Rams-Saints: a back-and-forth af­fair, but one has the edge

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY BRIAN ALLEE-WALSH Spe­cial to the Sun Her­ald

The bet­ting line shifted late this week in fa­vor of the Los An­ge­les Rams in Sun­day’s NFC show­down against the New Or­leans Saints at the MercedesBenz Su­per­dome.

Not a seizmic move — a 2 1/2-point swing — but worth not­ing since the Rams now are 1 1/2-point fa­vorites head­ing into what prom­ises to be a wildly par­ti­san, highly en­er­gized en­vi­ron­ment.

The dol­lar move­ment per­haps was trig­gered by sev­eral key per­son­nel ad­di­tions and sub- trac­tions. The Rams’ ac­quired OLB/edge rusher Dante Fowler from Jack­sonville just be­fore the trad­ing dead­line and WR Coop- er Kupp (knee) is ex­pected to be avail­able, plus the Saints’ will be with­out in­jured rookie DE Mar­cus Daven­port (toe) through Novem­ber.

Don’t be sur­prised if the line doesn’t shift again be­fore kick­off (3:25 p.m., Fox) be­cause this game prom­ises to be a backand-forth af­fair that may come down to the last pos­ses­sion and de­cided by kick­ers Wil Lutz of New Or­leans or Greg Zuer­lein of LA.

Re­gard­less of which way the line blows, this game is a toss up in my es­ti­ma­tion. I’d fa­vor the Rams (8-0) against the Saints (6-1) play­ing at Los An­ge­les Memo­rial Coli­seum and if the game were played at a neu­tral site, espe­cially at an out­door venue.

But it’s hard to go against the Saints at the Su­per­dome, so I

won’t and here’s why: QB Drew Brees.

The Rams need thirdyear QB Jared Goff to play well (read: mis­take free) and not just man­age the game in or­der for them to re­main un­de­feated. I’m not say­ing the mo­ment will be too big for Goff but Brees typ­i­cally shines in big-game mo­ments, espe­cially at home.

That’s what was so sur­pris­ing about the Saints’ 30-20 road win Sun­day night against the Min­nesota Vik­ings. Brees put up a pedes­trian passer rat­ing (84.8) and the fewest pass­ing yards (120) in 12-plus sea­sons with the Black and Gold and New Or­leans still won go­ing away.

They played op­por­tunis­tic de­fense, scor­ing 14 points off two turnovers (in­clud­ing a pick-6 by

NFC De­fen­sive Player of the Week CB P.J. Wil­liams), and tacked on a field goal af­ter a key fourth-down stop at the Vik­ings’ 45 to open the third quar­ter.

I’m still puz­zled by Vik­ings’ coach Mike Zim­mer’s de­ci­sion to throw for it on fourth-and-1 on his side of the field and trail­ing just 17-13. A good punt would have pinned the Saints in­side their 20. That lost gam­ble changed the com­plex­ion of the game for good.

Yes, the Rams have a high-pow­ered of­fense led by Goff, NFL mid-sea­son MVP Todd Gur­ley, and sev­eral game-chang­ers at wide­out in Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Kupp. And yes, they have a Pro Bowl-cal­iber de­fen­sive front that fea­tures NFL sack-leader Aaron Don­ald (10 sacks), Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brock­ers.

But this Saints team ap­pears to have some­thing spe­cial, rem­i­nis­cent of that Su­per Bowl XLIV cham­pi­onship team in 2009. The ball seems to bounce their way. Op­po­nents likely will have to play a near-flaw­less game to beat them.

Call it a griz­zled beat­man’s in­tu­ition but I like the home ‘dog Sun­day.

Woof-Woof!

BRUCE KLUCKHOHN AP

New Or­leans Saints run­ning back Alvin Ka­mara scores on a 1-yard touch­down run on Oct. 29 against the Min­nesota Vik­ings. The 6-1 Saints host the 8-0 Los An­ge­les Rams on Sun­day.

MARK J. TER­RILL AP

Los An­ge­les coach Sean McVay, left, greets New Or­leans coach Sean Pay­ton af­ter last year’s game. “I am a huge fan of Sean’s,” Pay­ton said of McVay, and he “ab­so­lutely” watches the Rams dur­ing the sea­son.

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