New Orleans Saints @ LA Rams
Start-time: Sunday, 21:25
TV: Live on Sky Sports Action
Saints' weaknesses to become a strength against a stuttering Goff
Thanksgiving Week engenders contrasting feelings on this side of the pond. While Americans raise a glass to their founding fathers and pass the turkey, Brits drown their sorrows and mourn the loss of the colonies. On a cracking card of matches, though, this may actually prove the highlight, with both these teams having plenty to celebrate. In short, they're two in-form surprise packages with more hope of surviving Christmas and making it to the postseason than your average turkey.
Arguably it's the LA Rams who have turned the corner the most quickly, but at least they've long been possessed of a stout defense, the reliable backbone to any successful side. But it is the New Orleans D which has effortlessly morphed from sinners to Saints inside the current solar cycle. Their pigs-to-pouncing-pumas transformation is all the more startling after an inauspicious start to the current campaign which lived down down to expectations, just as they had throughout 2016. And they had the same risky gameplan: blitz first, think later.
So while it's marginally bewildering why this strategy has reaped such an unimaginable harvest this term, it should be remembered that the green shoots of recovery have been blossoming since the Saints began rebuilding their defense on draft day. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is definitely the emerging force among their bulwark front seven (opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of under 40 when he's in coverage, although he won't be tonight) while the Saints' wider recruitment policy and coaching is paying off.
Only five teams have blitzed more this term (often the last refuge of a losing scoundrel) but the Saints stand at a mighty 8-2 for the regular season. Drew Brees and the Saints' offense have also operated at customary high-octane levels, although some of their wrecking-ball spirit has been tempered with a new pass-run balance in evidence. Running men Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara (the pick of the pair - he can also play receiver) have clicked into a higher gear to afford New Orleans an added dimension which has, in turn, naturally freed up Brees' throwing arm (notably to rising star Ted Ginn Jnr) for effective-if-limited employment.
On the other side of the field, the LA Rams are renewed under the guidance of Jared Goff, whose flashy blue-collar attitude has made him a ready hit with fans. Trouble is, just when Goff had started building an origins tale of the next Superman, he lost the plot when it mattered most in Minny. And the suspicion persists that Goff is more Clark Kent than Man of Steel when rival defenses get up in his grill - something at which, of course, New Orleans are excelling.
The Rams took that 24-7 humbling in good spirit, and will be keen to bounce back here in a game that could even define the number-one berth (or at least the top few seeds) in the NFC ahead of the play-offs. However, their roster of wellbeing took a few hits (notably to corners Kayvon Webster and Nickell Robey-Coleman, Dominque Hatfeld, and wide man Robert Woods). The team suffered everything from concussions to dead thighs, so a shakeable confidence in Goff is the last thing LA needs, especially if the Saints come out of the blocks fast.
At least Goff will enjoy some home comforts here, and not the cacophony of an opponent's Thunderdome, where he can struggle to maintain comms with his offense and the coaches on the sideline (his clock control and time-out taking still hails from the rookie manual). But when all things are considered, the respective experience of the two men at the help here is the deal-maker. Take the evergreen Brees, with his "closer" confidence, to expose the same weak links in the Rams' chain-gang that Minnesota did only a week ago.
Back New Orleans Saints (+2.5) to win on the Match Handicap @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back New Orleans Saints (+1.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread (+0.5) @ 2.26/5 or better
Back Over 26.5 New Orleans Points 1.9110/11 or better
Back A.Kamara to score First / Anytime Touchdown @ 12.011/1 / 1.9110/11 or better