The NFC Championship kicks off Sunday between the Rams and Saints. For this game and every postseason contest, we’ll break down the sports betting lines and recommend where to place your bets at DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook.
Keep an eye on injury news right up until kick off since things can change quickly in the NFL. Please note any player listed as questionable may see limited action or not suit up at all if he doesn’t respond well in warm-ups.
NFC Championship Football Betting Odds
Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints
NFC Championship Football Breakdown
These teams combined for 80 points in a thrilling showdown back in November. The rematch sets up as another shootout.
Drew Brees averaged 321.6 passing YPG with a ridiculous 21:1 TD:INT ratio and 133.3 passer rating at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this season. He overcame a slow start to finish with 301 passing yards and 2 TDs in a narrow win over Philadelphia last Sunday.
Brees and Michael Thomas were unstoppable in a 45-35 win over the Rams on Nov. 4. Thomas set a franchise record with 211 receiving yards, and Brees finished with 326 passing yards, 4 TDs, and a 137 passer rating.
The Rams ranked 28th in DVOA pass defense against opposing No. 1 receivers this season and will have a hard time containing Thomas with either veteran CB Aqib Talib or struggling CB Marcus Peters. Also note that Thomas runs 30% of his routes out of the slot. That’s where Nickell Robey-Coleman excels for the Rams, but he stands 5-7 and gives up a lot of size to the 6-foot-3 Thomas.
While the Rams were able to stack the box against Ezekiel Elliott, the Saints have a far more versatile rushing attack. Alvin Kamara created the seventh-most missed tackles (74) in the NFL this year and drew the fourth-most targets (105) among RBs. The Rams were generally stingy against receiving backs but yielded four catches for 34 yards and a TD to Kamara in their last meeting.
If LA puts more speed on the field in the form of their nickel and dime packages, Brees will be able to diagnose that weakness and adjust in an offense that thrives on run-pass options.
Mark Ingram should be a big part of the game plan against a Rams team that ranked 28th in DVOA rush defense and coughed up a league-worst 5.1 YPC on the season. Ingram and swiss-army knife Taysom Hill were used situationally to exploit the Rams’ poor edge defense and should help the Saints convert on short down and distance.
With LT Terron Armstead (shoulder) and RT Ryan Ramczyk (shoulder) back and healthy, the Saints’ starting offensive line played all 77 offensive snaps last Sunday for the first time since Week 9. That unit showed some rust early on but came on strong late to help Brees key an 92-yard go-ahead drive. They also sprung Kamara and Ingram for 137 rushing yards in total.
The Rams have a clear-cut advantage on the interior with Saints LG Andrus Peat (hand) less than one hundred percent and likely to be overwhelmed by all-world DT Aaron Donald. Donald and Ndamukong Suh will force New Orleans to utilize its complicated screen game to get the ball out of Brees’ hand quickly.
However, the Saints’ offensive lane ranked third in adjusted sack rate (4.4%) this season. The Rams’ defensive line ranked a modest 19th in adjusted sack rate.
Ted Ginn Jr. returned from an ACL injury in Week 16 and finished second behind Thomas (171 yards) with 44 receiving yards last week. Brees narrowly missed Ginn on a bomb to open the game. The speedster will be a threat to break big plays against Peters. The Rams should use Talib to cover Thomas after the latter abused Peters in Week 9. Peters has shown a tendency to gamble for interceptions and get burned by double moves.
Keith Kirkwood (calf) is out and should be replaced by a combination of Austin Carr and Tommylee Lewis. Carr is a solid possession receiver and Lewis more of a deep threat and gadget player. Tre’Quan Smith should also see a decent uptick in work with Kirkwood out.
Saints TE Ben Watson (appendectomy) is also out. That leaves Josh Hill and Dan Arnold, who was a healthy scratch last week, to split snaps. The Rams did give up the second-most receiving yards (1,075) along with five receiving TDs to TEs this season, but both players are afterthoughts in the Saints offense.
When the Rams are on offense, the strength of their offensive line will be put to the test. That’s because New Orleans ranked third in DVOA rush defense and allowed just 3.3 YPC at home this season. But the Rams’ offensive line posted the second-best “stuffed” ranking in creating positive running plays. Then, they ranked first at the second level.
That unit made mincemeat of a Cowboys defense that gave up only 3.7 YPC on the season. Plus, the Saints suffered a huge loss in run defense when NT Sheldon Rankins suffered a season-ending Achilles injury last Sunday. However, the Saints’ run defense goes beyond a strong defensive line. They ranked first in tackling at the second level (unlike Dallas, which ranked 27th) and should do a better job of limiting big runs.
Todd Gurley was stymied in the passing game (six receptions for 11 yards) when facing the Saints in November but managed to churn out 68 yards and a TD on just 13 carries. Now working in tandem with “human bowling ball” C.J. Anderson, Gurley should be fresh and capable of contributing more in the passing game.
With an inexperienced QB running the show in Jared Goff, an effective running game is the single most important factor for the Rams this Sunday. Goff completed just 15 of 28 passes for 186 yards last Sunday. And while he shredded the Saints in that November shootout, he’s shown a notable weakness against zone defenses. New Orleans DC Dennis Allen may look to copy the scheme implemented by Dallas and limit Goff by throwing different looks and zone blitzes at the second-year Cal product.
Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are seeing the bulk of targets with Cooper Kupp (ACL) done for the year. Cooks caught 6-of-8 targets to burn his former team for 114 yards and a TD in November. He also finished ninth among NFL receivers with 856 air yards this season. Then, Woods is one of the most consistent receivers in the league right now. But he lacks the game-breaking ability of his counterpart.
New Orleans ranked dead last in DVOA pass defense on downfield targets and coughed up the most receiving yards (3,345) to opposing WRs this season.
However, Goff has struggled badly since Kupp’s season-ending injury. He’s failed to top 226 passing yards and has thrown one TD or zero in five of seven games since losing his security blanket underneath. Woods has seen eight-plus targets in five of seven games since Kupp’s injury and should be able to exploit his individual matchup on the interior against struggling slot CB P.J. Williams. Woods runs 78% of his routes from the slot.
Josh Reynolds could once again be ignored on the outside where the Saints strong coverage is keyed by second-year stud Marshon Lattimore. New Orleans was vulnerable on the left side during the first half of the year, but Eli Apple has played well recently. That leaves the Saints most vulnerable over the middle.
New Orleans ranked fourth in DVOA pass defense against TEs and will likely render Tyler Higbee a nonfactor. Gerald Everett is more of a threat down the field for the Rams, and Sean McVay may look to create mismatches with Everett on the perimeter.
NFC Championship Picks
The Rams got the monkey off their back with their first playoff win under Sean McVay. But now, they’re in a very tough spot on the road. For one thing, New Orleans went 6-2 at home this year. And despite falling behind 14-0 early, they would’ve covered an eight-point spread if Will Lutz had converted a critical kick. That first-quarter meltdown should continue to serve as a wake-up call for Brees and the Saints.
We’re taking the Saints (-3 on BetStarsNJ) to keep their foot on the gas pedal and win going away. Drew Brees is 6-0 at home in playoff games. And while they’ve only covered in two of those games, this matches the lowest spread in those contests.
The Saints are obviously less appealing with the 3.5-point hook on DraftKings and FanDuel Sportsbooks, but the Rams could really struggle if stymied on the ground. Sean Payton has shown a tendency to keep his offense rolling late, even when ahead. This obviously helps cover spreads.
New Orleans is 29th in overall pace but 20th when leading by seven or more points and 13th in neutral situations. The Rams are third in pace and fourth when trailing by seven-plus points. Thus, we’re taking the Over (56 on FanDuel Sportsbook) as an even stronger option than the point spread.
While the Saints-Eagles game went well Under, the previous seven playoff games at the Superdome went over the total. These offenses are simply too prolific to be held below this combined total. The sharps agree with over 70 percent of money coming down on the Over.
Only the Chiefs rank above the Rams and Saints in terms of points per drive and drive success rate. New Orleans scores the third-most points (5.54) per red zone trip, and the Rams rank 17th in red zone defense. The Saints have topped 30 points in all but two home games, Week 2 and last Sunday’s first-half debacle against Philadelphia. Hence, a healthy point total can be expected against a vulnerable Rams defense.