A Potential NFC Championship Preview
When the Los Angeles Rams head to New Orleans to take on the Saints, we may be seeing the most exciting game of the season thus far. And that is saying a lot considering the Rams vs. Vikings during Week 4, the Patriots vs. Chiefs, and even the Rams vs. Packers from last Sunday.
We may be seeing an NFC Championship preview, and this is what happens when you have the NFC’s two best teams, and two of the most well-rounded teams in the NFL, facing off.
And it all starts on the offensive side of the ball for both squads, with head coaches Sean McVay (Rams) and Sean Payton (Saints) two of the three best play-callers and schemers on offense in the league, calling the game.
The Saints are second in the league at scoring, averaging 33.4 points-per-game, while the Rams are just behind them at 33 points-per-game. Los Angeles is second in yards-per-game while the Saints are eighth.
However, take away New Orleans’ 270-yard outing from last week, and they would be averaging 409.8 yards-per-game, which would put them up at sixth. And both are among the best at converting third downs.
It’s a big-time quarterback battle in Drew Brees vs. Jared Goff. They lead two of the best passing attacks in the league and will both be facing suspect secondaries.
Brees is a future Hall-of-Famer who is at the end of his career but still at the top of his game while Jared Goff is a part of the new crop of quarterbacks in the NFL and trying to take the torch from Brees.
We also get to see the game’s best running back in Todd Gurley of the Rams, while New Orleans deploys the best running back tandem in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. This has a shootout written all over it, but we cannot discount the defenses, where strength vs. strength will be seen.
The Saints have turned the unit around after a horrid start to the season. They can still stand to improve the secondary, but New Orleans has the best run-stopping defense in the game and will have the challenge of stopping the NFL’s best running attack.
And the Saints have arguably the best offensive line in the NFL but have not faced a beast like the Rams’ defensive line anchored by NFL sacks leader Aaron Donald. That fearsome line added even more talent this past week, with the addition of 2015 3rd overall pick Dante Fowler Jr.
He fills the hole at edge rusher which allows Ndamukong Suh to move back into the interior part of the defensive line to form a proper duo with Donald. A pair that is probably the best in the league, and had Drew Brees talking about them and the last time he faced an interior duo like these two.
“Not since we played the University of Georgia in the 1999 season in the Outback Bowl,” Brees told reporters Wednesday, via the Saints’ official website. “It was Marcus Stroud and Richard Seymour. That was a pretty stout defensive interior front. But no, I mean, at this level, it’s really unheard of to have Suh and Donald in there. Those guys are unbelievable.”
FitzMagic is Back
Once Jameis Winston won the starting job starting in Week 5, it appeared that FitzMagic was over for the remainder of the season. But we were wrong. We get the fortune of seeing another go-around Sunday, with Ryan Fitzpatrick back in starting duties after coming in last weekend in place of the benched Winston.
The fourth-year quarterback was pulled after throwing four terrible interceptions which helped put the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an 18-point hole.
Enter Fitzpatrick, and the script could not have been written any better. We know how up-and-down he has historically been, but this opportunity was set up for him to bring back the hype. The hype that was started by leading the Buccaneers to a 2-0 start and becoming just the third guy in NFL history to throw for at least 400 yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back games.
Dan Marino and Billy Volek were the two other guys, but unlike Fitz, they went a combined 1-3 in those games. And Fitzpatrick, unlike those two, completed over 70% of his passes (78.69%). Also, Fitzpatrick became the only player in NFL history to throw for at least 400 yards in three straight games and did so with at least three touchdowns in each of them.
And boy did he inflate the excitement level once again, completing 11 of 15 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns, including a two-point conversion to tie the game. Yes, they lost, but he did his job, and it was good enough to win the game, which was enough to win the starting job back.
He’s appeared in five games in 2018 and started four of them. The one non-start was his magic as mentioned earlier against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. In totality, Fitzpatrick has thrown for 1,550 yards and 13 touchdowns to five interceptions on nearly 70% passing.
He leads the NFL in yards-per-attempt, yards-per-completion, and more surprisingly, passer rating. He has a 119.3 rating which is better than the likes of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, and anyone else you can name.
Fitzpatrick’s career cycle is well-documented. His play against the Carolina Panthers this weekend is going to be a coin-flip when predicting how he will perform. He can go from FitzMagic to bust quickly so there’s a good chance that the veteran will flop on Sunday.
But, at the same time, he can just as easily light it up. The fun part is going to be watching and seeing which one it’s going to be because good or bad, Fitzpatrick has become near-must-watch television this season.
The Quarterback Matchups
There is a ton of excellent football on show this weekend, and a lot of it has to do with the terrific quarterback matchups on display. We already covered Jared Goff vs. Drew Brees. The young and upstart franchise quarterback going up against the future Hall-of-Famer. Both are top-seven in passer rating and top-ten in completion percentage.
We also get to see two of the most exciting and new quarterbacks face off against each other in Patrick Mahomes vs. Baker Mayfield. The MVP favorite vs. the 2018 first overall pick. They are two of the most intriguing quarterbacks in the NFL and always make you want to turn on the TV.
And when they met in college two years ago, the game finished 66-59 in favor of Oklahoma. 66-59. Each team produced 854 yards of total offense each (most combined total yards ever) and Mahomes produced 819 of Texas Tech’s yards (another record). We won’t see anything close to that, but it should be an exciting game.
The Los Angeles Chargers vs. Seattle Seahawks pits two future Hall-of-Famers in Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson against each other. Rivers is in the thick of the MVP race while Wilson has continued to ball. Both have teams in the thick of the playoff race, and they go as their quarterback goes, so this could quietly turn out to be the best game of the weekend if the pair perform.
But, the one we are all waiting on is Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers. It’s the NFL’s two best quarterbacks in the game facing off against each other for just the second time in their careers.
The game’s “greatest” quarterback ever against the “best” quarterback we have ever seen. The most accomplished (Brady) vs. the most talented (Rodgers). Both go about handling their business in different ways, but Rodgers triumphed in their first meeting back in 2014.
Brady is the picture-perfect example of the quarterback stereotype: quarterback face, (arguably) the best pocket-passer ever, and a great leader. The 41-year-old is the ultimate winner who combines his all-time success with excellent numbers and superior immeasurable intangibles. There is hardly anyone you’d want leading a fourth-quarter two-minute drive.
Rodgers is the ultimate talent with jaw-dropping tangibles. If you were building a quarterback in Madden, you would come up with the Packers quarterback. He has the package of the arm, the accuracy, release points, IQ, and mobility gift-wrapped into one person. He is the best trait of each all-time great quarterback put into one player.
Rodgers doesn’t have the same team success as Brady, but it’s not his fault. He’s always had inferior coaching and talent surrounding him, along with a subpar front office. Since Rodgers’ insertion into a full-time starting role back in 2008, he leads Brady in completion percentage, touchdowns, has fewer interceptions, a better TD: INT ratio, yards-per-attempt, and an overall better passer rating.
Not to mention, Rodgers has 2,536 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground compared to Brady’s 464 yards and 14 touchdowns. Brady has the advantage in wins and passing yards.
Both are excellent and all-time greats, and only Drew Brees can come close to them among active quarterbacks. We have been robbed of this matchup many times and may continue to do so, so we must savor this matchup. Unless they meet in the Super Bowl soon, or Brady is playing four years from now, this may be the last time we see the two facing off against each other.