Perhaps the most anticipated game in week 2 of the NFL season pits the New Orleans Saints at the Los Angeles Rams. Today's game is not only a rematch of last season's highly controversial NFC championship game, but is also a showdown between two of the top favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIV. This is the 77th meeting between two clubs that for 31 years were rivals in the NFC West division. The Rams own a 42-34 edge in the series, and a 29-25 advantage when the franchise was based in Los Angeles (they were the St. Louis Rams between 1995-2015). The Saints have a 16-22 record in road games against the Rams, including an 11-15 record against them in Los Angeles, location of this afternoon's contest.
The Saints very first game as a franchise was against the Los Angeles Rams, on September 17, 1967 in a home game at Tulane Stadium. Saints rookie John Gilliam scored a touchdown on the very first play in his franchise's history when he took the opening kickoff back 94 yards. Unfortunately, the Saints lost that day to Los Angeles 27-13. New Orleans would lose their first four games against the Rams between 1967-70, and drop 14 of 17 against them through the 1977 season. That included losses the first nine times they would play the Rams in L.A., when they were outscored by an average of 32-13. New Orleans would finally gain a road win against their rivals on October 22, 1978. The Saints were outgained in total yardage for the game, 342-118, but the New Orleans defense forced six turnovers (3 fumbles and 3 interceptions) while holding the Rams to just a field goal. A 19-yd. 4th quarter touchdown pass from Archie Manning to Tony Galbreath would give the Saints a 10-3 upset win.
New Orleans would finally build a consistent playoff contender through the middle of the 1980's and late into the decade. After another five game losing streak to their division rival from '83-85 against a Ram team built around Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, the Saints would take control of the series. Despite a prolific Los Angeles offense fueled by the talents of quarterback Jim Everett along with receivers Henry Ellard and Flipper Anderson, New Orleans would have a 13-3 edge over their rivals between 1987-94. During that run, the Saints would win nine straight games in Los Angeles during the series. They tipped the scales in the rivalry primarily led by a dominant defense centered around their intimidating Dome Patrol linebacking corps of Pat Swilling, Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson, and Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson. By the mid-1990's, both teams had fallen from contender status without winning a championship. Everett had been traded from L.A. to New Orleans, but the great Saints defense from the previous seven years had crumbled. The Pro Bowl quarterback would get a measure of revenge against his former team though, going 3-1 against them and winning 31-15 during their final meeting in L.A. before their relocation to St. Louis in 1994.
These two would meet in the postseason for the first time on December 30, 2000 in a wild card match up. The Saints had won the NFC West, and would host their rivals, but the St. Louis Rams came in as the defending Super Bowl champs and in possession of one of the most high flying offenses in NFL history. New Orleans charged out to a 31-7 fourth quarter lead thanks to five turnovers caused and three scoring passes from Aaron Brooks to Willie Jackson. The Rams came roaring back late in the game though, and pulled to within 31-28 with just minutes to go. A fumbled punt by St. Louis returner Az-Zahir Hakim and subsequent recovery by the Saints Brian Milne preserved the win though, clinching the first playoff victory in New Orleans Saints history. League realignment after the 2001 season would move the Saints into the newly formed NFC South division. New Orleans has been 5-6 against their former divisional foes since the split, as both teams have returned to top contender status within the last few seasons.
Sean Payton and Drew Brees are 4-5 against the Rams since joining New Orleans in 2006, including 1-3 in road contests. The Payton/Brees combination has been the backbone for one of the NFL's top offenses for the past thirteen years, but the Rams formed their own quarterback-coach combination to challenge them for offensive proficiency. The Rams returned to Los Angeles in 2016, and drafted quarterback Jared Goff with the first overall pick to add to a talented nucleus that included star running back Todd Gurley and All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald. In 2017 they hired Sean McVay as head coach, who has transformed the Rams into a proficient offensive force. The Saints would meet up with this combination for the first time in L.A. on November 26, 2017, their first visit to Los Angeles since the 1994 season. New Orleans would get 189 total yards and two electrifying touchdowns on just 11 touches from it's own star back Alvin Kamara and sack Goff four times on the afternoon. The Ram qb riddled the New Orleans secondary for 354 passing yards though during a 26-20 L.A. win. These two would lock horns again less than a year later (11/4/18), this time in New Orleans in another flashback of their old NFC West wars. This time the Saints would win a 45-35 shootout behind 346 yards and four scores from Brees, 116 yards and 3 touchdowns from Kamara, and an incredible 12 receptions for 211 yards from All-Pro wideout Michael Thomas. The game set up an epic rematch between the two teams in New Orleans last January 20th for the NFC championship.
Lost in the blatant officiating and league incompetence (or worse?) of last year's title game was the fact that we witnessed two terrific teams in a hard fought battle. New Orleans squandered numerous opportunities early in the game to all but put the game out of reach, giving the Rams a chance to come back in the second half.
This afternoon will be the fourth time the Saints and Rams have met in the last 38 games for each. The two have a combined for a 48-16 record over the past two regular seasons, and each are on the short list of favorites for the Super Bowl again this season. Brees has not had quite the success against the Rams as most other teams throughout his brilliant career, throwing 20 touchdowns and averaging 269 yards passing, but also throwing 20 interceptions and getting sacked 21 times. Goff has had his own struggles of late, failing to throw for 225 yards in six of the Rams last eight games, while recent questions have also surfaced about the health of running back Todd Gurley. Los Angeles has a deep receiving corps of playmakers though, that will test the Saints secondary. New Orleans will look to apply heavy pressure on the Rams backfield in hopes of forcing rushed throws and mistakes, as well as limiting Gurley's production. Look for linebackers Demario Davis and Alex Anzalone to be extremely aggressive in the team's defensive game plan. Offensively, the Saints have perhaps the league's best offensive line, but will be tested to protect their quarterback against dangerous rushers Aaron Donald, Dante Fowler, and Michael Brockers. Receiver Michael Thomas will be locked up in a marquee duel with Ram corners Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, while looking to avenge his 4 catch 36-yd. performance in the NFC title game. Brees will likely test their downfield coverage with deep shots to Ted Ginn Jr. and Tre'quan Smith to loosen things up underneath. New Orleans will look to establish the run early, and the L.A. defense has been unable to contain Kamara, who has also caught 21 passes and scored five touchdowns in three meetings against them. Saints tight end Jared Cook could play a huge role in his second game with his new team in what looks like a mismatch with the Rams linebackers. Both offenses will move the ball, but this will be an extremely physical game with the defensive playmakers on each side just as likely to decide the outcome in what may be an early season playoff preview.