It is almost that time Who Dat Nation. The Saints will battle the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday to determine who goes on to play in Super Bowl LIII. A rematch from Week 9 in which the Saints won 45-35, the stakes are a lot higher and the intensity is going to be through the roof. Things have changed a lot for both teams since then: the Rams lost Cooper Kupp but got back Aqib Talib; on the flip side, the Saints gained back Ted Ginn Jr. but lost Sheldon Rankins last week against the Eagles to a torn Achilles. It will be interesting to see how the game plan will flow for both sides.
The Saints have waited 9 long years to get back into this position. Last year, they could have been there if not for you know what. They have moved well past that and are now a win away from being back in the Super Bowl for the first time since 2009. The Rams are in their first conference championship game since 2001 when they were in St. Louis. The coaching match-up will be the biggest game of chest on both sides. You have Sean Payton matching up against Wade Phillips, who has been one of the best defensive coordinators of all-time. Vice versa, you have the youngest head coach in league history in Sean McVay doing battle against Dennis Allen, who has turned this Saints defense into an elite force the past few years.
Comparing how these teams match up against each other, they both have a realistic chance to win this game. Both teams have high powered offenses averaging well over 30 points a game. Their defenses are stout when it matters the most. My blood pressure is already getting high just thinking about the possibilities of what could happen in this game. The Rams are coming in healthy besides Kupp who was a major part of their offensive scheme and they have not been able to find that groove in the passing game since then. They picked up C.J. Anderson late in the season and has been a big factor for them, although the level competition has not been as tough to go against until last week. Defensively, having Talib back has improved their secondary somewhat but teams are still able to throw the ball on them at will. Their front four has finally become a cohesive unit since the addition of Dante Fowler Jr. to match with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
For the Saints, the re-addition of Ginn has opened up the playbook back to what it was in the beginning of the season. Terron Armstead is finally healthy again, providing the solid protection that has been missed for several weeks. Andrus Peat is fighting through a broken hand and struggled against a solid Eagles’ front four so I hope Payton gives him some help this game. The loss of Rankins will definitely hurt but also they have the luxury of sliding Cam Jordan, Alex Okafor or Marcus Davenport on the inside if need be and Trey Hendrickson has been fresh just waiting for his chance to get into the rotation. The secondary has improved a lot since the Eli Apple trade and more so because they have been playing a lot more press coverage.
The x-factor for this game will be Taysom HIll. With Keith Kirkwood ruled out and Ben Watson questionable, Hill will probably see a more expanded role at receiver and tight end in the passing game after he almost hauled in a catch last week. If there was a time to use him to his full ability, this would be the perfect opportunity to do so. More importantly, the defense needs to be as stout against the run as ever with Todd Gurley on the other side. They were able to hold him under 100 all-purpose yards last time but he will be the x-factor for the Rams because for them to run the ball effectively and control the clock is crucial for their chances of winning.
And lets not forget the Who Dat Nation crowd being the biggest factor of them all. They need to be so loud you can hear them from Bourbon Street all the way to Lake Pontchartrain. Sean Payton has given them their instructions on when to get loud and the Rams feel as if they won’t be a factor at all. We will see about that come game time. I wish I could be at this game, but like in 2009, I stayed away and kept to my superstitious ways and it all worked out in the end. Everybody better bring their voodoo and juju to help get the Saints to the Super Bowl again. I’ve been waiting for this moment like every other Who Dat out there.
Let’s go out there and PROVE THEM RIGHT!!! WHO DAT!!!