Welcome to one of the biggest Sundays in recent Saints’ regular-season history.
The Saints, unbeaten at home in the playoffs in the Sean Payton era, have a chance to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win over the unbeaten (8-0) Los Angeles Rams.
This week, Payton will be asked about that, and he will likely scoff at the notion that a game in the ninth week of a 17-week regular season can be so important. Payton will say that there’s a lot of football left to play and that this is the biggest game this week, and he’s correct.
The Saints, 6-1, still have to play nine opponents with a cumulative record of 35 wins, 23 losses and 1 tie. After the Rams, the Saints travel to Cincinnati and then return home to face the Super Bowl champion Eagles.
The last three games of the regular season will be challenging. They are at Carolina, Pittsburgh and the season finale in the Superdome versus the Panthers.
The Rams’ offense will be the biggest challenge the Saints defense faces the entire season. Quarterback Jared Goff is averaging 9.8 yards per pass attempt. Running back Todd Gurley is the NFL’s leading rusher and has scored 14 touchdowns – 11 receiving and 3 rushing.
This game has a chance to be one of those offensive classics: A Hall of Fame quarterback and his offense against the young gunslinger and his.
Both teams have gone all out in player acquisition to win a Super Bowl this season. Both teams pursued defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who signed with the Rams. Both teams have made multiple trades to improve. The Rams traded two picks to the Chiefs for cornerback Marcus Peters. The Saints traded their first-round pick in 2019 for defensive end Marcus Davenport, their third-round pick for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and their fourth-round pick in 2019 and a seventh-round pick in 2020 for cornerback Eli Apple.
Apple started for the Saints against the Vikings, five days after he was acquired via trade from the Giants.
Less than two years ago, the Rams reportedly pursued one of their biggest free-agents targets with fervor. Multiple reports connected the Rams, who were returning to Los Angeles, with Payton, who was coming off his third straight losing season. The Rams moved on to Sean McVay, who has crafted one of the best offenses in football.
Months later, Payton drafted the offensive rookie of the year, Alvin Kamara, and the defensive rookie of the year, Marshon Lattimore. The Saints traded wide receiver Brandin Cooks to New England and then turned that last pick in the 2017 first round into standout right tackle Ryan Ramczyk.
So, here we are: Week 9 in the NFL and the “all-in to win a championship now” bowl between the Rams and the Saints.
At some point, someone will say it is just the next week in a long season. But, they and we know differently.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.