No. 2 Rams at No. 1 New Orleans
When Rams have the ball
The Rams’ passing offense was the talk of the NFL in the early part of the season but they showed in the divisional-round playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys that they can impose their will on the ground with more than one running back. Star Todd Gurley and late-season pickup C.J. Anderson each rushed for more than 100 yards against the Cowboys, providing coach and play-caller Sean McVay with a change of pace. The combo also enables quarterback Jared Goff to execute play-action passes to receivers Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds. Goff was not sacked against the Cowboys and will need similar protection against a Saints defense led by end Cameron Jordan, who has 12 sacks. The Saints will be without defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the divisional-round victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. David Onyemata is expected to replace him in the 4-3 scheme. Linebacker Demario Davis has five sacks, and linebacker Alex Anzalone intercepted a Goff pass in the Rams’ 45-35 defeat at the Superdome in November. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who intercepted two passes against the Eagles, leads a secondary that includes cornerback Eli Apple and safeties Marcus Williams and Kurt Coleman.
When Saints have the ball
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees turned 40 on Tuesday, but he continues to play at an elite level. He passed for 32 touchdowns with only five interceptions this season en route to becoming the NFL’s all-time passing leader. Running back Alvin Kamara is a threat running between the tackles or on the edges, and also is a game-breaking receiver. Veteran Mark Ingram rotates in as a power back. Receiver Michael Thomas led the NFL with 125 catches, including 12 against the Rams in Week 9. Thomas amassed a team-record 211 yards receiving and sealed the victory with a 72-yard touchdown catch. Ted Ginn and Tre’Quan Smith are other receivers with more than 25 catches. Tight end Ben Watson is questionable because of a reported case of appendicitis. Rams cornerback Aqib Talib did not play against the Saints because he was recovering from ankle surgery, but he has solidified the secondary since his return, taking pressure off cornerback Marcus Peters. Tackle Aaron Donald, with 201/2 sacks, leads a front that stuffed Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. Ndamukong Suh is coming off his best performance of the season. Linebacker Dante Fowler made his Rams debut against the Saints in November and is now fully integrated into the defense.
When they kick
Punter Johnny Hekker, the holder for field-goal and extra-point attempts, played a prominent role against the Saints in November when he came up short of the first down on a fake field goal. Greg Zuerlein has made27 of 31 field-goal attempts, including two against the Saints, but also missed from 51 yards. Will Lutz has made 28 of 30 field-goal attempts, including two against the Rams. Taysom Hill is a multipurpose threat.
By the numbers
How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):
|CategoryPoints scored||Rams32.9 (2)||Saints31.5 (3)|
|CategoryPoints allowed||Rams24.0 (20)||Saints22.1 (14)|
|CategoryPass offense||Rams281.7 (5)||Saints252.6 (12)|
|CategoryRush offense||Rams139.4 (3)||Saints126.6 (6)|
|CategoryPass defense||Rams236.2 (14)||Saints268.9 (29)|
|CategoryRush defense||Rams122.3 (23)||Saints80.2 (2)|
|CategorySacks||Rams41 (15)||Saints49 (T5)|
|CategoryPenalty yards||Rams54.9 (10)||Saints58.7 (15)|
|CategoryTurnovers||RamsPlus eleven (4)||SaintsPlus eight (7)|
Gary Klein’s prediction
The Rams left New Orleans after their defeat in November feeling as if they could win a rematch, regardless of where it was played. Now they will prove it.
RAMS 30, SAINTS 27
Sam Farmer’s pick
All the pregame focus is the way these teams throw the ball, but this will come down to the Rams’ clock-hogging ground game versus a Saints defense that’s missing Sheldon Rankins up front.