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METAIRIE, La. — Ndamukong Suh chose the “Dream Team” over the New Orleans Saints.

And now he gets to help decide if he made the right choice on Sunday when the top-seeded Saints host the No. 2-seeded Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox) with a trip to Super Bowl LIII on the line.

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The five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle had his choice between the two NFC powers this offseason when he visited with the Saints, Rams and Tennessee Titans after being released by the Miami Dolphins.

He ultimately chose to sign a one-year, $14 million deal with the Rams during their offseason shopping spree that also included Brandin Cooks, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, among others.

“We saw the moves they were making all offseason. Clearly they were trying to assemble a dream team, you know,” said Saints running back Mark Ingram, who was hardly the first to use that term to describe the 2018 Rams.

Ingram also talked Monday about the biggest stud on Los Angeles’ defense — tackle Aaron Donald — when he said “they have a lot of guys who can ruin your day.”

“Suh, Donald, [longtime Rams defensive end Michael] Brockers, those guys are as good as they come in this league. We have a lot of respect for them,” Ingram said. “Talib, Peters, the ‘backers, their safeties, they’re just a well-coached unit, they play hard, and they play fast.

“Hey it’s the NFC championship, man; you’re gonna play against another great team with some great players. So we just gotta focus on our game plan, our preparation and making sure that we’re all the best that we can be for each other.”

If this matchup didn’t quite feel inevitable yet back in March (when the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, among other contenders, were also assembling dreamy teams through free agency), it certainly felt that way back in Week 9. That’s when the 6-1 Saints beat the 8-0 Rams in a 45-35 track meet in the same Mercedes-Benz Superdome where they’ll hold Sunday’s rematch.

“They’re a really good football team,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “We knew that when they came in here midseason. I had a feeling that we would be seeing these guys again. We aspire to be here. They aspire to be here. So here we are.”

Suh, who turned 32 last week, hasn’t necessarily been a game-changer for the Rams all season. But as ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez detailed, Suh was effective with 4.5 sacks, 19 quarterback hits and solid run defense. And he had perhaps his best performance of the season in Saturday’s 30-22 victory over the Dallas Cowboys and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

“He has a tremendous presence,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of the 6-foot-4, 313-pounder, who began his career with the Detroit Lions as the second pick in the 2010 draft. “He’s a real good football player, he’s explosive, he has size, he’s smart. Those are some of the challenges he presents.”

Pairing Suh with Donald — who has emerged as perhaps the NFL’s best overall defensive player — feels like overkill. Donald led the league this year with 20.5 sacks, 41 QB hits and 25 tackles for loss. Brees said earlier this season that a DT duo like that is “really unheard of at this level” and he hadn’t seen one like it since he was at Purdue and faced Georgia’s Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud in the 2000 Outback Bowl.

“Donald of course is having an amazing season,” Payton said. “That’s one of the challenges with this front. And it’s one of the reasons they assembled the front the way they did. Inside, they give you edge problems, they can run. So we’ll get on the tape here.”

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That could be the key matchup in Sunday’s game against a Saints offensive line that was maybe the best in the NFL when fully healthy for the first three months of the season before injuries started to take a toll.

The Saints’ line is fully intact now. But second-team All-Pro left tackle Terron Armstead just returned from a torn pectoral last week, and left guard Andrus Peat played this past Sunday despite breaking his hand in Week 17.

They held up reasonably well in Sunday’s 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles after allowing two first-half sacks against Philly’s terrific front four — led by another dynamic defensive tackle, Fletcher Cox.

Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk was a second-team All-Pro this season. Center Max Unger was selected to the Pro Bowl. And right guard Larry Warford was a Pro Bowler last season.

“They’re stacked, for sure,” Armstead said of the Rams’ defensive front. “Extremely talented, proven guys, a lot of notoriety, a lot of accolades that they’ve earned and deserve. We’ve just gotta come prepared.

“We’ve got a front five that we feel like we can put up against anybody in the league. We just played a great front in Philly. So this will be another challenge. And if we win this one, next week will be another one. That’s the point we’re at in the season. The best of the best.”

As for the Saints’ defensive front, they played great all season even without Suh — ranking second in the league in run defense.

But they could sure use him now after standout defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins suffered a torn Achilles on Sunday, according to a source. Rankins had a career-high eight sacks to go with his stout run defense. And they’ll have their hands full with Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson and a Rams run game that just pounded out 273 rushing yards against the Cowboys.

Now the Saints will count even more on starting nose tackle Tyeler Davison, backup tackle David Onyemata (who has also been a standout part of the rotation) and undrafted rookie Taylor Stallworth. They also re-signed veteran defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker to help fill the void on Tuesday.

As Armstead said, it’s that time of year where the matchups don’t get any easier.

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The Titans will look to revive their offense Sunday in San Francisco, when they play their second straight away game against an NFC West opponent. It’s the last road game of the season for the Titans, who will finish up with home contests against the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Heading into the final three games of the season, the Titans control their destiny in regards to winning the AFC South.

It’s a good position to be in, but the Titans can ill afford another stumble down the stretch if they want to reach their goal.

Here are five key questions for the Titans as they ready for San Francisco:

How are the Titans’ rookie wide receivers progressing? – Both Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor have had ups and downs this season, which is to be expected of rookies.

In his eight games, Davis, the fifth overall pick of the draft, has totaled 25 catches for 256 yards. His best game was his first, when he caught six passes for 69 yards.

Davis has the most receptions of the three wide receivers chosen in the first round this season. But the NFL’s two most productive rookie wide receivers have actually been a pair of third-round picks: the Los Angeles Rams’ Cooper Kupp has 56 catches (in 13 games) for 783 yards and four touchdowns, while Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster has 37 catches (in 11 games) for 585 yards and five touchdowns.

What has to be kept in mind regarding Davis is the large amount of time he missed during both the offseason and preseason because of injuries. Missing all those practice reps is especially difficult for a rookie to overcome.

Overall, Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Davis is progressing at about the level expected.

“I’d say, especially for Corey, (this is) probably where he’s going to be based on all the time he missed, which was a significant amount of time,” Mularkey said. “He’s definitely gotten better each week with the time he’s playing.”

Taylor, a third-round pick has caught 16 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown. In Sunday’s loss to Arizona, Taylor appeared to be open on a deep pass over the middle against the Cardinals – his only target of the game – but didn’t adjust to the ball.

“The coverage dictated to throw the ball to Taywan down the middle of the field,” Mularkey said. “Taywan did not look early enough. He might have scored if he had. Just a young player’s mistake, hopefully he’s going to learn from it.”

Mularkey said Taylor, like Davis, is about where the Titans expected him to be given the amount of playing time he’s received.

“Taywan is another young player that’s not getting the number of snaps that Corey is, and he’s learning from each one of them,” Mularkey said. “But they’re (both) kind of where we thought they were going to be.”
How has cornerback Logan Ryan contributed to the Titans’ defensive surge? – The Titans haven’t done a lot of matching – assigning a specific cornerback to shadow a specific receiver for most of the game – in recent years .

But they’ve changed that strategy at times this season, using free-agent acquisition Logan Ryan in a “shadow” role. In the last two games, for instance, Ryan has spent much of his time covering two of the NFL’s top receivers – Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald.

When Ryan was matched against Hopkins, he contained the Texans receiver, allowing him five catches – on nine targets – for just 44 yards, per Pro Football Focus. Houston’s Tom Savage had a quarterback rating of just 68.8 when throwing into Ryan’s coverage area.

When Ryan was matched against Fitzgerald, he allowed him just three catches for 20 yards, per PFF. Arizona’s Blaine Gabbert posted a low quarterback rating of 68.8 when throwing into Ryan’s coverage area during the game.

“He’s been amazing,” Mularkey said of Logan. “That was a tough, tough duty to put him on with (Fitzgerald). Larry is just – the size and physicality is one thing, but his route running, his precision is another. I mean, you have to stick to him like glue, it’s hard … I think he’s done really well for us, for what we’ve asked him to do against all these receivers we’ve faced lately.”

What’s slowing the Titans’ offense? — Among the issues the Titans are working on is improving their third-down success rate.

They were the fourth-best team in the league last year with a third-down success rate of 46.1 percent, but are currently 24th at 36.4 percent.

Sunday’s loss to Arizona was a good example of what’s been troubling the Titans this year: They’ve too often found themselves in third-and-long situations.

There were five instances against the Cardinals in which the Titans faced third-and-10 or more. The Titans didn’t convert any of those third downs, which was a big reason Tennessee went four-for-12 overall on third down.

This season, the Titans have converted at least 40 percent of their third downs in five games. They’re 4-1 in those contests.
What’s behind the Titans’ stunning sack totals? – Over the last four weeks, the Titans have recorded 23 sacks, the most of any NFL team. That sack total is a whopping nine higher than the second-place team, Baltimore (14), during that stretch.

It’s a drastic change from the Titans’ first nine games when Tennessee recorded only 14 sacks, which left the Titans 28th in the league.

The Titans also have a league-best 34 quarterback hits over the past four games, compared to 42 in the first nine games (28th-best).

“I think coach (Dick) LeBeau has done a great job of getting these guys prepared with the scheme, understanding what offenses are doing and how their protection scheme works, and just the overall execution,” Mularkey said. “It’s not just the pressure, the sacks. The coverage that goes with it has been very good. Everybody doing their part has a lot to do with why we have 23 sacks the last four games.”

The Titans have also faced less mobile targets in the pocket over the past month, as they’ve teed off against Gabbert, Houston’s Tom Savage, Indianapolis’ Jacoby Brissett and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.

Some of the more elusive quarterbacks the Titans faced earlier in the year included Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Houston’s Deshaun Watson and Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer.

How different are the 49ers with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo? – Garoppolo is 2-0 as the 49ers’ starting quarterback, quite a turnaround for a team that was 1-10 before he entered the lineup.

Breaking things down a little further, here’s a good comparison:

Through their first 11 games pre-Garoppolo, the 49ers ranked 21st overall in offense, 17th in passing offense and 28th points. Over the last two weeks with Garoppolo playing, the 49ers have ranked seventh in total offense (402 yards per game), seventh in passing offense (296 yards per game) and 15th in points (20.5 points per game).

Garoppolo has only started four NFL games in his career, so there’s not a lot of scouting one can do on him.

“It’s going to have to be enough,” Mularkey said. “We really don’t have much of a choice there. We know that statistically everything is up (with Garoppolo) including the run game. The passing game, the yards per game, everything just has gone up in the games he’s started … They’re gaining a lot of confidence with him as their quarterback.”

— Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.