NEW ORLEANS Back in early September, not many of us would have seen the significance of a Week 12 game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams at the LA Memorial Coliseum.
Certainly not me.
Neither team was mentioned in the same breath with NFC playoffs, especially the Rams under 31-year-old rookie head coach Sean McVay who came to work for a moribund franchise that last experienced a winning season in 2003 while based in St. Louis. The Saints were world beaters by comparison, last finishing above .500 and reaching the postseason in 2013. But they, too, were given little chance to succeed this season.
Yet, here we have the NFC South-leading Saints (8-2) facing the NFC West-leading Rams (7-3) in a game with major playoff implications, meaning division championships and conference seedings will come into play when they kickoff at 3:25 p.m. Sunday in LA-LA Land (CBS).
It promises to be a wildly entertaining shootout with both teams averaging 30-plus points per game.
The Rams are a slight favorite at home, by 2 to 2 1/2 points by national oddsmakers, even though the Coliseum hardly has been a homefield advantage for its second-year tenants.The Rams are 4-9 in the Coliseum, including 3-2 this season.
It's hard to bet against the Black and Gold, even on the road, not the way they are playing under Coach Sean Payton whose team has become the first NFL team in 70 years to rattle off eight straight wins after starting 0-2.
So I won't.
And here's why.
Drew Christopher Brees.
The Saints have the ageless future Hall-of-Fame quarterback under center; the Rams don't.
Oh, the Rams are in good shape with second-year QB Jared Goff, the first overall pick of the 2016 draft. But he's not living in the same exclusive neighborhood with Brees, who once again showed why one day he'll have a pewter bust of himself on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, after leading the Saints to an epic 34-31 comeback win in overtime against the Washington Redskins last Sunday.
He was truly brilliant in the fourth quarter, posting a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He completed 12 of 13 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns, including his last 11 passes for 184 yards when the Saints rallied from a 15-point deficit in the final three minutes of regulation.
The Saints didn't need Brees' hot right arm in OT as running back Mark Ingram ran them into chipshot field-goal range for kicker Wil Lutz.
That's why I like the Saints on Sunday.
The Rams can go to Jared but New Orleans can depend on Drew.
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.