Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints

This NFL Playoffs Conference Championships has Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and their second-seeded Los Angeles Rams traveling southeast to the unfriendly Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA where Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and the number-one-seeded New Orleans Saints are unbeaten in the playoffs, all happening on Sunday, January 20 at 2:05 pm, broadcasted on FOX

The 13-3 (1-0) Los Angeles Rams:

After taking care of the Dallas Cowboys, 30-22, at home in the Divisional Round of the playoffs with a punishing double rushing attack, the offensive-minded 13-3 (1-0) Los Angeles Rams are firing on all cylinders.

The defense kept the Cowboys to three touchdowns while the offense was powered by running backs Todd Gurley and human fireplug C.J. Anderson, a December free agent pickup from the Raiders who earned his keep with 23 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

Los Angeles is 6-2 on the road but 0-1 against the Saints this season after their Week 9 loss in New Orleans by a score of 35-45, so they’re the definite underdogs in this battle of the top two NFC seeds.

The 13-3 (1-0) New Orleans Saints:

The 13-3 (1-0) New Orleans Saints’ Divisional Round playoff pick-heavy win over the Philadelphia Eagles, 20-14, started with a Drew Brees interception but was saved by one of cornerback Marshon Lattimore’s two interceptions.

The game-ending pick came after a well thrown, easily caught ball inexplicably sailed through leading Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery’s normally consistent hands, but the win truly came after the Saints’ defense stepped up and shut out Philadelphia for the final three quarters.

New Orleans was 6-2 at home during the regular season but an unbeaten 6-0 at home during the playoffs, so they’ll hope to continue that streak against a Rams team they’ve already beaten earlier this year but who know how to score a lot of touchdowns.

What’s at stake:

These two teams have met 75 times (including 1 postseason game), with New Orleans winning 34 games and Los Angeles winning 41 games.

Their latest meeting was this season in Week 9 when the Saints won 45-35 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Whoever wins this matchup goes to the Big Game, Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, GA.

They’ll play the winner of the AFC Conference Championship, either the first-seeded 12-4 (2-0) Kansas City Chiefs or the second seeded 11-5 (2-0) New England Patriots in Atlanta at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, February 3 at 5:30 pm on CBS.

And of course, whichever team loses this one goes home, their long 2018 season finally over.

Questions to answer…

Who’s favored to win this NFC Conference Championship Rams-Saints matchup?

Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?

Which team’s quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?

We’re going to compare the Rams and the Saints and attempt to answer those questions and more.

The 2018 Rams offense ranked 2nd in the NFL

The Rams’ offense puts up an average of 32.9 points and moves the ball 421.1 yards per game, which they about did against the Cowboys (30 points, 459 total yards).

Quarterback Jared Goff put up small numbers against Dallas but for the win, completing 15-of-28 for 186 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions.

Receivers Robert Woods (6 catches, 69 yards) and Brandin Cooks (4 catches, 65 yards) along with tight end Tyler Higbee (2 catches, 30 yards) kept the Cowboys secondary distracted while the Rams running game ensued productively.

Rams’ rushing attack ranked 3rd overall

As expected, running back Todd Gurley had a big playoff game, running the ball 16 times for 115 yards and a touchdown.

The big surprise of the Rams’ playoff roster was free agent pickup C.J. Anderson, who bulldozed his way into the Cowboys secondary with 23 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

Los Angeles offensive Injuries

There are currently no Rams offensive players listed as questionable for the NFC Conference Championship game.

The 2018 Saints offense ranked 8th overall

The Saints’ offense is used to scoring 31.5 points and moving the ball 379.2 total yards per game, though in the postseason so far they’ve went over on yards (438) and under on points (20).

Brees completed 28-of-38 against the Eagles for 301 yards and two touchdowns and one interception, uncharacteristic for a guy who threw just five picks during the regular season.

The big Saints offensive postseason star was receiver Michael Thomas, who played unstoppable football against the Eagles, catching 12 balls for 171 yards and a touchdown.

New Orleans run game 6th in the league

New Orleans showed why their running game is dangerous by using both their backs effectively against Philadelphia.

Alvin Kamara ran the ball 16 times for 71 yards (4.4 yards/carry) and Mark Ingram ran 9 times for 53 yards (5.9 yards per carry).

New Orleans offensive Injuries

Listed as questionable for NFC Conference Championship game: offensive tackle Andrus Peat (hand) after undergoing surgery during the first-round bye for his broken hand.

Wide receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. (knee) was placed on injured reserve on Saturday.

Rams Defense ranks 19th in the league

The Rams allow opponents to score an average of 24 points and move the ball 358.6 total yards per game, ranked 14th against the pass but 23rd against the run.

Los Angeles was tied for third most interceptions in the regular season (18) but their sack total (41) put them right in the middle of the league at 15th overall.

Rams Defensive Players to watch:

Inside linebacker Corey Littleton, who had 125 regular season combined tackles, showed up against the Cowboys and notched 7 combined tackles to lead the team.

Normally it’s defensive ends Aaron Donald or Ndamukong Suh who take down quarterbacks, but against Dak Prescott it was outside linebacker Dante Fowler who registered a playoff sack.

Strong safety John Johnson had 4 interceptions during the regular season, but none in the playoffs so far, though he has registered 7 combined postseason tackles.

Rams defensive injuries

There are currently no Rams defensive players listed as questionable for the NFC Conference Championship game.

Saints Defense is 14th overall

The Saints allow their opponents 22.1 points and 349.1 total yards per game with a 2nd ranked rush defense but a 29th ranked pass defense.

New Orleans were tied for the 18th most regular season interceptions (12) while their sacks total (49) was tied for 5th most.

Saints Defensive Players to watch:

Outside linebacker Demario Davis had 110 combined tackles in the regular season and led the Saints in combined tackles against the Eagles with 8.

Defensive end Cameron Jordan had 12.0 regular season sacks, but none in the playoffs - yet.

Cornerback Marshon Lattimore leads the league in postseason interceptions with two, along with 4 passes defended and the same number of combined tackles.

Saints Defensive Injuries

Listed as Out for the NFC Conference Championship game: defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (Achilles) after tearing it against the Eagles during their divisional-round victory.

Special Teams Stats Comparison

Punters:

Los Angeles’ veteran All-Pro punter, Johnny Hekker, was First-team All-Pro last season and punted 43 times this regular season but for a net average of 43.0 yards per punt, ranked 2nd in the NFL.

In the postseason, Hekker has punted 1 time for a net average of 29.0 yards per punt.

New Orleans’ punter, Thomas Morstead, was a fifth-round draft pick back in 2009 and in 2018 he punted 43 times for a net average of 43.2 yards per punt, ranked first in the league overall.

In the postseason, Morstead has punted 3 times for a net average of 44.7 yards per punt.

Placekickers:

Los Angeles’ placekicker, Greg Zuerlin, was First-team All-Pro last season but due to a groin injury, he missed five games this season.

Zuerlin is now back in the lineup, and in the regular season he was 27-for-31, his longest a 56-yarder.

Zuerlin missed one extra point attempt (35/36).

In the postseason, Zuerlin has gone 3-for-4, his longest was a 44-yarder and has missed no extra point attempts (3/3).

New Orleans’ placekicker, Wil Lutz, in his third season, went 28-for-30 this year, his longest a 56-yarder.

Lutz has missed one extra point attempt (52/53).

In the postseason, Lutz has gone 2-for-3, his longest was a 45-yarder and has missed no extra point attempts (2/2).

Punt Returners:

Los Angeles’ punt returner, wide receiver JoJo Natson, was ranked 19th in the league in return average this regular season.

Natson returned 26 punts for 280 yards, averaging 10.8 yards per return, his longest for 60 yards.

In the postseason, Natson has returned 2 punts for 12 yards, averaging 6.0 yards per carry.

New Orleans’ punt returner, running back Alvin Kamara, is ranked 46th in the league in return average this regular season.

Kamara returned 12 punts for 82 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 6.8 yards per return, his longest for 16 yards.

Kamara currently has no punt returns in the postseason.

Rams–Saints prediction and odds

The odds makers have the Saints favored over the Rams by 3.5 with an over/under of 57.0.

CBSSports.com has two final score predictions:

Will Brinson goes with the over and has it Saints 31, Rams 27

John Breech takes the over and predicts it Saints 34, Rams 27

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