 30 yards. The Saints tried to hit “The Mormon Missile” in the end zone during last week’s win against the Eagles, but defensive back Avonte Maddox was able to break up the pass. New Orleans will get Hill double-digit receiving yards on a single play this week.Brace yourselves. This one could get wild.
Oh, sure, the top-seeded New Orleans Saints have a big advantage over the Los Angeles Rams by virtue of playing Sunday’s NFC title game in the Superdome, where even the quietest moments can become earsplitting. The Saints are 13-3 at home over the last two seasons, tied for the second-best home mark in the NFL behind only the Patriots. And New Orleans has won its last seven home playoff games.
As for proof of just how crazy this one could get, look no further than the first game between these teams on Nov. 4. The Saints won that one, 45-35, handing the Rams their first loss of the season. Jared Goff and Drew Brees passed for a combined 737 yards and seven touchdowns, and the teams racked up a combined 970 yards.
One unusual aspect of this game is the disparity in age of the starting quarterbacks. Brees turned 40 on Tuesday, making him 16 years older than Goff, his Rams counterpart. Brees, the MVP of the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV victory, has obviously been here before. Goff, meanwhile, has appeared in just two playoff games: the Rams’ 26-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last January, and their run-heavy 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys last weekend.
The biggest wild card in the championship game may be the two coaches. Neither Sean McVay nor Sean Payton has met a trick play he didn’t like, and both coaches made their names with offensive innovation.
“It’s nothing that’s predictable,” Rams running back Todd Gurley said of McVay’s calls. “You might think you know the play, but one week it can be this, the next week it can be something else. It doesn’t matter if you know it or not.”After all, Payton’s Saints won a Super Bowl with the help of a surprise onside kick nine years ago, and now New Orleans is one home victory away from its first Super Bowl since then — thanks to a pair of aggressive and pivotal fourth-down play calls when the Saints were trying to come back from a two-touchdown deficit.
“We needed to shift momentum and we were able to, fortunately, and take advantage of it,” said Payton, who’s bound to carry that approach into the NFC title game against the Los Angeles Rams next weekend.
Facing fourth-and-short on their own 30, Payton called for a fake punt on which third-string quarterback and special teams virtuoso Taysom Hill took a direct snap as the up back.
So when the Saints faced another fourth down on the Eagles 2 later that same drive, it only seemed fitting that they dialed up a touchdown pass from Drew Brees to rookie receiver Keith Kirkwood instead of settling for a field goal.
That marked the beginning of 20 unanswered points scored by New Orleans in a 20-14 triumph in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs on Sunday.
GAME DAY: Breaking down Rams at Saints
Saints-Rams NFC title game a clash of like-minded coaches
“It’s that play-to-win mentality,” Brees said. “I’ve been with Sean long enough now to say that he’s always been like that. From ’06 until now, I think it’s something that he knows the offence and the team feeds off of.
“When you get that in guys’ minds that we are going to be aggressive, we are going to play to win, it allows guys to relax and cut loose,” Brees added.
Payton’s gambles often occur with Hill on the field, perhaps because they seem to think alike. Hill had the option to check out of the fake and let the snap sail to punter Thomas Morstead if the defensive alignment looked unfavourable. But Hill was in no mind to wait for a better opportunity. He had seemingly nowhere to go when he got the ball, and powered through anyway.
“At the end of the day I’m going to error on being aggressive. I’m going to error on taking the opportunity to create some momentum and have a game-changing play for sure,” Hill said. “It’s all about taking calculated risks. It’s finding that balance and that was a look that I felt like we could get it. That was a look that the coaches felt like we could get it, and I think at the end of the day it shows how much trust coach has in us.”
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said the Saints’ risk-reward propositions had less to do with the element of surprise than simply New Orleans ability to call a good play situationally and execute.
“You kind of expect it in that situation,” Pederson said. “You’ve just got to be prepared for that. We had our defence stay on the field. It was a great play by them.”
Some other story lines surrounding the Saints’ first divisional round playoff victory since their last Super Bowl title in the 2009-10 season:
LOST LEADER: The Saints stopped short of confirming that top defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins would miss the rest of the post-season with a low leg injury in the area of his Achilles, but when he punched the turf before being carted off the field, it looked serious. Afterward, Payton and players insinuated that Rankins’ injury was season-ending.
“It’s gut wrenching,” Payton said. “He’s played so well for us.”
Rankins was a first-round draft choice in 2016 and his eight sacks this season ranked second on the team .
“To see him go down really hurt,” fellow Saints defensive lineman Tyeler Davison said. “But I think it’s going to give us some fuel as well to play for him and pull this thing out for him.”
ALSHON’S ABBERATION: Normally reliable Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery might have been the least likely candidate to have an accurate Nick Foles pass bounce off his hands and into the waiting arms of cornerback Marshon Lattimore in the final minutes, sealing the result right when Philadelphia was threatening to take a lead in the final minutes.
Jeffery dropped to the turf, face down, after the turnover, but the Eagles tried to console him. Before that fateful play, Jeffery had five catches for a team-high 63 yards.
“He’s so down, but for me it’s about staying positive,” Pederson said. “He’s made many, many big catches for us throughout the season … I told him to keep his head up and don’t let one play define him.”
GROUND GAINS: The Saints outgained the Eagles 137-49 on the ground, with the elusive Alvin Kamara rushing for 71 yards, including a 12-yard, first-down run that let the Saints run out the clock. The hard-charging Mark Ingram added 53 yards. The running back tandem also combined for six catches for 44 yards.
WORN DOWN: If it wasn’t tough enough for the Eagles to have three defensive starters — end Michael Bennett, tackle Fletcher Cox and cornerback Rasul Douglas — leave the game intermittently with minor injuries, Philadelphia’s defence also spent far more time on the field than the Eagles would have liked. During the last three quarters, the Saints possessed the ball for more than 32 minutes and had one 92-yard drive that took 18 plays — or more than 20 plays when counting plays wiped out by penalties.