NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (8-2) AT LOS ANGELES RAMS (7-3)
SERIES HISTORY: 73rd regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 40-32. The Saints won the last meeting, 49-21 last season at the Superdome. The Rams won the last game in which they were the home team, 27-16 in 2013 at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. In the last meeting in Los Angeles, New Orleans won 31-15 in 1994 at Anaheim Stadium. These teams were NFC West rivals from 1970 to 2001. The Saints' first NFL game was against the Rams and Los Angeles won 27-13 in New Orleans in 1967.
KEYS TO THE GAME: First and foremost, the Saints need to contain RB Todd Gurley and the Rams' running game. Washington had good balance last week, forcing New Orleans to play from behind for most of the game. The Saints would like to do a better job against the run and put Jared Goff in obvious passing situations and turn loose the pass rush to help the battered secondary.
The Rams are bracing for a high-scoring affair, almost a given considering the offensive firepower the Saints bring. That means Jared Goff attacking the field trying to make big plays, and a heavy dose of Gurley.
The Rams hope to build an early lead, enabling the big crowd expected at the Coliseum to do its part. That, coupled with some timely stops defensively should pave a necessary path in a must-win situation.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Rams RB Todd Gurley vs. Saints linebackers. It's unclear whether Saints LB A.J. Klein will return after he missed last week's game because of an ankle injury, but it is clear that New Orleans linebackers will be tested by Gurley, who has scored 66 points, tops among non-kickers.
--Saints RB Mark Ingram vs. Rams LB Alec Ogletree. Ingram has 806 yards and eight touchdowns on 155 carries and will be a huge part of the Saints' offensive game plan. Ogletree leads the team with 96 tackles, including 60 solo stops, and will need to be on point to key the Rams' run defense.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Rams WR Sammy Watkins. Acquired from Buffalo before the season, Watkins needs to step up now more than ever with WR Robert Woods out with a shoulder injury. He has the ability. The veteran wide receiver tallied 106 yards and two touchdowns in Week 3 against the 49ers, marking his 11th career game with over 100 yards receiving. He's fourth on the team with 24 catches and 408 yards.
FAST FACTS: The Saints are the first team in the Super Bowl era to win eight straight after starting 0-2. ... QB Drew Brees has 2,033 passing yards (290.4 per game), 13 TDs and three interceptions in his past seven road games. In his last game vs. the Rams, he threw for 310 yards and four TDs and also ran for a score. ... RB Mark Ingram rushed for 134 yards and a TD last week. He has eight rushing TDs in his past six games. He tallied 167 scrimmage yards (146 rushing) and two TDs in his last game vs. the Rams. ... Rookie RB Alvin Kamara has 406 scrimmage yards (135.3 per game) and four TDs in his past three games. ... Ingram and Kamara can become the seventh pair of teammates -- and the only running back duo -- in the Super Bowl era to each have at least 1,000 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns through the first 11 games. ... In his past four road games, WR Michael Thomas has 31 catches for 375 yards (93.8 per game) and two TDs. He caught nine balls for 108 yards and two TDs in his last game vs. the Rams. ... DE Cameron Jordan has three sacks and two forced fumbles in his past five road games. He notched a sack in the last meeting. ... Rams QB Jared Goff has 590 passing yards, four TDs and one interception in his past two home contests. ... RB Todd Gurley is first in the NFL with 11 TDs and 1,216 scrimmage yards. In his past five home games, he has 572 scrimmage yards (114.4 per game) and four TDs. ... DT Aaron Donald has four sacks, three forced fumbles and a recovery in his past five games. He recorded a sack and forced fumble in the last meeting. Since 2014, he leads all NFL DTs with 33 sacks. ... LB Mark Barron has picked off a pass in the last two home games. In five games vs. the Saints, he has 53 tackles (10.6 per game). He tallied 14 in the last meeting. ... LB Robert Quinn has 3.5 sacks in his past five home games. In four games vs. the Saints, he has four sacks, a forced fumble and a recovery.
PREDICTION: These top NFC contenders are about as evenly matched as you can get, but the Rams haven't been able to beat good teams. And the veteran Brees should trump Goff.
OUR PICK: Saints, 28-24.