As it had been expected for most of the 2018 NFL Regular Season, the two top teams in the National Football Conference ― the #1 Playoff seed New Orleans Saints and the #2 seed Los Angeles Rams ― will face off in a re-match this upcoming Sunday from their previous early November meeting, but this time with the NFC Championship on the line at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Kick-off us at 2:05 p.m. Central standard time, and will be broadcast nationally by FOX. New Orleans has opened as an early 3 and a half point favorite in next Sunday’s critically important match-up, with the winner advancing to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIII (53), which as Saints fans are well aware will be played on Sunday, February 3rd, at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.
The Saints and the Rams met previously at the Superdome back on November 4th, a game in which the Saints essentially dominated but ended up winning by a score of 45-35. However, that contest likely will be nothing similar to what we can expect to see in next Sunday’s NFC Championship Game; mainly because the two teams have altered their respective philosophies somewhat since that Week #9 match-up.
Who Dat fans might recall that in the first meeting, the Black and Gold jumped out to an early lead in the 2nd Quarter, but the Rams answered right back with 21 unanswered points to make the score much closer than it actually was.
However, it was after the game the next day in Los Angeles when Rams 4th year cornerback Marcus Peters made headlines by “calling out” Saints head coach Sean Payton; who in his post-game press conference the day before had told reporters that the one-on-one match-up between Peters and Saints 3rd year superstar WR Michael Thomas was one that the New Orleans coaching staff considered to be very favorable in their eyes and was one they sought to exploit at Peters’ expense.
Peters covered Thomas all game long, and was likely further angered after he yielded a 72-yard game-winning touchdown to Thomas that ultimately led to a flip-phone celebration ― as well as the first loss of the season for the Rams after they had come to the Superdome that day with an undefeated (8-0) record.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) November 5, 2018
Thomas finished that game with a franchise-record 211 receiving yards, with 12 of his catches coming on just 15 targets from Saints QB Drew Brees.
“They were going to travel Marcus to him, and that was fine by us,” Payton told reporters. “We thought we really liked that matchup — a lot.”
Said Peters to Rams reporters the following day in response to Payton:
“Tell Sean Payton, keep talking that s—, we gonna see him soon. You feel me? Yeah,” Peters said. “Cause I like what he was saying on the sideline too. Tell him he can keep talking that s—. And I hope he sees me soon. You feel me? Then we’re gonna have a good little, nice little bowl of gumbo together.”
A Super Bowl berth 🏆 and a bowl of gumbo on the line 🍲!
— Yahoo Sports NFL (@YahooSportsNFL) January 14, 2019
That interesting tidbit aside, the return since that day of current Rams #1 CB Aqib Talib means that Thomas and Peters won’t likely face each other in the re-match; as Talib most likely will draw the assignment of covering Thomas in the upcoming match-up next Sunday.
Talib will have to do a much better job of covering Thomas than Peters did in their previous game; especially when you consider that Thomas is coming off of another dominant performance yesterday during the Black and Gold’s 20-14 win in the Divisional Round against the Eagles, Thomas finished with 12 catches on 16 targets for 171 yards and a TD.
But make no mistake about it: while the Saints offense remains potent (3rd overall in the NFL averaging 31.5 points per game in the Regular Season) with Brees, Thomas and the dual rushing attack of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara; it’s actually the Saints defense that will ultimately determine whether or not New Orleans should make hotel reservations for Atlanta in two weeks.
Dating all the way back to Week #7, the Saints defensive unit has only given up 16.9 points a game and have sacked opposing quarterbacks 28 times, But it’s been the very notable and dramatic improvement of the secondary, which got burned badly in the season-opening 48-40 loss at home to Tampa Bay, that has been the biggest reason for their overall success.
However. while the Rams feature one of the League’s more potent passing attacks, it’s actually their running game that’s largely responsible for their more recent success; particularly in their 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys this past Saturday Night in the Divisional Playoffs.
There. Goes. Gurley!
The #UGA great shined again last night in a Rams playoff win over the Cowboys. With help from CJ Anderson, TG was not asked to carry the whole load. The result was deadly.
16 attempts, 115 yards and this beautiful touchdown.
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/EDlmZhx5dS
— UGA Football Live (@UGAfootballLive) January 13, 2019
In that game the other night in Los Angeles, Rams back-up running back C.J. Anderson rushed for a total of 125 yards on 23 total carries, in what was an unexpected performance against the very-capable Cowboys defense.
Starting Rams #1 All-Pro running back Todd Gurley added an additional 115 yards via the ground game on 16 carries; as L.A. tallied a jaw-dropping 273 yards running the football, which in the end turned out to be the most rushing yards in any one Playoff game in the Rams’ long and storied franchise history.
While it’s true that the Saints are actually also one of the better defenses in the League (ranked #2 overall) at defending the run, the Rams will most definitely present a tough challenge for New Orleans; especially after the loss of 3rd year defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to a torn Achilles tendon.
Los Angeles will most definitely look to continue that running game success this coming Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. especially now that Gurley is fully healthy after dealing with a series of nagging injuries near the end of the Regular Season.
Long story short: this game is expected to be an epic battle between the NFC’s two best teams.
And if the Saints are able to come out on top, the next item on their agenda will be calling the travel agency and booking those reservations to Atlanta….