New Orleans Saints (4-6) vs Los Angeles Rams (4-6)
SERIES HISTORY: 72nd regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 40-31. After facing each other twice a year as members of the NFC West from 1970 to 2001, the Saints and Rams have played just seven times since realignment -- the Rams winning four. The Rams took the last two, both in St. Louis. One of the biggest wins for the Saints was a 31-24 road victory in 2000 over the reigning Super Bowl champions when quarterback Aaron Brooks made his first NFL start and directed his team over the Rams en route to the NFC West title. A little more than a month later, on Dec. 30, 2000, the Saints recorded the franchise's first playoff win by defeating the Rams 31-28 in an NFC wild-card game at the Superdome.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The NFL's top offense will collide with the league's sixth-ranked defense when the Saints go against the Rams.
The Saints will match up with former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, with an eye on running the ball. The Rams rank 15th in yards allowed at 102.6 per game.
While Mark Ingram, Travaris Cadet and Daniel Lasco have been banged up, the Saints have run the ball more efficiently in their last five games -- 134 yards an outing -- and have risen to 17th at 105.2 yards per game. If the Saints can be productive there again, Drew Brees and the NFL's top-ranked passing attack could exploit a pass defense that ranks sixth at 215.7 yards per game.
The Saints will try to frustrate rookie QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley and a Rams offense that has struggled mightily. The Rams rank 31st in offense with 299.9 yards per game and are 29th with 84.5 rushing yards. Gurley, who lit up the league as a rookie last season, is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry and has scored just four touchdowns; the Rams net just 3.3 yards per attempt, with five rushing TDs.
Goff, the top draft pick, had a rough go in his first start last Sunday, completing 17 of 31 pass attempts for 134 yards. He was sacked just once and had no interceptions, but the Saints undoubtedly will try to ramp up the pressure and make him uncomfortable -- especially if they can keep Gurley from going off.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Saints offensive line vs. Rams defensive line. The Saints have done a good job opening holes for the running game, netting 134 yards in the past five games after early-season struggles. They also have given, as usual, QB Drew Brees lots of time to throw the ball, allowing a mere 16 sacks in 436 drop-backs. But they will be supremely tested and will have to hold up against two of the NFL's best defensive linemen in hyperactive tackle Aaron Donald and blur-quick end Robert Quinn.
--Rams QB Jared Goff vs. Saints front seven. The Saints recorded eight sacks in their last two games after turning up the heat on Denver's Trevor Siemian and Carolina's Cam Newton. Expect to see more of that against a rookie QB in his second start and an offensive line that already has allowed 24 sacks in 10 games. To make it tougher on Goff, the Saints can bring heat from inside as well with defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins after relying for years only on a perimeter pass rush.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Saints OL Andrus Peat. The Saints took Peat, the son of former NFL player Todd Peat, with the 13th overall pick in the 2013 draft, thinking someday he would plug into the starting lineup at right tackle. But with 11-year veteran Zach Strief anchored there, the 6-foot-7, 316-pound Peat has been versatile in starting at three positions in his first 21 games. He has started at left tackle, left guard and right tackle and played much better in 2016 after struggling a bit as a rookie. He played well in four starts at left tackle in place of an injured Terron Armstead and in five starts at left guard, where Peat was supposed to play this season. The Saints lead the NFL in passing yards and Drew Brees was been sacked only 16 times.
INJURY REPORT: Los Angeles -- Questionable: C Tim Barnes (foot), DT Ethan Westbrooks (thigh). New Orleans -- Out: RB Daniel Lasco (hamstring). Questionable: T Terron Armstead (knee, quadricep), RB Travaris Cadet (toe), T Tony Hills (abdomen), RB Mark Ingram (concussion), C Senio Kelemete (triceps), S Shiloh Keo (neck), G Tim Lelito (calf), DE David Onyemata (knee).
FAST FACTS: Rams RB Todd Gurley had his longest run of the season in last week's loss to Miami, a 24-yard touchdown in the first quarter. He finished with 76 yards and is still looking for his first 100-yard outing after registering five as a rookie in 2015. ... Saints QB Drew Brees has completed more than 70 percent in five straight games, including a season-best 79.5 percent (35 of 44) last week at Carolina. That is the longest streak of his career. For the season, his 71 completion percentage leads the NFL.
PREDICTION: It would be an historic changing of the guard to see a major shootout between Saints QB Brees and Rams rookie Goff. But the battle will be more Brees vs. the Rams' talented defense and Goff will probably try not to screw it up rather than unload a flurry of passes.
OUR PICK: Saints, 32-21.