Dave Blezow has written the NFL predictions column in The Post’s Bettor’s Guide for the past 25 years. Here is his analysis of Sunday’s NFC Championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints and prediction for who advances to Super Bowl 53.
Rams (+3) over SAINTS; Under 57: These teams combined for 80 points in a 45-35 Saints victory in the Superdome on Nov. 4. Expecting a different kind of game in the rematch, with a different result and far fewer points.
The Saints were going through an offensive boom at the time. They would go on to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 51-14, Philadelphia Eagles, 48-7, and Atlanta Falcons, 31-17. Through 11 games, they were averaging 37.2 points per game. In their past six games, including a much more difficult 20-14 win over the Eagles, the Saints have averaged 19.2 ppg. Even if you’re inclined to discount the final regular-season game in which Drew Brees and many of the starters sat out, it becomes an average of 20.2 ppg, which isn’t terrible but still is a drop of two touchdowns and a field goal from their peak.
The Rams had a lull offensively after their 54-51 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11. They were a total mess in a 15-6 road loss at the Chicago Bears, followed by a 30-23 home defeat versus the Eagles. But they finished strong against bad teams — putting up 79 points on the Arizona Cardinals-San Francisco 49ers combo then rushing for a stout 273 yards in a 30-22 playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Not only did the Rams run all over the Cowboys, they held Ezekiel Elliott to 47 yards on 20 carries and kept Dak Prescott in check, allowing him just 3 yards on two runs. With Wade Phillips calling the defensive shots, looking for the Rams’ massive defensive line to dominate an ailing Saints offensive line that looks spent. Phillips also will have Aqib Talib, who missed the last meeting, back to cover Michael Thomas.
Earlier this week in The Post, Bruce Marshall of The Gold Sheet theorized there may be something amiss with Brees’ arm, as he’s checking down a lot and rarely throwing deep. Indeed, Brees badly underthrew the wide-open Ted Ginn Jr. and Taysom Hill last week. So if this all plays out and the Rams dominate the line and stuff the run, Brees has trouble throwing deep and Talib can put a crimp in Thomas’ usual big output, it doesn’t appear the Saints will score all that much.
On the other end, Jared Goff comes in having already experienced the Superdome’s deafening noise. He threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in November in a game that was tied at 35 midway through the fourth quarter. He’s the No. 2 quarterback in this game, to be sure, but wondercoach Sean McVay will get him and the Rams over the finish line and to Atlanta in the Super Bowl.
Prediction: Rams 30, Saints 20