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Which New Orleans Saints team shows up against the Los Angeles Rams?

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It’s a must-win game for Sean Payton and company to keep their playoff chances alive. Will they deliver? That honestly depends on what team decides to show up.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Since Thursday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 11, it’s been interesting to gauge the mood of New Orleans Saints fans since the bitter defeat, as they run the gamut of extreme dissatisfaction to annoyingly optimistic. So, let’s just put aside all the ‘what if’ and ‘what could have been’ talk for a minute and focus on the most pressing need right now: winning a football game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Since 2005, the Saints have lost four of the past six games to the Rams. Sean Payton’s squad is 2-3 in his coaching career against the Rams, with lone victories in 2009 and 2010. Ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams comes to town, which certainly creates all the feels among fans. No matter how you look at this important matchup (which both clubs need to win to keep playoff hopes alive), you have to wonder what Saints team shows up on Sunday.

Here’s a few things that we need to see for Sean Payton’s squad to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Special Teams Support

Let’s face it, we weren’t going to get our wish of Greg McMahon getting fired. Making a big change this late in the season, although deemed necessary and crucial, simply didn’t happen. After a report emerged from FOX’s Jay Glazer last Sunday that the team was looking at adding another coach to the mix to aid McMahon and Stan Kwan, the Saints made the move to add Kevin O’Dea, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Whether you think it’s the right move or not, something has to change for this abysmal unit. It’s borderline pathetic, and has been that way for quite some time. Maybe, just maybe something drastic will happen once the season is over. For now, we don’t exactly have much of a choice but to endure. Sean Payton expressed his extreme confidence in Wil Lutz, saying he is the ‘right guy’, and O’Dea was brought in to help with the fundamentals for the Saints special teams.

If it doesn’t change, and this game comes down to a kick, then I’m not entirely convinced the Saints can deliver.

Ball Security

This is a no-brainer, as the Saints have turned it over six times in the past two games. Four of those turnovers have been credited to Drew Brees. Whether you deem him as untouchable or ‘not his fault’ when it comes to ridiculing, the stat column says otherwise. It’s all come at inopportune times (doesn’t every turnover?), and you can say that Dennis Allen’s defense has risen to the occasion to combat the team’s mistakes.

However, the simple long and short of it in today’s football is that you can’t expect to win when you turn the ball over more than your opponent. The Saints have to take care of the ball, especially at home, and it should come relatively easy against a Rams defense that is T-18th with just 12 takeaways. Of course, it’ll be something to watch down the stretch, and the bottom line is that the Saints can’t afford to make anymore mistakes in 2016.

Hit the Accelerator, and Don’t Let Up

The Saints have been in those close games and wound up losers in the majority of their 2016 schedule. Is it too much to ask for a blowout? It’s the Rams, who are giving up just 18.7 points/game (tied for fifth-best), so that’s a tall task asking the offense to blow an opponent out of the water on Sunday. But, what if they can?

If you can believe it, the most points the Rams defense has allowed all season is 32. The opponent? The Buccaneers in Week 3. The Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions also put up 30 points or more on Gregg Williams’ defense, so it can definitely happen.

The Saints are essentially playing for their season in Week 12, and honestly will be from here on out. Early wins by the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions certainly help the Saints out in the Wild Card picture, but as I’ve said repeatedly - you can’t expect other people to take care of your business. Let’s hope the Saints take care of their own, and then we’ll worry about the rest.