THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – It’s the rematch the Los Angeles Rams have been waiting for.
On Sunday, in their first NFC Championship Game appearance since 2001, the Rams will play the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The winner will advance to Super Bowl LIII, where they will face the winner of the AFC Championship Game between the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots.
“It's a great opportunity for us. I think it's something that when you get a chance to play for one game away, that's exactly why you do all this hard work,” Rams coach Sean McVay said Sunday evening. “We're going to go there and give it our best shot.”
A loss to the Saints in Week 9 remains fresh in the Rams’ memories. Drew Brees and the Saints ended the Rams' bid for a perfect season, and took over the top seed in the NFC. Brees proved unstoppable in the first half of that Nov. 4 meeting, as he shredded the Rams’ defense to build a 21-point lead. But savvy second-half adjustments slowed Brees just long enough for Jared Goff to orchestrate an extraordinary comeback effort and tie the game, 35-35, in the fourth quarter. Brees, however, connected on a late 72-yard pass to Michael Thomas over Marcus Peters to secure a 45-35 win.
“The last time we played them, it came down to the game just running out of time,” left guard Rodger Saffold said. “I think that we’ll have a better plan against them the second go-around, and you got to be excited to go back there and get another chance at those guys.”
As the Rams prepare to return to New Orleans more than two months after the loss, McVay, who at 32 years old became the youngest head coach in NFL history to win a playoff game with a 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys in a divisional-round game, said there was plenty to gain from their previous experience in the Superdome.
“Getting a chance to feel what a tough atmosphere that is to play in where I think there's a lot of times a fear of the unknown, and now that we kind of know what to expect with a great crowd and how that's going to have to alter some of the different things that we'll do specific to offense, some of our communication,” McVay said. “We can use that as a positive, but we know it's going to be a great challenge.”
The Rams and Saints rank second and third in points per game, averaging 32.9 and 31.5, respectively. And both teams won 13 games in the regular season, making this the ninth conference championship game between 13-win teams in postseason history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The home team has won the past two games, while the road team won the previous six.
Sunday’s game will be the third time in two seasons that a McVay-led Rams team will play the Saints. The Rams defeated the Saints, 26-20, in a Week 12 matchup last season in L.A.
Rams and Saints by the numbers:
32: The number of touchdown passes thrown by both Goff and Brees in the regular season. Goff passed for 4,688 yards, with 12 interceptions, in 16 games, while Brees passed for 3,992 yards, with 5 interceptions, in 15 games (Brees sat out Week 17).
2: The number of Rams running backs who rushed for more than 100 yards in a divisional round win. C.J. Anderson rushed for 123 yards and Todd Gurley II added 115 as they became the 6th pair of teammates in NFL postseason history to run for 100 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
80.2: The average rushing yards allowed per game by the Saints’ defense in the regular season. In their Week 9 matchup, the Rams, who averaged 139.4 rushing yards per game, only gained 92 on the ground.
17: The number of sacks taken by Drees this season. The 12-time Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl champion is the least-sacked quarterback among those who started at least 15 games this season. Consider that a challenge for the NFL’s sack king, Aaron Donald, who recorded a league-best 20.5 sacks in the regular season. The Rams were unable to get to Brees in Week 9.