Rams (8-0) at New Orleans (6-1)
When Rams have the ball
Two early most valuable player candidates — quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley — are helping the Rams average 33 points a game. And they will need to keep the pace to stay with a Saints team that averages 33.4. Coach Sean McVay has deployed Gurley in myriad ways, and he keeps finding new ones for a player who has scored a league-leading 15 touchdowns and is nearly on pace to the tie the NFL record of 31. The Rams, the NFL’s top rushing team, could be challenged by the league’s top defense against the run. Linebacker Manti Te’o and end Cameron Jordan lead a unit that is giving up only 74 yards rushing per game. The Rams’ offense will be at full strength with the return of receiver Cooper Kupp, who was sidelined the last two games because of a knee injury. Josh Reynolds filled in well for Kupp — and caught two touchdown passes against the Green Bay Packers — but Goff’s confidence appears to be at its peak when Kupp, Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks are on the field at the same time. Goff was sacked five times in last Sunday’s victory over the Packers, and he has been sacked 11 times in the last three games. Jordan has five sacks for a defense that will be without end Marcus Davenport because of a toe injury. Second- year cornerback Marshon Lattimore leads the Saints’ secondary.
When Saints have the ball
Quarterback Drew Brees, 39, is bound for the Hall of Fame — and he seems to be getting better with age. The 18th-year pro has passed for 14 touchdowns with one interception and is completing 77.4% of his passes. The Saints feature perhaps the NFL’s best one-two punch at running back with second-year pro Alvin Kamara and veteran Mark Ingram. Kamara has rushed for seven touchdowns and has 47 receptions, two for touchdowns. Ingram has rushed for two touchdowns. At last week’s trade deadline, the Rams moved to improve the defense, adding edge rusher Dante Fowler. He joins a front that includes Aaron Donald — who has an NFL-best 10 sacks — Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers. They will try to get to Brees before he distributes passes to Kamara, receivers Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr., and tight end Benjamin Watson. Rams middle linebacker Cory Littleton is playing well in all phases — including special teams — and fellow inside linebacker Mark Barron appears to be back to full speed after sitting out the early part of the season because of an Achilles tendon issue. Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Troy Hill struggled at times against the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. It does not get any easier with Brees.
When they kick
The Rams’ Greg Zuerlein and the Saints’ Wil Lutz each has missed only one field-goal attempt. In a matchup of high-scoring offenses, their contributions could mean the difference. Rams punter Johnny Hekker positioned the Rams for a safety in Week 8 against the Packers with a boot to the one. He has put 11 punts inside the 20-yard line. Thomas Morstead is averaging 47.4 yards per punt for the Saints.
Gary Klein’s prediction
This is a possible preview of an NFC playoff game, and the Rams would like to avoid having to return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The crowd will help carry the Saints, but the Rams find ways to win on the road.
RAMS 34, SAINTS 30