2019 NFL Playoff Odds: Los Angeles Rams Vs New Orleans Saints NFC Championship Game Expert Picks
The 2019 NFC Championship Game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams is set to kick off on Sunday afternoon. It’s the second time this season that these teams will meet, but this time around the stakes are much higher. The action returns to the Superdome—the site of New Orleans’ key 45-35 victory over the Rams in Week 9, a win that allowed the Saints to nab the top seed in the NFC despite both teams finishing the 2018 campaign with identical 13-3 records—with a berth in Super Bowl LIII on the line in a win-or-go-home 2019 NFL Playoff matchup.
Oddsmakers believe that the Saints will once again come away victorious, but not by as large of a margin as in the first tussle. They opened the squad as a three-point favorite as soon as the NFC Championship Game matchup was set and that line hasn’t changed at all despite the fact that the underdog Rams are drawing 59% of overall bets. That’s because the larger wagers have been on New Orleans, with 57% of the money liking the franchise to make its first Super Bowl appearance since winning it all a decade ago. The total on this game has also stood pat at 57 points, a surprisingly low number given the last showdown between these foes reached the 80-point mark. Still, with a trip to Atlanta on the line, it may not be the wisest to expect the same surge of scoring to occur in the rematch.
Will Los Angeles find a way to pull an upset in the NFC Championship Game and get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly two decades, or will the Saints show that they have this opponent’s number and complete the sweep in the Superdome on Sunday? Pro handicapper Jon Price of SportsInformationTraders.com has a lean on the outcome that you will not want to miss. Before seeing which side the Vegas expert is predicting to win against the spread, check out the complete schedule, start times, TV information, updated odds and more for both of the conference championships in the 2019 NFL Playoffs.
The Saints and Rams rivalry goes back a long way, with these teams meeting 75 times dating back to their first clash in 1967. The teams played in the same NFC West division until realignment shifted things around in 2002, but that hasn’t stopped these franchises from seeing one another often on the field in the years since. They’ve duked it out during the regular season for three straight years now and have met 10 times total since New Orleans moved to the NFC South following the 2001 campaign. The squads are deadlocked at five wins apiece since realignment, with Sunday’s matchup set to split that tie. It will be only the second postseason showdown between these former divisional rivals, with New Orleans narrowly edging out the Rams in an epic NFC Wild Card match following the 2000 season that the Saints ultimately won, 31-28.
In terms of the upcoming 2019 NFC Championship, the results from the last two years are the most telling. The Saints and Rams equally split these mid-season contests—both of which were held when each team was leading its respective division and on the way to a playoff berth— by winning at home. Los Angeles utilized a strong defensive effort in 2017 to hold New Orleans to just 20 points, which was well below their season average of 28 points per game, the fourth-highest mark in the NFL that year. The Rams held Saints star quarterback Drew Brees to just 246 yards on 22-of-32 passing, allowing just one touchdown through the air and sacking him three times. Jared Goff, then in his second year, had a much better day despite throwing an interception, connecting on 28-of-43 passes for 354 yards and two scores. Brees wasn’t stymied again in the 2018 rematch, going off for four touchdowns and 346 yards on 25-of-36 passing. Goff wasn’t bad in Week 9 either—he threw for 391 yards and a trio of scores on 28-of-40 passing—but the LA defense wasn’t able to make enough stops to give its offense a chance to keep up.
One player that has been dominant against the Rams since he came into the league and could be a huge reason why New Orleans wins in Sunday’s NFC Championship is running back Alvin Kamara. The second-year back has shined in both of his career meetings with Los Angeles, racking up 169 yards rushing and three touchdowns on just 24 rushing attempts, while adding 10 catches on 11 targets for 135 yards and two more scores in the passing game. The Rams haven’t found a way to stop him, although their own star running back has also been able to consistently move the chains against this opponent. Todd Gurley has seen action in three games against New Orleans during his four-year career and is averaging nearly 99 yards from scrimmage in that span. One problem for Gurley has been his inability to find the end zone in these contests, as he has scored just one time in those three meetings. If he can reach paydirt while continuing to make his signature big plays on Sunday, Los Angeles has a much better chance to pull an upset.
Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said that his team’s defense will be keying in on stopping Kamara from getting outside the tackles, while making sure they don’t let Mark Ingram—the team’s change-of-pace power back—dominate in between them (via the Turf Show Times):
Interestingly enough, the Rams may not need to rely Gurley to produce as much in the 2019 NFC Championship Game as they have for much of the last four years, as they are now deploying a new weapon in the backfield who is making plenty of waves. The franchise signed running back C.J. Anderson at the tail end of the 2018 campaign to provide depth behind Gurley, but he’s since become arguably the hottest back in the entire league. Since making his first appearance in Week 16, Anderson has racked up an unreal 422 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, including a 123-yard outing with a pair of scores in an NFC Divisional Round game against the Cowboys. It’s one of the most surprising and unexpected stories in the NFL this year, as Anderson was released by the Broncos in the offseason and was a non-factor during his nine-game tenure with the Panthers, getting just 24 total carries during his time with organization. He had a brief stop with the Raiders after being cut by Carolina, but ended up back in free agency after only one week with the franchise.
The Rams decided to take a chance on the 27-year-old at the end of December, using him to spell an inactive Gurley in Week 16. Anderson exploded for 167 yards in that contest against Arizona and hasn’t looked back since. He now looks poised to make his mark in LA’s biggest game in nearly two decades and believes that his lack of usage for much of the 2018 campaign will be beneficial to the Rams’ chances of winning it (via NFL.com):
As fresh as Anderson may be, it won’t be easy for him or Gurley or anyone to run against a Saints rushing defense that is widely regarded as one of, if not the best in the league. New Orleans allowed just 80.2 yards per game on the ground during the 2018 regular season—0.2 behind the NFL-leading Bears—and held the defending champion Eagles to a mere 49 yards rushing in the Divisional Round. The Saints haven’t allowed a team to gain more than 112 rushing yards all season and haven’t conceded more than 75 yards to an individual rusher. They’ll face an extremely tough test against Anderson and Gurley, but this unit seems up to the task, even with star defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins done for the year after tearing his Achilles last week. It’s the New Orleans secondary that will need to step up during these playoffs if the Saints are going to win a Super Bowl, as it was the weak point of the squad’s defense during the regular season. New Orleans allowed opposing signal-callers to average 268.9 passing yards per game, the fourth-worst mark in the NFL in 2018. The Saints did rank in the top-five for sacks with 49 on the year, but were only able to come up with 12 interceptions, a below-average number for the 2018 campaign. The secondary did show some improvement in that area in the team’s postseason-opener, with cornerback Marshon Lattimore picking off Eagles QB Nick Foles twice, including a game-sealing interception that secured a Saints berth in the NFC Championship.
One issue that the Rams face in regards to their defense is that it hasn’t excelled in any particularly notable area. The team has been average in almost all major categories, ranking near the middle of the pack in total, rushing, passing and scoring defense. That hasn’t been something difficult to overcome for them—or any of the final four teams remaining in the postseason, as all boast top-five offenses while having defenses that average out to be the No. 16 unit in the league—on the journey to the conference championship, but it could be a reason why Los Angeles’ sterling season comes to an end on Sunday. The Saints went off for 487 yards against this group back in November, with wide receiver Michael Thomas responsible for an incredible 211 of those after hauling in 12 of his 15 targets and adding a touchdown for good measure. The star wideout is coming off another brilliant performance in the Divisional, toasting the Eagles by snagging 12 receptions on 16 targets for 171 yards and a score. The individual matchup between Thomas and Rams top cornerback Marcus Peters will be one that will likely decide which of these programs goes to Atlanta and which goes home after the final whistle blows in the 2019 NFC Championship Game.
Thomas got the best of Peters in the first round, but the veteran CB is looking forward to the rematch. Lindsey Thiry tweeted footage of Peters calling out Saints head coach Sean Payton and the rest of the team:
Only one thing seems certain in Sunday’s game and that is the noise a rowdy crowd will make in the Superdome. The Saints have one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL and now have a chance to push their string of postseason victories at their own digs to seven in a row. The Rams were able to see first-hand how much impact the fans can have on the game, something head coach Sean McVay believes will give his side an advantage in the rematch. He told USA Today the following:
Can Los Angeles find a way to quiet the hostile crowd and come through with a huge upset on the big stage at a venue it has struggled to win in, or will New Orleans punch its ticket to Super Bowl LIII with yet another offensive explosion against a foe it scored at will on just a few months ago? Here’s Jon Price’s take on the 2019 NFC Championship Game:
Price’s Take: “There will be no shortage of excitement when the Rams and Saints go toe-to-toe in the NFC Championship, as these are two of the league’s best offenses. There’s no love lost here either, as these teams keep matching up during the regular season as well. The Saints have won both regular season matchups held at the Superdome over the last three years and haven’t lost to the Rams at the site since the team was based in St. Louis back in 2007. Factor in that New Orleans is 6-0 at home in the playoffs since Sean Payton and Drew Brees came to town back in 2006 and you are looking at a tough squad to oust this time of year. Brees is especially strong in the playoffs—having averaged 322 yards in 14 career games and boasting a TD:INT ratio better than 3:1 in those contests—and should be a force again on Sunday. Don’t sleep on the Saints, as they are the better team and already proved they can win big against the Rams. Lay the points and watch as New Orleans gets back to the Super Bowl with a convincing victory in the NFC Championship, with the team utilizing its elite ground attack, passing game and rush defense to win by nearly a touchdown.”