Who would’ve thought that the biggest game of the week 12 schedule this season would be the (8 – 2) New Orleans Saints visiting the (7 – 3) Los Angeles Rams?! Surprisingly both teams lead their division as the Saints are besting the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons while L.A. has temporarily stolen the NFC West crown from the Seahawks. Sean Payton has his team on an eight-game win streak after starting the season (0 – 2). We knew the Rams would have a solid defense but going from worst to first on offense is something even Nostradamus couldn’t predict. The Rams are right behind the Eagles in total points so far this year. They suffered a tough loss last week, only scoring seven points to the surging Vikings which lowered their season average. So it will be interesting to see how Sean McVay and his young squad respond.
Both the Rams and Saints have completely different schemes on offense and defense as compared to last season. Los Angeles went out and grabbed Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods who have made significant impacts at wide receiver. They’ve allowed coach McVay to open up the playbook as he sits on the Gatorade cooler getting the best out of sophomore quarterback Jared Goff and creating space for Todd Gurley who’s been absolutely fantastic this season. The offensive line has excellent pass blockers and is able to drive back defenders for Gurley in the run game. Due to these factors, statistics show that L.A. is scoring over 30 points per game and only the Eagles and Saints can say the same.
Wade Phillips, who is the Rams other head coach, has his guys playing tough, athletic football and using his best players in a variety of ways. Opponents are only averaging around 18 points each week against his defense. Coincide that with scoring 30 points every contest, you have a dynamite recipe for success. Another important factor contributing to the maturation of the Rams defense is discipline. Wade Phillips understands how penalties can destroy a teams momentum and more importantly giving away free first downs is a major detriment to a teams morale. The players have bought into that idea as L.A. has given up the least amount of yardage due to penalties in the NFL.
The Saints have also been sold on the concept of fewer penalties, fewer problems as the defense ranks seventh in that category. However, New Orleans has bought into a few more ideas contributing to the teams rise from the ashes. It’s called running the football and playing defense. Since Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans over a decade ago, they’ve been known as one of the leagues best passing teams as #9 has set numerous records recording over 5,000 passing yards in a single season five times! That’s four more times than any other quarterback to ever strap on a helmet. I know the rules have changed to favor the passing game but that’s a statistic that may never be broken. While it was must-see television, all of that offensive success only got the Saints one Super Bowl ring in one trip to the big game.
Sean Payton is a great football coach and he realized that if he wants another ring on his finger without having to go to Zales, then he would have to revert to his old style in his days with Bill Parcells. Payton’s mentor showed him that professional football games are won predominately on the strength of the defense and a solid ball-control running game. As Drew Brees gets older, he welcomes a running style offense because it takes the pressure off his shoulders and most importantly, they’re winning games.
The Saints are 3rd in the NFL rushing for 144 yards a game. The two-headed monster of Mark Ingram and rookie sensation Alvin Kamara are the best backfield duo in the league. Ingram is a tough runner between the tackles with a nose for the end zone and Kamara gives the Saints that elusive, multi-dimensional style of running and catching the ball out of the backfield. They are a perfect compliment to one another and since Adrian Peterson is in Arizona, the Saints studs don’t mind sharing the load every game because again…they’re winning!
The key factor in this pivotal NFC match-up is that New Orleans has been exceptional running the ball and the only weakness the Rams have is stopping the run consistently. The L.A. Rams rank 28th in the league allowing almost 124 yards on the ground per game. This is how and why the Saints should win this battle of division leaders on the road at the Coliseum.
Sean Payton and his coaches are fully aware of this advantage and will give the ball to their two-headed monster early and often. Wade Phillips also knows that the Saints will attack the Rams on the ground. So it’s decision time! Does Phillips sell out against the run and stack the box or will he allow his team to play their game and hope for the best? If L.A. does jam up the box to stuff the run, Drew Brees is still more than capable of getting the ball on target to his receivers in one on one coverage. It appears to be a double-edged sword which is why Sean McVay better be prepared to at least match his team’s league average in points and then some.
The one major difference between the Saints and Rams is that New Orleans has Drew Brees and the Rams have Jared Goff. I love how Goff has responded to all the criticism stemming from a poor rookie season last year. But that’s growing pains and he’s dealt with it perfectly. Drew Brees isn’t accustomed to bad seasons, maybe a few bad games but when push comes to shove, Brees is great in clutch situations. Plus his experience and football wisdom should help get the Saints a victory that could possibly lead to a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
On an important side note, there are two significant injuries keeping two of the best players off the field for each team. Ironically it’s wide receiver Robert Woods (shoulder) for the Rams and the rookie phenom who would have been covering him at cornerback, Marshon Lattimore who’s still nursing an ankle injury. They will both be missed in this inter-conference playoff seeding battle.
These are two well-rounded teams who’ve played consistent solid football all season. It wouldn’t shock me if the Rams won this game on their own turf. However, the Saints are a much better road team now in 2017 than they’ve been in years. Unless the Rams drop 35+ points on Sunday, they could suffer their second loss in a row to two playoff teams. That would be a problem when it comes to seeding in the postseason. Prediction: Saints 31 – Rams 30
Picks for the rest of the week 12 games:
Falcons 24 – Bucs 20
Browns 18 – Bengals 16
Titans 29 – Colts 13
Chiefs 31 – Bills 23
Patriots 34 – Dolphins 10
Jets 21 – Panthers 17
Eagles 27 – Bears 16
Seahawks 19 – 49ers 15
Cardinals 21 – Jaguars 19
Raiders 28 – Broncos 21
Steelers 38 – Packers 6
Ravens 24 – Texans 18