New Orleans Saints vs Los Angeles Rams

New Orleans Saints vs Los Angeles Rams

The top-seeded New Orleans Saints have a big advantage over the Los Angeles Rams by virtue of playing Sunday’s NFC title game in the Superdome, where even the quietest moments can become earsplitting. The Saints are 13-3 at home over the last two seasons, tied for the second-best home mark in the NFL behind only the Patriots. And New Orleans has won its last seven home playoff games.

As for proof of just how crazy this one could get, look no further than the first game between these teams on Nov. 4. The Saints won that one, 45-35, handing the Rams their first loss of the season. Jared Goff and Drew Brees passed for a combined 737 yards and seven touchdowns, and the teams racked up a combined 970 yards.

One unusual aspect of this game is the disparity in age of the starting quarterbacks. Brees turned 40 on Tuesday, making him 16 years older than Goff, his Rams counterpart. Brees, the MVP of the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV victory, has obviously been here before. Goff, meanwhile, has appeared in just two playoff games: the Rams’ 26-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last January, and their run-heavy 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys last weekend.

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The biggest wild card in the championship game may be the two coaches. Neither Sean McVay nor Sean Payton has met a trick play he didn’t like, and both coaches made their names with offensive innovation.

“It’s nothing that’s predictable,” Rams running back Todd Gurley said of McVay’s calls. “You might think you know the play, but one week it can be this, the next week it can be something else. It doesn’t matter if you know it or not.”

And watch for the Saints’ Taysom Hill, the jack-of-all-trades backup quarterback who helped key last week’s win with a successful fake punt, and nearly had a touchdown pass as well.

The Rams haven’t won in the Superdome since 2007 and are 0-3 in their last three visits. (Is this a good time to mention that their “Greatest Show on Turf” team, then based in St. Louis, fell to the Patriots 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI in the Superdome?) The Rams, who beat the Saints in L.A. last season, have the edge in the all-time series (41-34), but are only 2-3 against New Orleans since 2010.

Los Angeles Rams vs New Orleans Saints

While the focus will be on the coaches and their offenses, both defenses also are littered with stars, from the Rams’ defensive line (featuring Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Ndamukong Suh) to Saints’ cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Of note: New Orleans dynamic defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was lost for the season after tearing his Achilles’ tendon last week.

The Vinovich factor: The Rams are 0-8 with Bill Vinovich as the referee since early 2006, including losses to the Saints and Eagles this season.

How they got here: The second-seeded Rams beat the Cowboys, 30-22, with Goff completing 15 of 28 passes for 186 yards and C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley combining to rush for 238 yards and three touchdowns. The Saints needed a little luck to get past the Eagles, with a Nick Foles pass going through the hands of Alshon Jeffery and into the arms of Lattimore with less than 2 minutes left, preserving a 20-14 win. The Saints got 301 passing yards from Brees and a combined 124 rushing yards from Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, while Michael Thomas had 12 catches for 171 yards and a score.

Last time they met: Teams rarely meet three times in one season if they’re not in the same division, but the Rams and Saints have seen a lot of each other. New Orleans beat the Rams, 28-0, in the always-meaningless last game of the preseason.