Week 2 sees a rematch of last season's NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams. Ben Steele takes a look at the game and thinks it could go down to the wire again...
Both teams were involved in games decided by three points or fewer last week, in part because both Payton and McVay are offensive minded coaches who will look to control the tempo of the game themselves. So we can expect a tight, back and forth battle which will probably be decided in the final minutes.
Star names lead rematch
A rematch of last season's NFC Championship game as the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams renew a rivalry that saw changes to the NFL rulebook last time they played. Nickell Robey-Coleman's blatant pass interference penalty was missed by the referees, ending a potential game winning drive for the Saints and provided the biggest talking point of an instant classic.
If the two teams are to play a game of a similar level on Sunday night they will have to lean on many of their stars from Week 1. Veteran Drew Brees relied heavily on a pair of All-Stars, wide receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara, as he threw for 370 yards and two TDs against Houston on Monday night; but it was his final drive that showed that he is still amongst the best QBs in the league. The 40-year-old led a 6-play, 37-second drive to put Wil Lutz in a position to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Over in LA, the Rams earned a 30-27 win over the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, thanks in part to the return to form of Todd Gurley. The running back was hampered by injuries towards the end of the 2018 season but notched 97 rushing yards last week and looked back to his best. Head coach Sean McVay managed Gurley's workload by turning to Malcolm Brown in the red zone and with a prolific Rams offence always likely to pose a threat, the 26-year-old is a good bet to score a touchdown, particularly against a Saints defense who struggled against the run last week. With so many offensive superstars on show I'm taking Over 58.5 points in the game at 7/4.
Similar skillset bodes well for Kamara
Last week, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey caused all sorts of problems for the Rams defence as he scored two touchdowns and gained over 200 total yards. The Saints will look to replicate the Panthers game plan and in the form of Alvin Kamara they have a man with very similar skills to McCaffrey. Both men entered the league in 2017 and have begun to change the face of the running back position with the abilities in the passing game. Kamara caught seven passes last week and is a consistent safety net for Brees, particularly as his arm strength has diminished in the later years of his career.
Saints coach Sean Payton will look to get his leading rusher involved in the game early and often, partly because it will help keep the Rams offence off the field, but also because it will almost certainly create mismatches on a regular basis. The Los Angeles linebackers are a solid, but unspectacular, group who aren't the best in coverage. Look for Kamara, who scored three TDs agains the Rams last year, to start the game strong and put the Saints out to an early lead.
The Seans all but guarantee close game
The Saints and Rams have played each other in every year of Sean McVay's head coaching career. McVay leads the head to head record over Payton 2-1 but all three games have been incredibly close. Last season's NFC Championship game was decided in overtime and we could be heading there again on Sunday.
Both teams were involved in games decided by three points or fewer last week, in part because both Payton and McVay are offensive minded coaches who will look to control the tempo of the game themselves. So we can expect a tight, back and forth battle which will probably be decided in the final minutes. I'm siding with the Rams, in their home opener, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the game go to overtime, and 9/1 is excellent value.
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