Jan 16, 2019
Jan 16, 2019

NFC Championship preview: Rams at Saints

The battle of the quarterbacks

An in-depth look at the New Orleans Saints

Analysing the LA Rams

NFC Championship  preview: Rams at Saints

After the highly contested divisional round, the two best teams from the NFC meet in the Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome to determine who will be NFC champions and make it to the Superbowl on Sunday February 3. Who will come out victorious? Read on to inform your bet.

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The battle of the quarterbacks

The NFC championship game bears comparison with the AFC title decider.

An elite, Super Bowl winning quarterback, who is again performing at the highest level in 2018 in Drew Brees leads the New Orleans Saints against an up and coming new star in Jared Goff.

Goff put a disappointing debut season behind him in 2016, when he averaged barely 55% completion rates, just over 5 yards per attempt and recorded more interceptions than touchdown passes.

He’s since posted back to back top six finishes.

He’s increased his completion rate into the mid 60’s, extended his yards per attempt to beyond 8 yards, whilst halving both his interception rates and sacks per dropback.

This season he’s throwing for a yard per attempt further than par for the defences he’s faced, whilst getting assistance from an impressive ground game that averages nearly half a yard per attempt further than par.

This translates to an average of an extra nine points per game more compared to par and a top three overall offensive unit that has scored at least 30 points in twelve of their sixteen regular season matches, as well as in the post season defeat of Dallas.

However, despite quality averages, there have been the occasional troughs.

And cognitive bias may cloud our judgement.

Notably on the road in Denver, Detroit and Chicago in 2018 and in the small sample size of playoff appearances, where he more resembled the inaccuracies of his rookie season.

The Rams’ three losses each came against fellow post season teams, although that is more than counter balanced by five such regular season victories and one divisional round win over Dallas.

Defensively, they boast an average passing defence, but are very weak against the run, allowing 0.7 of a yard per attempt more than par, but they do only allow an average of an extra point per game to be scored against them once the quality of the offences they’ve faced are accounted for.

They have an impressive, if unsustainable 6-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or fewer points and this is reflected in their 11 Pythagorean wins compared to their actual 13-3 record.

Saints vs. Rams - What do the statistics suggest?

New Orleans remain at the head of the outright Super Bowl market, despite being made to work to overcome the defending champions, Philadelphia.

Once again the dangers of taking a single, most recent game to make snap judgements is highlighted by the Saints come from behind win on Sunday night.

You can be critical of the Saints in allowing the Eagles to jump to a 14-0 first quarter league, but then they deserve praise for keeping their opponent scoreless through the remaining three quarters.

The influence of the outcome of single events on the match result was also evident on Sunday.

Interceptions, 4th down conversions and missed field goals not only led to huge in game swings in win probability, but also impacted on match and against the spread outcomes. As ever predictions are best judged in the long term.

Drew Brees can lay claim to the most consistently excellent career arc of any current veteran, particularly during his time in New Orleans.

In the 13 completed regular seasons following his trade from San Diego to accommodate Philip Rivers his stock has never fallen further than 6th best quarterback in any single year, commanding a top three slot in eight season.

This year he’s thrown for a yard per attempt further than par and although the running game is hovering around par efficiency values, he’s been the architect for the Saints to outscore their opponents by over 7 points per game compared to their rival’s usual concession rates.

As we’ve previously noted, New Orleans’ defence is a step back from last season’s excellent unit, but largely superior to the defences that Brees has been backed up by in the past.

They defend the run very well, but are well below par against the pass, although this does force opponents to become one dimensional passing sides.

This is a combination that has worked well on the scoreboard, where the Saints allow 2 fewer points per game than par for their opponent’s offence.

Matchups suggest a balanced and above average contribution from New Orleans’ aerial and ground offence, with the Rams relying on their passing, with their run game struggling to assert.

Scoring rates unsurprisingly suggest around 58 points, but favour the Saints by five points, which is slightly more optimistic than Pythagorean win comparisons that give the Saints the win by just over a field goal.

We dodged the only favourite to lose against the spread on divisional weekend by choosing to back New Orleans in the outright Super bowl market instead. So, the suggestion is to allow that to ride or side with the Saints to cover the likely spread.

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