WEEK 16 CRYSTAL BALL - Thursday: GURU, Family Ready for Fa-la-la-la-lorida!
My friends, THE GURU is on the move this week, heading to visit my parents and sister in sunny south Florida.
THE FAIR CLAUDINE and THE TRE MAN are my travel companions, as we’ll leave our two dogs, THE PUGGARAZZI, in NYC to guard the apartment. It’ll take an eight-man hazmat unit to delouse the place when we return but hey, as long as those little fellas have fun, what else matters?
The trip didn’t look promising last week after yours truly tested positive for Covid, sending my wife into a dotcom-crash-level tailspin as she saw another warm vacation vanishing before her eyes. Two of our past three December Florida trips bit the dust due to the virus and my lady had visions of another holiday going up in smoke.
To save our trip - and, perhaps, my marriage - I hopped in the car and drove to the hinterlands of Pennsylvania, set to bunker down until the illness ran its course. I’ve got to tell you, it was simply agonizing to be away from my family for three days with nothing to do but lay around a hotel room. Honestly, I still don’t know how I did it.
Thankfully, I was ok within three days of testing positive and ready to return to terra firma. And fortunately, THE FAIR CLAUDINE aka THE PHILLY FILLY welcomed me back with folded arms.
It’s good to be home so I can focus on the more important things in life, like tonight’s football game as the Saints visit the Rams in a clash of 7-7 teams fighting for their playoff lives. Kickoff is at 8:15 pm ET on Amazon Prime.
If you’re of a certain age - and Lord knows I am - you recall the Saints and Rams as NFC West rivals from 1970-2001, separated by up to 1,900 miles by car. Crazy right? And the whole thing was even more bananas from 1999-2001 when the division was comprised of Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, San Fran and, yes, the St. Louis Rams.
Magellan would’ve had a stroke, along with the Niners’ traveling secretary!
Is it any wonder that San Francisco was 4-12 and 6-10 in the first two years of this divisional experiment? Their dudes were jet lagged a minimum of four times each year from NFC West games alone. Probably didn’t even have the energy to check out Bourbon Street in NOLA or The Hill in St. Lou.
Fast forwarding to the present, teams that are .500 usually don’t get a lot of love but I’d call New Orleans and Los Angeles pleasant surprises this season as they enter the stretch run at 7-7.
Last year was tough sledding for the teams as the Saints and Rams were 7-10 and 5-12, respectively, with both finishing in third place in their divisions. Now, New Orleans is tied with Tampa for first place in the NFC South while the Rams are in the mix for a wildcard berth, tied for second place in the NFC West.
The teams met last season with the Saints earning a 27-20 win in the Big Easy as Andy Dalton quarterbacked New Orleans to the win against a banged-up Matthew Stafford, who had a rough 2022. The game was without controversy, which is more than can be said for their meeting in the 2018 NFC Championship game when LA wasn’t flagged for an obvious pass interference in the game’s final two minutes.
You remember the play.
From there, the Rams took the game to overtime and won it to advance to Super Bowl LIII, a loss to the Patriots. LA’s defeat was no solace to Saints fans but the it did lead to an NFL rule change for 2019 as pass-interference calls were added to the list of reviewable plays. Still, the one-year experiment didn’t live to see 2020.
Since that 2018 game, the Rams have been to two Super Bowls and won a title while earning five playoff wins. New Orleans has just one postseason victory in that span, missing the playoffs the past two seasons.
I’m not sure whether either team is poised to make a playoff run but it does feel like we’re in for a good evening of football to get our Christmas weekend started. In the end, I think LA coach Sean McVay will find a way to get the win vs. Dennis Allen’s tough Saints defense. Call it 23-20, Rams.
The Week 15 record was 11-5 (.688), pushing the season mark to 138-81 (.630). I’ll be back later in the week with more picks. God bless!