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If Saints get No. 1 seed, they will have earned it

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The Los Angeles Rams will face their toughest test yet when they travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints, in what shapes up to be a battle for the NFC's top seed.

Yes, the winner of Sunday’s showdown between the Rams and Saints will have the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. But both teams will have plenty more work to do to secure the first seed and/or a bye.

For the Rams, the trip to New Orleans will be followed by a home game against the Seahawks, a date with the Chiefs in Mexico City, a bye, visits to the Lions and Bears, and a home game against the Eagles before a soft landing against the Cardinals and 49ers.

The Saints wish they had it that easy. After the game against the Rams, the Saint face the Bengals in Cincinnati, the Eagles at home, the Falcons on a short week for Thanksgiving, the Cowboys in Dallas, and the Bucs (who beat the Saints in Week One) in Tampa.

Then comes a potentially very unlucky 13-day stretch. At Carolina on a Monday night, a visit from the Steelers the following Sunday, and the Panthers in New Orleans to end the season. That’s two games against the 5-2 Panthers in less than two weeks to end the season.

So even if the Saints hang a loss on the Rams for the first time this year (and I think the Saints will), the reward will be a second half of the season that is chock full of playoff contenders and/or heated rivals.

And with two of the last three games against the Panthers, the Saints could go from competing for the top seed to playing on the road in the wild-card round, as a surging Carolina potentially skips past the Saints to take the division title and possibly a first-round bye.