Brian Allee-Walsh

It’s only Week 9, but Rams-Saints will go a long way to deciding the NFC champ

Saints QB Drew Brees breaks NFL record for yards passed

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passed Peyton Manning to became the NFL's career passing yardage leader after the Saints' win against the Washington Redskins on Monday night.
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New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passed Peyton Manning to became the NFL's career passing yardage leader after the Saints' win against the Washington Redskins on Monday night.

At first glance, it merely is one of 256 NFL regular season games.

But Sunday’s much-anticipated mid-season matchup between the undefeated Los Angeles Rams and once-beaten New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (3:25 p.m., FOX) has the potential to be an instant classic.

Even though it is Week 9, this game should give us a good glimpse into the postseason. It has serious playoff implications. The winner jumps in the driver’s seat for home field advantage in the NFC and a more favorable path to Super Bowl LIII. The loser has plenty of time to rebound and get back on track.

These two powerhouses have been on a collision course for weeks. And, we all know what happens when two combustible forces butt heads.

KA-BOOM!

Daylight saving time ends Sunday so make sure you turn your clock back one hour before going to bed Saturday night. You wouldn’t want to miss one second of this shootout.

The over-under currently stands at 60.5. The Saints have gone from slight underdogs at home (+ 1.0) to slight favorites (-1.5), a 2.5-point swing driven perhaps by how each team played this past Sunday.

The Rams (8-0) were fortunate to remain undefeated, rallying from a fourth-quarter deficit to eke out a 29-27 win against the gritty Green Bay Packers at Memorial Stadium in Los Angeles. The Saints (6-1) continued their road warrior ways, moving to 4-0 away from the Superdome with a stellar 30-20 win against the Minnesota Vikings on a national stage at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Each team is scoring 30-plus points per game, features fair-to-middlin’ defensive units and solid special teams and stocked with game-changing players — QB Drew Brees, WR Michael Thomas, RB Alvin Kamara and DE Cam Jordan of the Saints and QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley, WR Brandin Cooks, WR Robert Woods and DT Aaron Donald of the Rams.

Coaches Sean Payton of New Orleans, 54, and 32-year-old Sean McVay of the Rams are regarded as two of the game’s best and brightest offensive minds, each unafraid to push the envelope, buck NFL trends and think outside the proverbial box.

Punt on fourth down on their side of the field? Don’t bet on it.

Kick a PAT in the first quarter? Why not go for two!

Payton is changing how we view the quarterback position with Taysom Hill, the human Swiss army knife who needs both hands to count the positions he’s played on offense and special teams for the Saints over the first seven games.

On the Saints’ first possession against Minnesota, Hill stood in shotgun formation on second-and-goal from the Vikings 3-yard line with Brees and backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater split out on opposite ends of the formation.

Hill kept for no gain. The Saints returned to normalcy on the next play, with Kamara scoring on a shovel pass from Brees for a quick 7-0 lead.

I feel relatively confident of two things going forward:

One, expect the unexpected when the Rams and Saints play Sunday.

And two, one of these teams will represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on Feb. 3.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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