NFL Playoffs – Conference Championship games, Rams @ Saints

In the last 5 NFL seasons home teams are 10-0 in Conference Championship games so all indicators point toward the Chiefs and Saints meeting in Atlanta on the 3rd of February. Statisticians will tell you however that every game is an “individual event” and that as such what has previously happened means nothing in terms of the outcome of these future “events”. This purely mathematical approach does rather exclude the fact that humans are not robots and therefore are totally unpredictable! Obviously how every player involved reacts to external factors like expectations and, in the case of the AFC game, weather will have a baring on the result but just because a road team hasn’t progressed to a Super Bowl in the last 5 years doesn’t mean they won’t this time.

The Rams have travelled to New Orleans twice since August and they’ve lost twice (28-0 in week 4 of preseason and 35-45 in week 9) so they have had more than enough game tape to watch and learn from in the last week. The preseason game largely featured backup players from both sides but the Saints still held the visitors scoreless and in the week 9 meeting both teams had more success throwing the ball than they did running it. The Rams threw for 483 yards and 3 touchdowns (with 1 interception), the Saints 487 and 4! The Quarterback comparison is quite interesting, especially considering how similar their stats were in November – Jared Goff will be playing his first road playoff game tonight whereas Drew Brees will playing his 6th playoff game at the Superdome and he’s yet to lose. Brees has started 322 games since his College days at Purdue while this will be Goff’s 78th start since his College career began in 2013. Goff has thrown 162 touchdowns and 56 interceptions so far in his short career and Brees has 641 TD’s and 288 picks. However this game probably won’t be decided by Quarterbacks, it should be determined by running backs (both teams have a tandem running back attack) or by how the Head Coaches decide to use their Quarterbacks (since both teams relied on the passing game during the regular season it would be brave or a bit mad to try exactly the same again). If the Saints try to throw deep and often they could be playing right into the hands of the Rams best player Aaron Donald and given how Andrus Peat underwent surgery on a broken hand this week it would be prudent for Sean Payton to try and get the ball out of Brees’ hand as quickly as possible. That would also give his receivers the opportunity to attack the weakest area of the Saints Defence, the Linebackers. Alvin Kamara, Benjamin Watson and even the underused Wide Recievers like Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr, Tommylee Lewis or Tre’Quan Smith who didn’t catch passes in week 9 could be secret weapons for the home team. Taysom Hill is also a weapon for the Saints but he’s certainly not a secret, he can play Quarterback, Running Back and Wide Reciever but since his versatility and speed are well documented he might find himself in a new position this week, decoy. If Sean Payton wants to prove a point he might stick to his guns and the plan from week 9 which was to torch Marcus Peters in the Rams secondary, but this could be a tricky prospect since Aqib Talib is back healthy now so Peters shouldn’t have to defend Michael Thomas who racked up 211 yards last time he played the Rams.

The Rams will want to run the ball a lot this time out and with Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson taking on a new Defensive front minus Sheldon Rankins there’s a strong chance they’ll have success doing it. Their Offence still misses Cooper Kupp and if Sean McVay puts the Rams fate on the shoulders of Goff the Saints Defensive backs’ eyes will light up, in particular Marshon Lattimore who picked off Nick Foles twice last week.

Last week the Rams brushed aside the Cowboys with a 17 point 2nd quarter and once they had opened up a 23-7 lead it was all over. The Saints conversely had to battle back from 0-14 at the end of the first quarter against the Eagles and I think facing down adversity will make them battle hardened and that should see them through to the Super Bowl. If the Rams can find a big play early on and set the home crowd on edge it will be fascinating to watch though.

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