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NFC Conference Championship Breakdown and Picks

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Scott Engel Managing Director January 18, 2019 11:07AM EDT

NFC Conference Championship Numbers, Matchups, Fantasy Tips and More

The Rams won their first playoff game since 2004 last week when they dispatched Dallas. The last time they appeared in the NFC Conference Championship Game was 2001, when they advanced to the Super Bowl and lost to New England. The Saints hosted and beat the Rams in the 2000 NFC Wild Card Game, 31-28, in the only postseason meeting between the two teams. The Rams are 1-2 against the Saints with Jared Goff at QB. In those three games, Goff has averaged 319.7 passing yards per game with eight TD passes and three interceptions for a 104.2 rating.

Sean Payton and Drew Brees are now undefeated in seven home playoff games. This is their third appearance in the NFC Conference Championship Game (1-1), the last time being in January of 2010 when they advanced to and won the Super Bowl. Payton and Brees are 8-5 in the postseason, and Brees is 8-6 in his career in the playoffs. The Saints QB has 31 TD passes and 10 interceptions in his 14 career postseason games with a rating of 100.9. in the past two seasons, he has seven TD passes and four interceptions in three playoff games.

The Rams won seven of eight road games this season and the Saints have won seven of nine home games this season, including the playoffs. The Saints were 10-6 Against the Spread and the Rams were 7-8-1 ATS during the regular season. The Rams were second in points scored during the regular season and the Rams were third. New Orleans was 14th in points allowed and Los Angeles was 20th. The Rams were fifth in passing yards per game and the Saints were 29th in passing yards allowed. The Rams were third in rushing yards per game and the Saints were seventh. The Rams were 23rd in defensive rushing and the Saints were third.

But we cannot just simply look at the overall pass defense numbers for the Saints to determine how they match up with Goff. As noted here by Sports Info Solutions, the Saints secondary improved significantly after they acquired Eli Apple in Week 8. But Goff did throw for 391 yards three TDs and one interception in a 45-35 loss at New Orleans in Week 9. Goff has not played nearly as well on the road this year overall, though. During the regular season, Goff had nine of his 12 interceptions on the road, 22 of his 32 TD passes were in home games, and his completion percentage fell from 68.3 to 60.9 in away games. In his last three road games, he had two TD passes and five interceptions.

Goff was not sacked in the first meeting with the Saints and was sacked 32 times this year, tied for the eighth-best mark in the league. The Saints were tied for fifth with 52 sacks, led by Cameron Jordan with 12. Jordan, though, did not get to Goff in Week 9 and he has not recorded a sack since Week 14. Former Saint Brandin Cooks will relish this matchup, and in the first “revenge” meeting this season, he had six catches for 114 yards and a TD. Robert Woods had five catches for 71 yards. He could be ready for a big day against Saints slot CB P.J. Williams. Pro Football Focus noted that Williams allowed 58 of 78 targets for 725 yards and a passer rating of 127.4 during the regular season. Josh Reynolds caught one pass against Dallas and is a total dice roll for a TD reception.

I don’t expect overly impressive numbers from Goff like in the first meeting, as the Rams will likely stick with their outstanding RB duo of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson as they did against Dallas. The Rams will want to test the New Orleans defensive line without injured DT Sheldon Rankins, but there are still a lot of respectable run-stuffing talents on the Saints defensive line and LB Demario Davis is a solid rush defender. Gurley was held to 92 scrimmage yards in the first meeting but did catch a TD pass. Anderson has a rushing TD in three consecutive playoff games. New Orleans will be focused on containing the pairing of Gurley and Anderson, and putting the game in the hands of Goff, who has just 445 passing yards and one TD in two playoff games.

Brees has thrown two or more TD passes in five consecutive home playoff games. In the first meeting this season, he threw for 346 yards, four TDs and no interceptions. But he did not throw more than one TD pass in his final four regular season games and had two vs. Philadelphia. He has thrown for 300-plus yards in two consecutive games. Depending on game flow, he is still very capable of delivering big numbers, but the Saints have not always needed him to do so recently. In seven of Brees’ last eight starts, including the playoffs, the Saints have held their opponents to less than 20 points. That seems unlikely against the Rams, but Brees threw one TD pass in a Week 16 31-28 win over Pittsburgh. If New Orleans can build a lead in this one, they don’t need Brees to spray the ball all over the field often. Brees was also not sacked in the first meeting.

The well-covered storyline of the week is how the Rams will deal with Michael Thomas after he caught 12 passes for 211 yards and a TD in the first meeting. There is some conjecture that Aqib Talib could shadow Thomas, but that is not the Rams’ usual mode of operation. Simply having the leader of their secondary back should help against Thomas, but the Saints will move him around and he’ll still post good numbers. Los Angeles seems to have little hope of shutting him down fully. Ted Ginn Jr. may be freed for some big plays with the Rams focusing heavily on Thomas, who has averaged 129 receiving yards and a TD in three postseason games.

The Rams admirably held Ezekiel Elliott in check last week, but Alvin Kamara totaled 116 yards from scrimmage and scored three times in the first meeting. He is bidding for his third consecutive playoff game with 100-lus scrimmage yards. Ingram was a non-factor in the first meeting but is a consistent TD threat. The Saints have more offensive balance than Dallas and the threat of Thomas means open lanes for both RBs and chances to get Kamara in space.

Both teams were proficient in takeaway/giveaway this year, with the Rams at +11 fourth in the league) and the Saints at +7 (11th).

FANTASY TAKES: I believe Brees has the best shot to advance, but he hasn’t been outstanding statistically recently. Kamara is a must-start in any format and Ingram has TD potential. Thomas and Ginn are so appealing because they could face the Chiefs next if they advance. Gurley should be very busy as a dual threat, and Anderson will get TD chances. Cooks knows this dome well and Woods is the most reliable target Goff has; but I’m betting against them to advance. Goff’s road splits scare me against a Saints defense that has improved a lot.

DFS VIEWS: On the full FanDuel slate, which includes a Sunday Million contest, I’d rather spend for Patrick Mahomes when you consider Brees is just 200 dollars less. I prefer Kamara at $8,100, 400 less than Gurley. Anderson is a solid play at $6,500 and I’d rather spend for him than Ingram at 400 less with a possibly lighter workload. Woods is friendly at $7,100 but I like Cooks even better at $6,900. I would stick to the AFC games for TEs, but call it a gut feeling that Josh Hill ($4,600) will score.

GAME PREDICTION: I believe the QB play will be steadier on the New Orleans side and they also have a better balance of running game and defense. This won’t be quite the explosive offensive game like it was in the first meeting but it will just go over the projected total and the Saints will cover (-3.5). Saints 31, Rams 27.

 

 

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