The Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints will square off Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for a chance to play in Super Bowl LIII.
The Rams, owners of the NFC’s No. 2 seed, earned a date with the top-seeded Saints by beating the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. New Orleans punched its ticket to championship weekend by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
The Rams vs. Saints showdown will kick off at 3:05 p.m. ET. The winner will face the winner of the New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs AFC Championship Game, which is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. ET, in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
NESN.com’s trio of Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian made their against-the-spread picks for both of this weekend’s conference championship matchups. Here are their picks for Rams vs. Saints.
Los Angeles Rams at (-3.5) New Orleans Saints, 3:05 p.m. ET
Mike: Rams. You hear a lot about the Saints’ rush defense, but the same praise was heaped on Dallas’ run defense last week. All the Rams did against that unit was run 45 times for 238 yards on their way to a relatively comfortable win. Obviously, it’s much easier to do that at home, but I think they’ll be able to slow the game down with the run this week and keep it within the number. That the Saints don’t have standout run stopper Sheldon Rankins will make it even more difficult to stop Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson. New Orleans will get its, too, but don’t forget LA was without Aqib Talib in these teams’ first matchup this season. He should do a better job on Michael Thomas than Marcus Peters did — which isn’t saying much, of course.
Ricky: Rams. The Saints fended off a valiant comeback attempt by the Rams in Week 9 to secure a 45-35 win, but things will be different this time around thanks to who is playing for Los Angeles and who isn’t playing for New Orleans. Aqib Talib’s presence will deemphasize the Saints’ biggest receiving threat, Michael Thomas, who went off for 12 catches, 211 yards and a touchdown in the teams’ first matchup and 12 catches, 171 yards and a touchdown in New Orleans’ divisional-round win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Sheldon Rankins’ absence along the Saints’ defensive line, meanwhile, will accentuate the Rams’ biggest weapon, Todd Gurley, who, by the way, now has a partner in crime in Los Angeles’ backfield. C.J. Anderson still was playing for the Carolina Panthers back in Week 9 but since has become an important part of the Rams’ offense, especially since head coach Sean McVay can plug him in with confidence and keep Gurley fresh throughout the game. Also, the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns were the only teams with more takeaways than the Rams this season, so don’t be surprised if Los Angeles’ defense forces a momentum-swinging turnover at some point.
Andre: Saints. The final four teams are the top four teams in terms of yards per play. This tells me the teams that make the situational defensive stops will win the conference championships. Sure, the Rams’ rushing attack succeeded against the Cowboys’ solid rush defense, but I’m not sure they’re going to be able to do the same in consecutive weeks. They’ll be on the road against an elite rush defense that allowed 3.6 yards per carry this season. The Saints have allowed 100-plus yards on the ground just three times since Week 1. Drew Brees shouldn’t have any trouble moving the ball against a Rams defense that allowed nearly six yards per play in the regular season. The Rams have the defensive personnel to make an impact on the line, but the Saints’ offensive line allowed just 20 sacks all year. The Saints are at home, they have the quarterback advantage and the edge at offensive line and on defense.
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