Matt’s 2018 Individual Game Record: 18-10 (ATS & O/U)
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET (Fox)
Free NFL Picks: Saints ATS (buy down to -2.5)
Best Line Offered: Heritage
For the first time in the Super Bowl era, the top four offensive teams reached conference championship Sunday. The league’s No. 3 scoring offense this season was NFC top-seeded New Orleans, and the Saints host the second-seeded and No. 2 offense in the Los Angeles Rams in Sunday’s first game.
It’s just the second playoff meeting between the franchises, with New Orleans beating the visiting St. Louis Rams 31-28 in a Wild Card Game on Dec. 30, 2000. It’s only the second conference championship game for New Orleans, which hosted the one following the 2009 season and beat the Minnesota Vikings in overtime. The Saints would then beat Peyton Manning’s Colts to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
New Orleans and L.A. finished with identical 13-3 regular-season marks, but this game is in the mega-loud Superdome because the Saints beat the Rams there 45-35 in Week 9 in one of the most memorable games of this season. Nearly 1,000 yards of offense in that one. Drew Brees threw for 346 yards and four scores, Alvin Kamara had two rushing and a receiving score, and Michael Thomas had 12 catches for 211 yards and a TD – after which he pulled out a cellphone from the goalpost a la Joe Horn. Jared Goff threw for 391 and three scores in the loss, but Todd Gurley wasn’t a huge factor. Cooper Kupp had a TD catch, but he has since been lost for the season. Former Saint Brandin Cooks had six grabs for 114 yards and a TD.
Running Game Likely Key
While Brees and Goff both had fine seasons, this one could come down to the Rams running game against a New Orleans defense that was No. 2 in the league against the run during the season. Los Angeles ran over and through a good Dallas Cowboys run defense last Saturday night in a 30-22 win. After missing the past two games, Gurley had 115 yards and a score on 16 carries.
And WTF is up with C.J. Anderson? Signed off the street when Gurley went down, he blew up again with 123 yards and two scores on 23 carries. The Rams totaled a franchise playoff record 273 yards on 48 carries and didn’t ask Goff to do much (186 yards) through the air. That yardage was the most the Cowboys have ever allowed in a playoff game. Only four players all season had even reached 70 yards rushing this season vs. Dallas.
New Orleans was a bit shaky early Sunday vs. Philadelphia in falling behind 14-0 – the Eagles had been 12-0 all-time in playoff games when they held at least a 14-point lead at any time. Make that 12-1 as the Saints rallied for a 20-14 win. Philly scored TDs on its first two drives and then went interception, punt, punt, end of half, punt, punt, punt, interception. That last pick was Marcus Lattimore’s second and came with just under two minutes left at his own 27. It was a ball Alshon Jeffrey should have caught.
The Eagles managed just 49 yards rushing, but they have struggled in that area all year. Brees threw for 301 and two scores, with Thomas pulling down 12 for 171 and a TD. The Saints are now 6-0 all-time in home playoff games under Brees.
One potentially huge injury for New Orleans, though, as the team believes excellent defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins tore his Achilles. He was a big part of that stellar run defense and also had eight sacks, 15 quarterback hits, 12 tackles for loss and a forced fumble during the season.
- Rams are 1-4-1 ATS vs. a team with a winning record.
- Saints are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games in January.
- Home team is 7-0 ATS in their last 7 meetings.
That Rankins injury changes our outlook on this game slightly. Still think the Saints win it, but by a late field goal from Will Lutz. Buy this down to -2.5 and bet New Orleans.