Michael Thomas Saints Rams
Michael Thomas #13 of the New Orleans Saints runs a pass in for a touchdown during a game against the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 4, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

When the New Orleans Saints host the Los Angeles Rams Sunday afternoon, it won’t be the first matchup between the two teams this season. The conference’s top seeds met a little over two months ago in a 2019 NFC Championship Game preview.

The Rams visited the Saints in Week 9 for the most highly anticipated contest in the first half of the 2018 NFL season. Los Angeles was the league’s only unbeaten team at the time with an 8-0 record. New Orleans had gone on a six-game winning streak after being upset in Week 1.

A win for the Saints would put them in the driver’s seat to secure home-field advantage until Super Bowl LIII and host the Rams in the conference title game. That’s exactly what happened when New Orleans defeated L.A. 45-35 in the Superdome.

With the NFC’s best offense and a perfect record, the Rams entered the game as small road favorites. Los Angeles had no trouble scoring, but they couldn’t keep Drew Brees and New Orleans from marching down the field on each possession.

The Saints took an early 7-0 lead with a 10-play, 75-yard drive to start the game. The Rams quickly answered with a touchdown drive of their own, and the game was tied at 14-14 with less than a minute gone by in the second quarter. That’s when New Orleans took control of the game, scoring three unanswered touchdowns and taking a 35-17 lead into halftime.

Los Angeles managed to shut out New Orleans in the third quarter and tie the game with less than 10 minutes left in regulation. The Saints responded with a Wil Lutz field goal at the 6:23 mark. After the Rams went three-and-out, Brees connected with Michael Thomas for a 72-yard touchdown pass that sealed the victory.

A lot was made about Thomas beating cornerback Marcus Peters for that score, as well as other receptions throughout the game. Even before that long touchdown reception, the All-Pro wide receiver had 11 catches for 139 yards.

Thomas led the NFL with 125 receptions in 2018. He caught 12 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown in New Orleans’ 20-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional playoffs.

Brees has been the league’s best quarterback when playing in the Superdome, and that was highlighted in Week 9. The veteran completed 25 of 36 passes for 346 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Saints.

If Brees and Thomas are going to come close to that kind of production in Sunday’s rematch, the Rams will have little chance to pull off the upset.

There’s no question that Los Angeles can overcome a poor defensive performance. They even defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11, despite surrendering 51 points. The Rams gave up more than 30 points in four other victories.

L.A. won’t have any trouble moving the ball if their rushing attack looks like it did in the divisional playoffs. The Rams ran for 273 yards in their 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson totaled at least 115 yards on the ground.

But Gurley didn’t have that kind of success against the Saints on Nov. 4. He ran the ball just 13 times for 68 yards. Sean McVay abandoned the run game, though understandably so as Jared Goff posted 9.8 yards per attempt with three touchdowns.

New Orleans managed to shut down Gurley in the passing game. At the height of his MVP candidacy, the running back had six catches for only 11 yards.

In the seven games that Gurley has rushed for over 100 yards, the Rams are undefeated. In Los Angeles’ three losses, Gurley has rushed for 68 yards, 28 yards and 48 yards.

Goff wasn’t forced to take over against the Cowboys as he won his first career playoff game. The quarterback has been mistake-prone in the last couple of months. He’s got two touchdowns and five interceptions in his last three road games.

Aside from road games against the Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, Goff has five touchdown passes and nine interceptions when playing away from Los Angeles.

Let’s see what Goff, Gurley and the NFC’s No.1 offense can do in New Orleans with a trip to Super Bowl LIII on the line.