Rams-Saints Betting Preview: Which Team Is Undervalued in NFC Championship?

Rams-Saints Betting Preview: Which Team Is Undervalued in NFC Championship? article feature image

Betting odds: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints

  • Spread: Saints -3 (-115)
  • Over/Under: 56.5
  • Time: Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET
  • TV channel: FOX

>> All odds as of Sunday morning. Download The Action Network App to get real-time NFL odds and track your bets

Betting market

This line opened at Saints -3.5, but with the Rams being a trendy pick throughout the week, bookmakers have moved it down to -3 across the board. LA is getting 56% of the money line bets at +158.

The over/under moved from 56 to 57 very early on. It bumped back down to 56 before settling on a middle ground of 56.5 over the weekend.

The tickets on the total are split almost exactly 50-50, but the over is almost getting 3x more money than the under. (You can check updated line moves and odds here) — Mark Gallant

Trends to know, Part 1

Drew Brees is 6-0 straight up at home in the playoffs under Sean Payton. Only one other head coach has won at least six home playoff games straight up without a loss since 2003: Pete Carroll.

If the spread on Sunday closes under -4 for New Orleans, it will be the lowest spread for Brees at home in the playoffs. — Evan Abrams

The spread tickets are split almost exactly 50-50. If the Rams get some late action, that’d be a good sign for Brees & Co.

Since coming to New Orleans, Brees is 16-7 ATS including 1-0 ATS in the playoffs when getting fewer than 50% of bets at home. — John Ewing

In his career, Jared Goff has faced six different Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks over 12 games: He’s 6-6 straight up, but 3-9 against the spread.

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) reacts after throwing an interception during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16).

Since Goff’s first NFL start in 2016, he’s the least profitable quarterback against the spread vs. Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.

This season, he is 3-2 SU and 0-5 ATS in this spot, failing to cover the spread by 9.8 points per game. — Abrams

The Rams and Saints entered the playoffs ranked No. 2 and 3, respectively, in points per game.

Since arriving in New Orleans, Brees is 10-1 ATS when facing a team averaging at least 30 points per game, covering by an average of 8.9 points per game. Brees’ only ATS loss? Last season on the road against the Rams. — Abrams

Biggest Mismatch

When the Rams have the ball: WR Robert Woods vs. CB P.J. Williams

The Saints have a receiver-friendly funnel defense that ranks third in rush DVOA but 22nd in pass DVOA (per Football Outsiders). Specifically, opposing receiving production has funneled into the slot, where cornerback P.J. Williams has played almost all of his snaps since the Saints acquired Eli Apple in Week 8.

While Apple and Marshon Lattimore have respectively held receivers on the outside to 57.8% and 65.4% catch rates, Williams has been targeted a team-high 84 times and allowed receivers to haul in passes at a 72.6% clip.

His 47.0 PFF coverage grade is the second-worst mark in the league among starting corners.

Since Week 11, Robert Woods has been the primary slot receiver for the Rams in the absence of Cooper Kupp (knee, IR).

Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods (17).

During the regular season, Woods led the Rams with 130 targets, 86 receptions, 1,219 yards receiving and six receiving touchdowns.

When the Rams faced the Saints in Week 9, they targeted Williams’ coverage a team-high 11 times.

The Rams spread the ball around, so Woods is unlikely to have double-digit targets, but when he gets opportunities, he should be able to exploit Williams. — Matthew Freedman

When Saints have the ball: WR Michael Thomas vs. CB Marcus Peters

As a rookie in 2015, cornerback Marcus Peters (then with the Chiefs) led the NFL with eight interceptions. In his second season, he was a first-team All-Pro shutdown savant. Last season, he had a career-high 81.7 Pro Football Focus coverage grade.

But since joining the Rams in the offseason, Peters has been an unmitigated liability. He owns a career-low 57.9 PFF coverage grade and has allowed a 69.5% catch rate this season. His quarterback rating allowed has nearly doubled.

  • 2018: 112.6
  • 2017: 60.9
  • 2016: 65.6
  • 2015: 67.1

With cornerback Aqib Talib back from his ankle injury, Peters has been playing almost exclusively at right corner, which means he’s likely to face wide receiver Michael Thomas for much of the game.

The first-team All-Pro receiver has lined up against right corners on 47.5% of his snaps this season, and it’s possible that the Saints could position him there even more this week to take advantage of his matchup.

In Week 9, Thomas punished the Rams with a 12-211-1 receiving performance on 15 targets. Against Peters specifically, he went 7-146-1 on nine targets.

In the regular season, Thomas had a league-high 125 receptions, and last week he had a slate-high 171 yards receiving. He’s been darn-near perfect this season, and Peters has struggled to defend almost everyone.

Thomas vs. Peters is a classic case of an unstoppable force meeting a very movable object. — Freedman

Who Has the Advantage in Key Areas

Quarterback: Drew Brees

Where do we even start with Brees?

He threw 32 touchdowns to just five interceptions, also adding a career-high four on the ground. His 74.4% completion percentage broke the NFL record that he set just one season prior.

For good measure, Brees also led the league in passer rating (115.7), fourth-quarter comebacks (6), and game-winning drives (7).

Against the Rams in Week 9, Brees finished 25-of-36 for 346 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions or sacks. He was lethal when the Rams failed to pressure him, going 19-of-25 for 281 yards and three touchdowns, so Wade Phillips may opt to blitz more this time around.

Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports. PIctured: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9), Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99).

According to data from Pro Football Focus, Brees is averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and four interceptions against pressure this season, but he has dominated when kept clean to the tune of 8.6 yards per attempt and a 29-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Goff, meanwhile, has been uneven since Kupp went down with a season-ending ACL injury in Week 10. The third-year passer shredded the Chiefs for 413 yards and four touchdowns in Week 11, but since then he’s averaged 6.6 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and six picks.

The absence of Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (Achilles, IR) could loom large: Goff dropped from an 80.8% completion percentage and 11.2 yards per attempt when kept clean in the first meeting to 50% and 7.1 yards per attempt when pressured, and it was Rankins who led the Saints with four hurries in that game.

And while Goff benefits from the absence of a key defender, Brees’ life will be made more difficult by the presence of someone who didn’t take part in the first matchup in Talib, formerly of Michael Crabtree chain-snatching fame (infamy?).

Talib allowed a passer rating of just 77.0 this season, and without his services in the first matchup, his fellow starting corner, Peters, got torched.

Still, Goff has to prove he can leave his stamp on a postseason game. Through two postseason starts, the 2016 No. 1 overall pick is completing just 53.4% of his passes for 6.1 yards per attempt and one touchdown.

That simply won’t get it done against Brees, who has averaged 305.0 yards per game with a 14-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in six career postseason starts in the Superdome — all of which the Saints have won. — Chris Raybon

Coaching: Rams

I had to give Brees his due. There’s a chance this could be the last time we get to see the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer in a game of this magnitude, so I’ll be brief with Sean McVay, who I suspect we’ll see back here for years to come.

McVay doesn’t have the 12 years of head-coaching experience or the Super Bowl hardware like Payton, but he has won 75% of his career games and has his team playing for a trip to the Super Bowl in just his second season — at 32 years old mind you.

But this game might not end up being about McVay as much as it is about Phillips. Even with losing Kupp and Todd Gurley missing time, McVay’s offense scored 30-plus in all but four games this season, failing to put up at least 23 points only once.

But Phillips’ defense got lit up for 30-plus seven times, and as Freedman alluded to above, he must make adjustments to his game plan against Thomas this time around for his team to pull out a win on the road against a Saints squad that’s superior on paper.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

But if any coaching staff this side of New England can be the equalizer, it’s the Rams’. Last week, Phillips, who has been willing to concede the run almost to a fault — the Rams allowed a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry this season — put his players in perfect position to succeed against a Cowboys run game that seemed to be in a position of strength beforehand.

Per Next Gen Stats, Phillips deployed a loaded box on 40% of Elliott’s carries — well above the 24.7% rate of loaded fronts he saw during the regular season — and the strategy paid off in resounding fashion, with Zeke managing only 47 yards on 20 carries (2.35 yards per carry).

If the Rams end up covering or even winning outright, it will likely be because Phillips figured out a way to limit Alvin Kamara in similar fashion to Zeke in the run game, while also getting pressure on Brees and containing Thomas in the passing game — all Super-Bowl-worthy accomplishments for sure. — Raybon

Special Teams: Push

Will Lutz (Saints) and Greg Zuerlein (Rams) are two of the more reliable kickers in the NFL and will be kicking in perfect conditions. Each is capable from 50-yards out, and while Zuerlein has a slightly longer range, it’s not enough to give an advantage to the Rams here.

  • Lutz: 28-30 FG (93.3%) | 52-53 XPs (98.1%)
  • Zuerlein: 27-31 FG (87.1%) | 35-36 XPs (97.2%)

The Saints have excelled in the kick return game, ranking 10th at an average of 24.3 yards with Hill and Kamara — but the Rams can neutralize some of that with a kicking team that ranks sixth in touchback percentage 71.96% and 12th in coverage (22.7).

I don’t expect special teams to matter as much in the perfect conditions of the Superdome, nor do I expect a ton of punts. It’s worth noting, though, that these two punters Thomas Morstead and Johnny Hekker finished No. 1 and 2 in net punting average this season.

  • Morstead: 43 punts | 1996 yards
  • Hekker: 43 punts | 1992 yards

Rams receiver JoJo Natson actually ranks sixth in punt return average among qualifiers at 10.8

The Rams finished with a +4.4 net in the return game this season to the Saints +2.4, which speaks to Natson’s productivity in the return game. But while Kamara and Lewis didn’t break any during the regular season, they are both still dangerous.

DVOA gives the Saints the edge at No. 9 in special teams over the Rams No. 17, but when you factor in more recent form, these are two middle-of-the-pack special teams units.

With Zuerlein back and healthy, I don’t see a huge edge either way.  — Stuckey

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30), quarterback Jared Goff (16).

Injury Report

Which team is healthier? Rams

McVay said that Gurley (knee) would be limited in practice this week, but the Rams’ franchise running back ultimately wasn’t even listed on the injury report.

LA has been one of the league’s healthiest teams all season.

The Saints have a few more bumps and bruises throughout their roster, but they’re likewise expected to be at full health come Sunday.

Slot receiver Keith Kirkwood (calf), tight end Ben Watson (illness), left guard Andrus Peat (hand), right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (shoulder) and center Max Unger (knee) all failed to get in a full practice to start the week.

Note: Info as of 6 p.m. ET Thursday. See our Injury Report for daily practice participation and game statuses up until kickoff. — Ian Hartitz

Trends to Know, Part 2

The over/under opened 56 and has been bet up to 57 at some books. Since 2003, there have only been four previous playoff games with a total of 57 or more points. The over went 4-0 in those games, going over by 6.5 points per game. — Ewing

The over is 9-1 in Saints playoff games at the Superdome including 5-1 in games that Brees has started. The lone under came in last week’s Divisional Round game when the Saints-Eagles combined to score 34 points against an over/under of 52. — Ewing

Last week, 77% of betting tickets were on the the over between the Eagles and Saints. The game started with two quick Eagles touchdowns, but finished 20-14, going under the betting total by a whopping 18 points.

Brees has played 18 home games with the Saints after his previous game in the dome went under the total by 10 points or more. The over in the next game is 13-5 (72.2%), going over the total by 7.1 PPG, including going over the total in 10 of his past 11 starts in the Superdome in this spot. — Abrams

DFS Edge

This game has plenty of DFS goodness, as it will be in the best game environment inside the Superdome. Per our FantasyLabs Trends tool, this stadium has yielded the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and third-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers.

Additionally, in our Stacks tool, Brees and Thomas have the second-highest median projection together behind Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill. I like the idea stacking Brees and Thomas (who doesn’t?) while running it back with Woods, who costs just $5,700 on DraftKings.

Woods’ Projected Plus/Minus on DraftKings and FanDuel leads all the receivers this week, and as Freedman mentioned earlier, he should spend most of his time against slot corner, P.J. Williams, Pro Football Focus’ No. 109 cornerback of 119 qualifying corners.

If you’re feeling frisky on DraftKings, a Saints onslaught could be in play in tournaments — Brees, Thomas, Kamara and Mark Ingram — in hopes of soaking up 100% of the Saints’ touchdowns.

It could pay dividends if their 30-point implied team total comes to fruition. — Justin Bailey

Bets to Watch

Under 56.5

This feels like a game between two high-flying offenses going at it in the Superdome, but if you dig in to the numbers, the under is a better play in my opinion.

In Brees’ past seven starts, the under is 6-1, going under by an average of two touchdowns. These games aren’t squeaking under by a field goal, they are going way under and avoiding a sweat in the fourth quarter.

But the consistent unders from the Saints haven’t really moved the lines because a majority of bets and dollars has been on the over in each of those previous seven games I mentioned.

While public bettors are still blindly taking the Saints overs expecting an explosive offense and lackluster defense, we have seen the opposite in recent weeks.

The Rams trends point to the under as well. Goff has some pretty drastic home/road splits in regards to his fantasy points, and it carries over to their team totals and over/unders, as well.

In the Rams’ nine home games, the over is 7-2, in their eight road games, the over is 2-6. — Travis Reed

Saints -3

I admittedly am not as locked into each singular game breakdown and nuance like a lot of my compatriots here, but this was a number that immediately surprised me.

I had this at Saints -4, and I thought it was possible I was being conservative.

We’ve spent all season waiting for the Rams to be something that they are very clearly not (especially defensively).

What this market is essentially telling you is that by subtracting the Saints home-field advantage (which is absolutely more than the traditional three points), the Rams are viewed as the better team on a neutral field.

I disagree.

Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9).

Maybe that opinion is being formed by a pretty dominant Rams win over Dallas Saturday night, but Dallas was one of the weaker teams in the entire postseason. That type of win really shouldn’t affect market perception of these teams at all.

Putting all that aside, though, the game isn’t being played on a neutral field. It’s being played, for the Rams, on the road. And Goff’s home-road splits are absolutely disastrous:

Home: 68.3 cmp% | 22 TD, 3 INT | 116.7 rating
Road: 60.9 cmp% | 10 TD, 9 INT | 82.7 rating

If the road version of Goff shows up again Sunday, I don’t like the Rams’ chances.

But more to the point, this number seems just a tiny bit too low given how the Saints have played all season. — Ken Barkley

Editor’s note: The opinions on this game are from the individual writers and are based on their research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.

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