Sunday, January 20, 3:05 p.m. ET (FOX)
Free NFL Pick: Saints Team Total “Under”
Best Line Offered: 5Dimes
In Week 9, the Saints beat L.A. 45-35. Throw that game out of your memory because, down the stretch, the Saints’ offense played poorly and often looked very weak. New Orleans started the season 10-1, scoring at least 30 points in nine of those games. Between weeks 12 and 17 (in week 17 they played backups) and in the Divisional Round, the Saints scored over 30 points once and covered one game – against Tampa Bay, because the Bucs themselves could only muster 14 points. The Saints became a much less explosive offense, reliant less on big plays and more on moving the chains. By the end of the regular season, the Saints ranked third in offensive efficiency, but only 13th in offensive explosiveness.
New Orleans’ drop in offensive explosiveness is important because, in that 45-35 win, the Saints produced four 20+-yard plays in their touchdown drives, including a 72-yard touchdown pass. The Rams’ defense gives up a lot of big plays. But in terms of defensive efficiency, of stopping offenses who like to move the chains gradually and accrue time of possession as the Saints do, the Rams are much better. At the end of the regular season, they ranked 23rd in rush defense efficiency and ninth in pass defense efficiency.
Even if the Saints were to magically become explosive again, the Rams have a completely different pass defense with cornerback Aqib Talib healthy. In games when he started, the Rams’ secondary ranked third in opposing passer rating. When he didn’t start, they ranked 30th. Talib did not play in that Saints’ victory in which big passing plays from Drew Brees to top receiver Michael Thomas made the largest difference. In that game, Thomas accrued over 200 yards receiving. Thomas is New Orleans’ only formidable receiver. When they scored fewer than three touchdowns against Carolina and Dallas, he didn’t manage 50 yards because it doesn’t take much secondary depth to stop New Orleans’ other receivers. The Rams’ pass defense is already fourth-best against opposing running backs – Alvin Kamara was mostly ineffective against the Rams. They will give up less big plays and contain Thomas and Kamara out of the backfield.
In that Week 9 game, the Saints averaged only 4.1 YPC. The Rams had garnered the reputation for having a porous run defense during the regular season. But in their playoff opener against Dallas, they played with greater focus and limited Ezekiel Elliott to 47 yards on 20 carries. This performance can’t be too surprising if we remember the high expectations for the Rams’ defense before the season. They have an extremely talented defensive line with two first-round selections and multiple-time Pro Bowlers at defensive tackle– Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. Donald is arguably this year’s best defensive player with 20.5 sacks and nine run stuffs during the regular season. The Saints’ run protection won’t be able to contain these monsters.
Interior pressure is also a big deal against Brees because Brees is rather short. It will be harder for him to see downfield when he’s facing more pressure from the opposing defensive line. The Saints love to employ screens and opposing penetration will also make those more difficult.
The Rams aren’t the only team who stepped up on defense. The Eagles gave up 48 points to the Saints in the regular season, allowing Brees to accrue a 137 passer rating. In the Divisional Round, the Saints mustered 20 points and they came after falling worrisomely behind as they did in Week 14 against Tampa Bay. Brees’ passer rating was 33.9 points lower. In the playoffs, defenses play more physically and this elevated physicality will disrupt New Orleans’ offense. The Saints’ offense still gets a lot of respect from oddsmakers, although the “under” is now 7-2 in their last nine games. Consider a team total “under” against the Saints that various sports books like 5Dimes will publish.