Once upon a time, the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams would battle each other twice a year for positioning in the same division. From 1970-2001, the Rams and Saints were members of the NFC West, even when the Rams relocated to St. Louis between 1995-2015. This afternoon in New Orleans, the two reacquaint themselves with each other, as the undefeated (8-0) Rams take on the streaking Saints (6-1, and winners of six straight) in the 75th meeting between the two franchises. The Rams lead the series, 41-33, including a 28-24 series lead when the franchise was based in Los Angeles. The Rams hold a narrow 19-17 series advantage when the games are played in New Orleans, site of today's tilt, and the teams are even at 13 wins apiece during the years as the L.A. Rams. Despite the series edge, these games have often been close and hard fought. The average score of these battles are slightly in favor of the Rams, 23-21, and the games played in New Orleans are even closer, with the Rams averaging 20.6 points and the Saints averaging 20.5 points per game.
The city of New Orleans celebrated it's 52nd birthday of being awarded a professional football team on November 1st, so perhaps it is fitting that they play their first ever opponent this Sunday. On September 17, 1967, the Saints hosted NFL powerhouse Los Angeles at Tulane Stadium for the first regular season game in their history. On the very first play, Saints rookie John Gilliam took the opening kickoff back for a 94 yard touchdown, and the first score in franchise history. The rest of the day did not go as smoothly for the NFL's new addition, as the Rams powered their way to a 27-13 victory behind 302 yards passing from quarterback Roman Gabriel and 98 yards rushing from Dick Bass. New Orleans would go on to lose the first four contests they played against Los Angeles, and 14 of the first 17 of the games the two played between 1967-77, including nine consecutive games in Los Angeles. The first win that the Saints notched against the Rams occurred during the season opener of the 1971 season, played in New Orleans. Saints rookie quarterback Archie Manning, the 2nd overall pick that spring's draft, overcame seven sacks on the afternoon and drove his team into position for the game winning score. With just seconds remaining, Manning rolled to his left and bulldozed his way through two Rams defenders for a 1-yd. touchdown and a 24-20 victory, the first season opening win in franchise history.
New Orleans did begin to have some success against their rivals from the late 1970's into the early part of the 1980's, going 5-5 against them from 1977-81. A key meeting took place on the final day of the 1983 regular season. New Orleans (8-7) would host Los Angeles (8-7) in the Louisiana Superdome on December 18, 1983 with a chance at a playoff berth and the first winning season in their seventeen year history. The Saints defense played extremely well, holding the Rams and star running back Eric Dickerson to just 11 first downs, 238 total yards, and only 1 offensive scoring drive. The Los Angeles defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns, recorded a safety however, rookie wideout Henry Ellard returned a punt for another score, and the Rams offense converted a drive in the last seconds for a field goal to give them a 26-24 victory and a wild card playoff berth. Both teams would build themselves into conference contenders through the mid and late 1980's, but often took a backseat to the powerful San Francisco 49ers for supremacy in the NFC West. New Orleans built one of the league's fiercest defenses, led by their Dome Patrol linebacking corps of Pat Swilling, Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson, and Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson. The Rams countered with talents such as Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, then later a dangerous passing game spearheaded by prolific quarterback Jim Everett and dynamic receivers like Ellard and Flipper Anderson. With such a contrast in styles and so much Pro Bowl talent on each side, Saints/Rams meetings were often close and unpredictable.
One such match up occurred on November 26, 1989, during a primetime Sunday night showdown in the Superdome. The Saints, who came into the game with a 6-5 record and hoping to make a playoff push, were hosting a 7-4 Rams team that had one of the league's top offenses on their way to an appearance in the NFC Championship game. New Orleans battered Jim Everett all evening, taking him down for six sacks, hitting him several more times, and forcing three turnovers. Everett took the punishment though, and torched Saints pass coverage for 454 yards and a game-tying 4th quarter touchdown pass during a 20-17 overtime Los Angeles victory. His primary receiving focus was wideout Flipper Anderson, who caught the fourth quarter score, one of his 15 receptions on the game for an NFL record 336 yards, a record that stands to this day. After that frustrating defeat, New Orleans would go on to win seven consecutive games against the Rams from 1990-93, the longest winning streak by either team in the series.
A big name in this rivalry changed teams when Everett was traded from the Rams to the Saints after the 1993 season for just a seventh round draft pick. Everett quickly exacted a measure of revenge against his former team in week eight of the 1994 season in New Orleans. Sparked by an interception and two kickoff returns for touchdowns by rookie Tyrone Hughes, who set an Nfl-record with 348 return yards, the ex-Ram Pro Bowler was victorious against his former franchise, 37-34. Everett's Saints earned a season sweep by defeating the Rams 31-15 later that year in L.A., as the New Orleans defense forced four turnovers. That season would be the last time the Saints would play the Los Angeles Rams for 22 years. The Rams would relocate to St. Louis at the conclusion of the 1994 season, where they would play until returning to Los Angeles in 2016. The two teams would remain together in the NFC West until another league realignment in 2002 sent New Orleans into the newly formed NFC South division. The Saints would have a 9-13 overall record against the St. Louis Rams, but would win the most meaningful game between the two.
On December 30, 2000 the Saints, that season's NFC West champs, would host the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams and the "Greatest Show on Turf" in an NFC wild card playoff game. New Orleans, who was already without leading rusher Ricky Williams, would lose leading receiver Joe Horn early in the game with a knee injury. Wideout Willie Jackson emerged to have the greatest game of his career though, hooking up with quarterback Aaron Brooks for 6 catches, 142 yards, and 3 second half touchdowns to give the Saints a 31-7 lead midway into the fourth quarter. Their old rival would not go down without a fight however, storming back with three late touchdowns to close the gap to only three points with just minutes remaining. St. Louis receiver Az-Zahir Hakim fumbled a late punt return, which New Orleans running back Brian Milne recovered to preserve a 31-28 Saints win, their first postseason victory in franchise history.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees is 3-4 against the St. Louis/L.A. Rams since joining New Orleans, including 2-1 at home. He has completed 69% of his attempts and averaged 276 yards per game passing in these meetings while throwing 14 touchdowns, but has thrown 10 interceptions and been sacked 19 times. The last time these two teams met in New Orleans was during week 12 of the 2016 season, the year that the Rams franchise relocated back to Los Angeles. Brees threw for 310 yards and four scores, rookie wideout Michael Thomas caught two of those scores, totaling 108 yards on 9 catches, and running back Mark Ingram rolled for 146 yards on the ground as the Saints pounded their rival, 49-21. Los Angeles exacted a measure of revenge one day short of a year later, during a week 12 meeting last year in Los Angeles. Rams quarterback Jared Goff outdueled his veteran counterpart Brees, throwing for 354 yards in a 26-20 Rams win that was very reminiscent of the type of contests these two often played decades earlier.
The Saints and Rams both possess young and talent-laden rosters, with pro bowl players at nearly every position on both sides of the ball. Each offense is ranked near the top of the league in almost every category, and are the second (Saints) and third (Rams) highest scoring teams in the NFL. Both defenses have star power that can turn a game with impact performances, but are often overshadowed by their team's flashy offenses. Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas is one of the most dominant wideouts in the game, and backs Ingram and Alvin Kamara will provide a severe test for the Rams linebackers. Up front, a stout New Orleans offensive line must be at their best to contend with disruptive Los Angeles defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. The Rams offense has failed to score 30 points or more only twice this season, but both have come within the team's last three games. Goff was sacked 10 times in those two games, and now faces a New Orleans defensive line led by Cam Jordan and Sheldon Rankins that has dominated games at times. Los Angeles running back Todd Gurley leads the league's number one running attack, and is one of the midseason leaders for offensive M.V.P. They will clash with a Saints defense ranked number one in the league against the run and a linebacker unit led by Demario Davis. All eyes will be on New Orleans cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple to see if they can handle L.A. receivers Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Brandin Cooks, as the Saints hope to create the turnovers that the defense has been lacking most of this season. New Orleans has taken over games in recent weeks by establishing an offensive balance and physical advantage early. What looks to be close to an even match up talent-wise both on the field as well as on the sideline between two excellent coaching staffs may come down to the kicking game. Los Angeles has used three different placekickers this season due to injury, and have produced inconsistent results from beyond 40 yards. Saints kicker Wil Lutz has the confidence of his coaches, as well as a history of clutch kicks from long distances. It wouldn't be surprising if this was not the last time these two teams meet during the 2018-19 season. It also wouldn't shock many if it took more than 60 minutes of football to decide this closely matched renewal of longtime rivals.