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NFC Championship Game: Betting Preview and Pick

Los Angeles Rams(14-3) @ New Orleans Saints(14-3)

  • Where: New Orleans Superdome. New Orleans, LA
  • When: January 20, 2019 3:05 pm EST
  • Spread: NO (-3) vs LA (+3)
  • Moneyline: NO (-160) vs LA (+135)
  • Over / Under: 57

Home-field advantage is more than a morale booster or a convenience in the NFL. The fans work in tandem with the home team’s defense against the enemy QB, driving up the decibel level and making it difficult to call or hear signals. Opposing offenses have a marked disadvantage in pass-blocking when playing in a raucous hometown venue.

But it’s not often that a head coach essentially works with the fans to choreograph the cheering. Leave it to the gregarious Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints, whose charges take on the visiting Los Angeles Rams in a battle for final NFC domination on Sunday.

Payton’s idea is the Rams will be sending instructions to QB Jared Goff early in the play clock, so the Saints fans should roar as soon as possible once the ball is spotted. I’m not sure if the coach is being tongue-in-cheek or just brash, because he must know that a frustrating 1st half and a bad 3rd quarter could leave a crowd spent in the 4th. Asking them to cheer twice as hard for twice as long just might be counterproductive.

Fast and Furious 

There’s little else about New Orleans that you could describe as non-productive. Payton’s team is re-building a tradition of winning football in the Big Easy with a Ferrari of an offense driven by Drew Brees, possibly the most precise QB in the sport.

Brees distributes the ball to a remarkable corps of wide receivers that includes Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr. and the spectacular youngster from Central Florida, Tre’Quan Smith. Thomas has outshined them all in 2018-19, however, dominating the NFC with 1405 receiving yards and 63 points scored.

Devilish athlete Alvin Kamara is a menace out of the backfield, while Mark Ingram Jr. plays a more traditional RB’s role with the club. The threat of the run keeps the cautious and largely-immobile Brees upright in the pocket.

But oh, what missiles fly from the signal-caller’s skilled hands. Brees’s numbers are almost always through the roof, but this year they’re almost impeccable – 3992 yards with a 74.4% completion rate and 32-5 TD-to-INT ratio. The veteran Pro Bowl-er hit Thomas and fellow WR Keith Kirkwood for scores in the Saints’ 20-14 NFC Divisional Round win over the defending-champ Philadelphia Eagles.

However, it was the defense – which held Nick Foles to just 18 completions while getting 2 critical picks from Marshon Lattimore – that may have awed bookmakers the most. The Saints controlled the football too much for Philly’s suddenly-stagnant ground game to get going, and that’s a death sentence at the Dome.

‘Boys Get Beat Down 

The Los Angeles Rams did not play a comparable opponent to the Saints last weekend. Dak Prescott is a systematic QB who likes to run (and didn’t get enough opportunities to do so in the NFC Divisional Round) and the Dallas Cowboys are a power-centered team.

But the Rams did prove they themselves are physical for 4 quarters, and might be enough to face up to the Saints in the Big Easy.

Sean McVay’s offense posted not 1, but 2 100-yard rushing performances, from tailbacks Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson. Gurley is running at full steam behind an authoritative offensive line and looks like a potential Super Bowl MVP candidate. The front-7 bothered the Cowboys all 60 minutes, and Ezekiel Elliott was held to just 2.3 yards a carry.

Ndamukong Suh, who passed up a chance to play with New Orleans this offseason, anchors an obstinate defensive wall for the Rams. Johnny Hekker is on-hand to boot an opponent deep at any time, even after 3-and-outs. In short, if Gurley continues to get the blocking, the Rams’ running game could chew the clock while the Saints stay anxious trying to get their offense humming before the 4th quarter.

My Pick on the Moneyline 

Click here to wager on the L.A. Rams at Bovada and get a generous sign-up bonus.

The Saints have never lost a home playoff game under Sean Payton and Drew Brees, and the team did manage to beat the Rams 45-35 earlier this season. But not all is peaches and cream for the NFC South representatives.

New Orleans’ 3rd-ranked rush defense took a hard hit last weekend, as defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was lost for the rest of the playoffs with a torn Achilles.

That could play right into McVay’s hands as he looks for size and numbers advantages up front. L.A. cannot win this game if Brees and Goff get into a pitched QB’s duel. The Rams must win the turnover and time-of-possession battles to prevail, but if they do, Brees might have to deal with a 4-man rush that can get to him. Even while the crowd cheers at appropriate times to help the Saints pressure the Rams’ pocket.

I’m liking how Los Angeles matches up on Sunday. It is nothing personal against outgoing head coaches. But watch for the visitors to deflect and body-punch for 3 quarters before out-lasting an incomplete Saints team and a hoarse audience en route to the Super Bowl.

Take the Rams to score the minor upset (+135).

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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