Saints at Rams – NFL Pick for November 26th
Few would have anticipated this prior to the season, but Sunday’s Week 12 showdown between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams is shaping up to be one of the most important matchups of the season. Considering these teams combined to go 11-21 last season, it’s safe to say few could’ve seen this coming. Through 11 weeks this year, the teams have a combined record of 15-5.
Saints’ Defensive Improvement
The Saints’ offense has truly taken off since the team jettisoned Adrian Peterson several weeks ago. Using the two-headed monster of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara, New Orleans has been racking up points on a regular basis. New Orleans has scored at least 30 points in each of their last 3 games and they’ve accomplished the rare feat of winning 8 straight after dropping their first 2 games of the season.
The Achilles’ heel of the Saints in recent years has been the defense. New Orleans would regularly get gouged by opponents, but that hasn’t been the case thus far in 2017. The Saints did not finish any higher than 27th in points allowed in any season from 2013 through 2016. The team has cycled through 5 different defensive coordinators since 2008, which is crazy for a team that has kept the same head coach during that entire span.
An injection of talent has essentially flipped the script for them this season. The Saints went hard on defense in the draft, taking corner Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams in the first 2 rounds. They also addressed the D in free agency by agreeing to deals with linebackers Manti Te’o and AJ Klein in addition to defensive end Alex Okafor.
Unfortunately, their performance might start to suffer moving forward. Okafor has already been lost for the season with an Achilles tear, while Lattimore is unlikely to play against the Rams with a bad ankle. It’s not a particularly severe injury, though, so Lattimore shouldn’t miss too much time. Still, the Saints could use him against this high-powered Los Angeles offense.
As for the Rams, we know they had one of the worst offenses ever last season. Under Jeff Fisher, neither Jared Goff nor Case Keenum even looked like NFL-caliber talents. We know now, however, that Fisher was the problem, not Goff or Keenum. Goff has looked like the No. 1 pick type of talent we saw at Cal, while Keenum has gone on to enjoy massive success this season with the Vikings.
As was the case with the Saints’ defense, all this team really needed was a sharper coach and an influx of talent. Sean McVay looks like a natural fit on the Rams’ sidelines, despite being just 31 years old. McVay had done the job in Washington with Kirk Cousins, and he was tasked with the tall order of turning the Rams’ putrid offense around. So far, so good.
Veterans Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan were brought in to protect Goff on the offensive front. The team also added some serious wideout talent by signing Robert Woods and trading for Sammy Watkins just before the season began. Rookie receiver Cooper Kupp has also developed a nice rapport with Goff already.
The revamped passing attack has also revitalized the Rams’ running game with Todd Gurley. Gurley struggled to find any space at all last season because the Rams were not a threat through the air. Now that opposing defenses have to respect the pass, Gurley has rediscovered his Rookie of the Year form. Gurley has already amassed 791 yards along with 8 rushing touchdowns on 187 carries. He has the chance to surpass his 2016 rushing yards total this week against New Orleans in just the 11th game of the year.
While the Rams are this week, Goff has enough weaponry at his disposal to make things work. The Saints may have reeled off 4 consecutive road victories, but that streak isn’t going to last forever. Both of these teams need to keep pace, as they each hold a narrow 1-game lead over challengers Carolina and Seattle in their respective divisions.
The spread is tight, but the Rams look like a solid bet on their home turf. L.A. actually has a slightly better record away from home this season, but McVay has the wherewithal to take advantage of the Saints’ shorthanded defense. Expect Goff to try and exploit Lattimore’s absence time and time again in this one.