Saturday, October 24, 2020

NFC Championship Preview: L.A Rams @ New Orleans Saints

This NFC Championship Game gives us a very real chance that we maybe about to see the last ever game of football from arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game – he’s certainly the most accurate of all time.

The Saints QB celebrated his 40th birthday this week after a season which could arguably be described as the best he’s ever had. Some things get better with age, and Drew Brees is certainly in that category.

Dominating the career statistics, Brees leads the NFL records in completion percentage and quarterback rating. In fact it’s a headline that would have dominated the NFL this year if it wasn’t for the dominance of Patrick Mahomes.

Brees time-defying play lead New Orleans to a 13-3 record and the NFC’s number 1 seed. A remarkable feat given the talent on display in what is unquestionably the NFL’s powerhouse conference.

The Saints have had some real nail biting finishes over the years including the miracle catch in Minnesota last season which sent Brees and co home in the dying seconds of the game and last week saw a marginal moment where reigning Super Bowl Champions’ Philadelphia Eagles WR, Alshon ‘the safest hands in the NFL’ Jeffery, dropped the easiest catch of his life in the endzone to send the Saints through to the NFC Championship game.

NFC Championship for the ages

Now only one hurdle remains between Brees and a first Super Bowl appearance in a decade.

Admittedly it’s the biggest hurdle in S2aints’ fans recent memory. The LA Rams and the Saints met during the regular season in a thrilling contest which saw Sean Payton’s men take home the W in a 45-35 victory. Ending Goff’s unbeaten record in the process.

In fact, if it wasn’t for that victory over the Rams (and the Rams losing to Atlanta) this game would be played in LA, and fact that could have and likely would have serious implications on the outcome of today’s NFC match up.

The famously rowdy fans that pack out New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome crowd are almost guaranteed to be a factor in the final score. Making it impossible for the Rams offense to communicate will be the New Orleans’ faithful number 1 objective.

If LA are to be victorious and go on to the Super Bowl they’ll almost certainly rely on Gurley, and former Bronco turned Rams colt hero CJ Anderson.

In fact since CJ put on a Rams Jersey in week 16 they’ve averaged over 40 rushing attempts per game and nearly 600 yards of rush offense – a truly incredible statistic considering the league leaders in rushing attempts were the Baltimore Ravens with 33.5 rushes per game.

Today’s contest will be even more exciting considering the Saints’ boast one of the best run stoppers in the NFL. Sheldon Rankins taking on the one-two punch of Gurley and Anderson will be a phenomenal encounter.

Should Gurley do what he’s done all season and continue to produce then Quarterback Jared Goff is likely to have a field day with the play-action shots downfield.

New Orleans really have to be creative here. Playing soft coverages to stop the run will result in a passing masterclass, but playing in strong coverages will let Gurley consistently move the markers with his feet.

NFC Championship Game

Sean Payton is no Vance Joseph or Hue Jackson though and he fully understands how to game plan for a footballing giant. Seeing as his own side possess some of the best running backs in the game today.

Brees and co will need to avoid a repeat of their NFC clash with Philadelphia in the last round which saw them give up 14 points to the Eagles early on. If that happens against the Rams, the game is already over.

The best statistical QB relied on the best statistical Receiver – Michael Thomas, to get the Saints back in front against the Eagles.

I’m sure Payton knows what he’s doing, but taking a look into the week 9 matchup between LA and New Orleans. Brees really needs to get the ball into Thomas’ hands considering the all-star wide receiver’s monster 12-catch, 211-yard day against this weekend’s opponent nine weeks ago.

In what was a game where Thomas made Marcus Peters’ look like a blind Brandon Dixon. This time round the Rams have the best shutdown corner in the league back in Aqib Talib (please come back to Denver) so perhaps it wouldn’t be so easy.

To think, I’ve got this far without mentioning Alvin Kamara or Mark Ingram in much detail. The league’s best 1-2 punch running combo.

Many would be surprised to see the Rams stacked defence ranked at 19th overall in the league so I would argue the Saints’ two-headed monster are definitely going to have a deciding factor today.

With all that said, the Saints haven’t been impressive since late November averaging 19 points per game as the curtain came down on the NFL regular season.

In fact, it’s this new found vulnerability in the Saints offense that you simply cannot let McVay identify. There is absolutely no doubt that McVay has reason to be the more confident of the two head coaches heading into this clash of the giants.

Brees has managed to get this far, carrying his team over the past 2 months, but it will take every bit of experience and knowledge he’s gained a professional to realistically get within touching distance of the win.

My Prediction

As a fan I’m torn. On one hand I want Brees to get one more ring, as a Broncos fan I want to see Talib, CJ and Wade Phillips get one more ring also. Either way I hope the NFC come out on top overall.

As for today’s clash, I feel it will be spectacularly close with the Rams taking it by 6.

34-28 Rams victory.

A late Brees comeback attempt will prove to be a little too much for the veteran to handle.

An Aqib Talib pick will end the game.

Check out our AFC Championship preview here.

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