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'We're all ready': New Orleans Saints, their fans and the city try to grab a Super Bowl berth

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Advocate staff photo by LESLIE GAMBONI

By Rod Walker | The Advocate

Terron Armstead, like everyone else in the New Orleans Saints locker room, has waited for this chance all his life.

The Saints' left tackle, in his sixth NFL season, knows these opportunities don't come along often.

So Armstead appreciates the magnitude of what will happen at 2:05 p.m. Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, when the Saints play in what is easily the franchise's most significant game in nine years.

"Growing up, you always dream about the Super Bowl," Armstead said. "The bright lights. The thrill of it. Being a champion. Football immortality. Playing a game we love. It's so close."

The Saints haven't been this close since the 2009-10 season when they won their first and only world championship. If the No. 1 seeded Saints (14-3) can beat the No. 2 Los Angeles Rams (14-3) in Sunday's NFC championship game, they'll head to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3.

"When you put yourself in a position like we did to be able to be where we are, we want to seize every moment," receiver Ted Ginn Jr said. ...

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How the Chiefs, Patriots, Saints and Rams built their offensive lines

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Reed Hoffmann – Associated Press photos

By Mark Craig | Star Tribune (Minn.)

Offensive line is a strength shared by the four conference finalists. Here’s a look at how the Chiefs, Patriots, Saints and Rams acquired their 20 starting linemen:

At a glance ...

Drafted 10
- Free agency 4
- Trades 3
- Waiver wire 1
- Street free agent 1
- Rookie free agent 1

Average age 27.6
- Under 30 Chiefs 5; Saints 4;
Patriots 4; Rams 2

Drafted by round
- First 4 (3 by current team)
- Second 6 (3 by current team)
- Third 3 (2 by current team)
- Fourth 1 (1 by current team)
- Fifth 1 (1 by current team)
- Sixth 1 (0 by current team)
- Seventh 2 (0 by current team)
- Undrafted 2 (1 by current team)

A closer look at the …

Rams: Despite having the two oldest linemen — 2017 unrestricted free-agent signings Andrew Whitworth, 37, and former Vikings center John Sullivan, 33 — they have the only fivesome that didn’t miss a start in 17 games. Spent second-round picks on LG Rodger Saffold (2010) and RT Rob Havenstein (2015). ...

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81 percent of experts picking Saints over Rams in NFC title game

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By John Sigler | Saintswire

The New Orleans Saints are slight home favorites over the Los Angeles Rams in the 2018 NFC championship game, and a majority of NFL experts are siding with the home team. Per NFL Pick Watch, 81 percent of selected experts are picking the Saints to triumph and advance to just the second Super Bowl appearance in team history. Just 19 percent of experts went with the Rams.

Compare that to the split in the AFC championship game: 74 percent of experts like the Kansas City Chiefs, while 26 percent are calling for another Super Bowl appearance for the New England Patriots. Clearly, the football world’s analysts are more confident in the Saints winning at home against the Rams than the Chiefs over the Patriots. ...

Full Story - Saintswire - USA Today

With Saints a win away from Atlanta's Super Bowl, Falcons fans on edge

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(AP Photo/David Goldman)

By: Tyler Estep, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution |

ATLANTA - The New Orleans Saints are just one win away from playing in the Super Bowl right here in Atlanta, in the gleaming new stadium that’s home to their biggest, albeit title-less rival.

And if they’re being honest, long-suffering Falcons fans from the mayor on down really would prefer to see the Saints fail to punch their proverbial ticket. Even for a city that’s grown accustomed to having sports-related disappointment and despair delivered in extraordinary fashion, this would be a new level of indignity.

“All I can say is, we don’t need no ‘who dat’ here,” Georgia State Rep. Dewey McClain said this week, referencing the Saints’ infamous battle cry. “All I can say is, they won’t get no Capitol invite.”

McClain, a linebacker-turned-legislator from Lilburn, played for the Falcons from 1976 to 1981. It was an eventful run in the rivalry that included two games decided by last-second Hail Marys and another by a blocked punt.

McClain knows that this idea, Atlanta fans’ aversion to the Saints appearing in the local Super Bowl (not to mention taking over the Falcons’ practice facilities and locker room), is not a manufactured media phenomenon. ...

Why Patriots, Saints have advantage in most pressure-filled game NFL can offer

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Getty images

By Jeff Diamond | Sporting News

Conference championship week always reminds me of the good — and bad — personal experiences with my teams in the most pressure-filled game of the NFL season.

Yes, I've always believed NFL conference title games rise above the Super Bowl in magnitude from a team exec's perspective. For any team other than New England, for whom it's always Super Bowl win or bust, a loss in this round is the ultimate downer with a Super Bowl trip on the line.

My teams played in this game six times, winning two (1976 Vikings, 1999 Titans) and losing four (Vikings in 1977, ‘87 and ‘98 and Titans in 2002). We lost the two Super Bowls we played in, but it was definitely more painful to lose in the conference championships (especially Minnesota’s 30-27 overtime loss to Atlanta in '98, after our 15-1 regular season).

As this year's final four teams are doing this week, we worked hard on all of the logistics to prepare for the Super Bowl. That included meeting with the league office and host city; working up ticket distribution plans and fan travel packages; figuring out team hotel allocations, team itineraries and family activities; reserving buses; and planning arrival and post-game parties. ...

Saints and Rams have been on collision course — now it’s D-Day

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Drew Brees, Jared Goff AP, Getty Images

By Paul Schwartz | New York Post

NEW ORLEANS — The last time Drew Brees and the Saints advanced this far was after the 2009 season, and the quarterback remembers how his team and the Vikings were tracking each other week after week, month after month.

“We all felt that is who we were going to see in the NFC Championship Game,’’ Brees said. “I think this year, in many respects, that was kind of the same idea. We looked across the league and saw what the Rams were doing and the success they were having.’’

The Saints were afforded a first-hand look at the Rams on Nov. 4, engaging in an entertaining, high-flying game won by New Orleans, 45-35. Afterward, there was every reason to believe these teams could cross paths again.

“I think we had a feeling then that obviously we aspired to be in this situation, and we all had a feeling that they were going to be the team that that we might face again,’’ Brees said. “So here we are.” ...

Full Story - New York Post

NFC Championship preview - Can Saints take advantage of Rams secondary?

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Photo - Yahoo Sports

By Simon A. M. Milham | Yahoo Sports

As with the AFC Championship, No.1 and No.2 seeds in the NFC clash on Sunday for the right to play in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on Sunday, February 3.

The New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams earned the two-best regular-season records in the NFL, each recording 13-3 marks, but it is the Saints who have the No.1 seeding and therefore host the NFC Championship game for the first time since they won the Super Bowl XLIV nine years ago.

The teams met at the Superdome in Week 9, with that early November clash going 45-35 to the Saints. It was the Rams’ third successive defeat by the Saints on the road and in the last 51 years of playing games in New Orleans, they have never lost four consecutive trips.

Those who love stats and conspiracy theorists will point to the fact the referee for the game is Bill Vinovich, who officiated their previous clash when there were only six accepted penalties in the game, with four going against the Rams. The Rams are also 0-8 in games in the last six years when Vinovich has been the referee.

The Rams have not been in the Super Bowl since losing 20-17 to the New England Patriots at the end of the 2001 season, a game ironically played in New Orleans. They seek a fourth title, having won the 1945 and 1951 NFL Championship, before winning...

Meet Taysom Hill, the New Orleans Saints' (not-so-secret) secret weapon

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Taysom Hill is giving the Saints some unique options on offense. (Photo: Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sports)

By Jarrett Bell | USA Today

Items of interest as major rematches loom for the NFL's championship weekend:

X-factor: Taysom Hill. He’s the Saints’ not-so-secret, secret weapon. In a season when it’s been challenging for Drew Brees to rely on weapons in the passing game beyond Michael Thomas (125 catches) and Alvin Kamara (91), the third-string quarterback -- in a linebacker’s body (6-2, 220), with running back speed (4.4 in the 40) -- has been another type of force. Especially in short-yardage situations and on special teams. In the comeback win against Philadelphia, momentum shifted when Sean Payton called for a fake punt on fourth-and-one and Hill blasted through to keep alive what turned out as New Orleans’ first TD drive. On the season, he’s 3-for-3 in moving the chains off fake punts. Still, it’s weird to see Hill lining up at quarterback on occasion while Drew Brees lines up at receiver. Hey, the Ravens tried it for a while with Lamar Jackson and Joe Flacco. And Bill Belichick didn’t dare take the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands during that brief flirtation with Tim Tebow a few years ago. In any event, Payton, always on the cutting edge, has accepted the creative challenge of finding ways to get pop from the...

Drew Brees bonds with Jared Goff, but not ready to pass torch

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By Mike Triplett | ESPN Staff Writer

METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees and Jared Goff were at the Pro Bowl together last year -- a fate both would like to avoid this time around.

But it provided a special bonding opportunity for the quarterbacks, who will now square off when the New Orleans Saints play host to the Los Angeles Rams in Sunday's NFC Championship Game (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox).

Goff, 24, said he appreciated that Brees was willing to share insight on things like his warm-up routine and approach.

Brees, who turned 40 on Tuesday, said he was glad to have the chance to "pay it forward" after so many veteran quarterbacks helped him out early in his career -- even though his Saints and Goff's Rams seemed destined for this type of showdown for NFC supremacy.

"Listen, I was a first-, second-, third-year player in this league at one point. And I had an incredible mentor in Doug Flutie in San Diego," said Brees, who then went on a brief tangent on how Flutie "never got the respect he deserved" as "one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play professional football" across the NFL, USFL and CFL. ...

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Generation gap: Saints fandom a vastly different experience for fans over the years

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AP Photo - Bill Haber

By Chad Calder | The Advocate

Ryan Lemons doesn’t know about the paper bags.

Born just weeks after the New Orleans Saints’ 2010 Super Bowl victory, he’s known only Drew Brees at quarterback, a high-octane offense and a team that, even in a bad year, will at least give you a win for every loss.

Waiting for a streetcar after Friday’s pep rally for the Saints' NFC Championship game Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, Ryan’s mother, Shara Stokes, decides to let her son in on a dark chapter in the team’s past.

“The Saints? It was bad,” she explained over the din of a cheerful crowd. “They used to always lose and people still wanted to support them, but they didn’t want to show their face. So they would put a bag over their face at the game and cut the eyes out.”

Ryan stared blankly for a moment, furrowed his brow and shook his head. It just didn’t make sense.

“Yeah, I guess we don’t talk about that,” Stokes said, sharing a laugh with the rest of the family. “Now we’re just excited to be in the conversation, and that we’re not the underdogs. Leave that back there; we don’t want to jinx it.” ...

Full Story - The Advocate

Nomadic Rams, having jilted home cities twice, have complicated relationship with fan base

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By Bryn Stole | The Advocate

The Rams have broken hearts and left behind bitter fans in two different cities — in St. Louis, where the team spent 21 years, won a Super Bowl and then split town in a nasty divorce, and in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city and team’s original home from 1946 to 1995, where the Rams built and lost a fan base before returning three seasons ago.

Steering the ship through those choppy waters were two controversial owners, each beloved in one town and reviled in the other, each of whom dragged the Rams halfway across the country in pursuit of new stadiums and better fortunes.

The Saints, too, once seemed like they had their eyes on greener pastures. After Hurricane Katrina devastated what was already one of the league’s smallest and poorest markets, owner Tom Benson began exploring a permanent move to San Antonio.

But abandoning an already reeling New Orleans would have crushed the city’s morale — and Benson, facing opposition from the league and from within his own organization, decided to stay put. ...

Full Story - The Advocate

Can the Saints limit Rams star Aaron Donald as well as they did in Week 9?

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(Photo by Michael DeMocker, | The Times-Picayune)

By Josh Katzenstein, | The Times-Picayune

Whether it takes one, two or three players to block Aaron Donald, the New Orleans Saints have to do whatever it takes to keep the Los Angeles Rams’ All-Pro defensive tackle away from quarterback Drew Brees, left tackle Terron Armstead said.

The Saints did well to limit Donald’s impact when these teams played in Week 9, but he had one tackle for loss, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery. Donald also finished with four quarterback hits, three of which helped produce incomplete passes.

Still, the Saints held Donald without a sack, and that could be a harbinger for success against the Rams defense. Los Angeles is 18-0 the past two seasons when Donald has at least one sack, compared to 5-7 in games when he doesn’t produce a sack.

One of those losses came in Week 9 when the Saints beat the Rams, 45-35. ...

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