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NFC Championship Game Preview: Rams, Saints Collide in the Bayou State with Super Bowl Berth on the Line

Alvin Kamara #41 of the New Orleans Saints runs the ball and leaps over Lamarcus Joyner #20 of the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 4, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Rams 45-35.

The Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints were the top two teams in the NFC all year long, and now the heavyweights will collide at Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the right to represent the conference in Super Bowl 53. Sportsbooks opened the Saints as 3.5-point home favorites with a total of 57.

SHARK BITES
  • The OVER is 4-0 in the last four NFC championship games.
  • The Rams are 0-3 SU and ATS in their last three games on the road vs the Saints (avg. losing margin: 18.67).
  • The Saints are 15-2 SU in their last 17 games at home.

Rams vs Saints Game Center

Rams looking for redemption after Week 9 setback

It seemed like the Rams and Saints, who shared identical 13-3 SU records in the regular season, were on a collision course to meet in the NFC championship game. This is the second meeting between the clubs in Louisiana this season, as the Saints prevailed over the Rams in a 45-35 shootout in Week 9.

New Orleans raced out to an early lead before L.A. stormed back in the form of 21 unanswered points, yet the Saints’ 10-point fourth quarter put them ahead for good. In the 2018 campaign, the Rams were 13-1 SU when scoring 28 or more points, with the lone setback coming against the Saints. In the regular season, the Saints went 6-2 SU and 4-4 ATS at home, while the Rams were 6-2 SU and 4-4 ATS on the road.

Payton has a stellar playoff record at home

The Saints defense has kicked into high gear over the past few months, evidenced by New Orleans allowing opposing offenses to average only 16.9 points per game since Week 7. In that span, Sean Payton’s defense has collected 28 sacks. Speaking of Payton, the head coach improved to 6-0 SU all-time in home playoff games since joining the team in 2006 in light of New Orleans’ 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round.

Here’s another trend working in the Saints’ favor: entering this week, home teams have won 10 straight conference championship games. In those 10 playoff contests, favorites have gone 8-2 SU. The last road team to win in the NFC championship game was the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, topping the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 at the Georgia Dome. New Orleans’ moneyline price was sitting at -175 at Bovada as of this writing.

Containing Thomas will be key for the Rams

The Rams defensive line carried the club to new heights this season, as NFL Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Aaron Donald logged 20.5 sacks and 59 tackles in dominating fashion. Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers, who combined for 5.5 sacks, will also be leaned upon to make things uncomfortable for Saints signal-caller Drew Brees. The biggest test for the Rams defense will be containing star wide receiver Michael Thomas, though.

Fresh off 12 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown in New Orleans’ 20-14 triumph in the divisional round, Thomas is in line for another huge day at the Superdome. The California native decimated the Rams in Week 9, catching 12 of 15 targets for 211 yards and one score. The Rams bolstered their secondary by bringing in cornerback Aqib Talib in the offseason, and the veteran will likely be tasked with containing the red-hot Thomas. If he can’t, it could be a long day for the Rams defense.

My pick: take the OVER

After a less than competitive divisional round, both conference championship games are shaping up to be absolute classics, and I’m expecting this one to be the closer of the two. I can see this game coming down to a last-second score that could swing the spread in either direction. While I lean toward the Saints as home faves, I’m more interested in the total.

The opening 57 number is high, but we’ve seen larger numbers in playoff history. The Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons faced a 59.5 total in the 2016 NFC championship game and combined for 65 points, while the Saints and Detroit Lions went up against the same number in the 2011 playoffs and put up a total of 73 to easily cash the OVER.

OVERs have become the norm in NFC championship games, as each of the past four NFC title contests have gone above the closing total. I don’t think another 80-point effort like the aforementioned Week 9 clash is in store, but the Rams and Saints possess more than enough firepower to push this one OVER.

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