Anderson gives Rams Edge in NFC Title

C.J. Anderson Gives Rams the Edge

Where did all the soft lines go? The NFL is down to the Final Four; the Conference Championships are on tap this Sunday, and this is supposed to be the time of year when casual football fans flood the marketplace, distorting the NFL odds and delivering huge profit margins to the sharps. But the lines look pretty tight in both the AFC and the NFC.

That’s mainly because we’ve got the top two seeds from each conference still in action. There’s not all that much difference in quality among the four, and fittingly, the home team is a small favorite in both contests. But there’s something special about Sunday’s NFC title game (3:05 PM ET, FOX) between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints, where the Saints opened as 3.5-point faves at the top-rated SBR betting sites. This matchup could boil down to two men: One who’s playing for Los Angeles, and one who’s not playing for New Orleans.

Back to Work

The Ram in question is tailback C.J. Anderson. You might remember Anderson for his work with the Denver Broncos, where he made the Pro Bowl in 2014 and helped Denver win Super Bowl 50 the following season. We haven’t heard much from Anderson this year; the Broncos released him in April, then he bounced from the Carolina Panthers to the Oakland Raiders before finding himself out of a job in December.

That’s when the Rams swooped in. Their lead tailback, Todd Gurley, hurt his knee a little in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles; with the playoffs looming, L.A. put Gurley on ice for the last two regular-season games and signed Anderson to fill in. He did more than yeoman service, piling up 167 yards against the Arizona Cardinals and another 132 against the San Francisco 49ers.

Anderson didn’t stop there. Even with Gurley returning for the playoffs, the Rams used both their tailbacks during Saturday’s Divisional Round matchup with the Dallas Cowboys and what a 1-2 combination they made. Anderson romped for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries; Gurley had 16 carries for 115 yards and a TD. And this was against one of the better rush defenses in the league – look what the Cowboys did to the Seattle Seahawks in their Wild-Card Game.

The Rankins Family

The Anderson-Gurley Experience could be even more successful this Sunday. The Saints have also done very well against the run this year, but their defensive line took a big hit during their 20-14 Divisional win over the Philadelphia Eagles (+8.5 away). DT Sheldon Rankins ruptured his left Achilles tendon and is out for the season after undergoing surgery.

This is very, very bad news for New Orleans. Rankins was their first-round draft pick (No. 12 overall) in 2016, and a big reason why the Saints defensive line has improved so dramatically over the past three seasons. Back-up DT David Onyemata, a fourth-round pick in 2016 out of the University of Manitoba, will have to step up and fill that void; undrafted rookie Taylor Stallworth should also see more minutes in Rankins’ absence.

Crossing the Jordan

The Saints aren’t completely lost without Rankins in their front four – they still have four-time Pro-Bowl DE Cameron Jordan, their first-round pick (No. 24 overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft. But the cupboard gets bare pretty quickly after that, and New Orleans doesn’t have much stopping power once you get beyond the first level. Their secondary is especially vulnerable, which will give the Rams and head coach Sean McVay plenty of options on Sunday.

Football is a team sport, of course, and there’s a lot more happening in the NFC title game than just the addition of Anderson and the removal of Rankins. But in what should be a close game, with what looks like a tight betting line on paper, the Rams may have punched their tickets to Super Bowl LIII by plucking Anderson off the scrap heap.

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