The betting line shifted late this week in favor of the Los Angeles Rams in Sunday’s NFC showdown against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Not a seizmic move — a 2 1/2-point swing — but worth noting since the Rams now are 1 1/2-point favorites heading into what promises to be a wildly partisan, highly energized environment.
The dollar movement perhaps was triggered by several key personnel additions and subtractions. The Rams’ acquired OLB/edge rusher Dante Fowler from Jacksonville just before the trading deadline and WR Cooper Kupp (knee) is expected to be available, plus the Saints’ will be without injured rookie DE Marcus Davenport (toe) through November.
Don’t be surprised if the line doesn’t shift again before kickoff (3:25 p.m., Fox) because this game promises to be a back-and-forth affair that may come down to the last possession and decided by kickers Wil Lutz of New Orleans or Greg Zuerlein of LA.
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Regardless of which way the line blows, this game is a toss up in my estimation. I’d favor the Rams (8-0) against the Saints (6-1) playing at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and if the game were played at a neutral site, especially at an outdoor venue.
But it’s hard to go against the Saints at the Superdome, so I won’t and here’s why: QB Drew Brees.
The Rams need third-year QB Jared Goff to play well (read: mistake free) and not just manage the game in order for them to remain undefeated. I’m not saying the moment will be too big for Goff but Brees typically shines in big-game moments, especially at home.
That’s what was so surprising about the Saints’ 30-20 road win Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings. Brees put up a pedestrian passer rating (84.8) and the fewest passing yards (120) in 12-plus seasons with the Black and Gold and New Orleans still won going away.
They played opportunistic defense, scoring 14 points off two turnovers (including a pick-6 by NFC Defensive Player of the Week CB P.J. Williams), and tacked on a field goal after a key fourth-down stop at the Vikings’ 45 to open the third quarter.
I’m still puzzled by Vikings’ coach Mike Zimmer’s decision to throw for it on fourth-and-1 on his side of the field and trailing just 17-13. A good punt would have pinned the Saints inside their 20. That lost gamble changed the complexion of the game for good.
Yes, the Rams have a high-powered offense led by Goff, NFL mid-season MVP Todd Gurley, and several game-changers at wideout in Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Kupp. And yes, they have a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive front that features NFL sack-leader Aaron Donald (10 sacks), Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers.
But this Saints team appears to have something special, reminiscent of that Super Bowl XLIV championship team in 2009. The ball seems to bounce their way. Opponents likely will have to play a near-flawless game to beat them.
Call it a grizzled beat-man’s intuition but I like the home ‘dog Sunday.