- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - One of Aaron Rodgers’ vivid memories of his first season as an NFL starter involves a nationally televised, prime-time contest in the Superdome.

The Saints were just an 8-8 non-playoff team that season, but no one watching - and certainly no one on the Green Bay sideline - would have known it by the way Sean Payton’s New Orleans Saints played that night.

The Packers came in with the NFL’s third-ranked pass defense and got torched by Drew Brees for 323 yards and four touchdowns in 51-29 Saints victory. Rodgers has played in a lot of road games all over the NFL map since then, but the environment in the Superdome, where he’ll play again this Sunday night, still stands out.

“It is atypical,” Rodgers said this week, as the Packers (5-2) prepared to visit the Saints (2-4). “They obviously play faster at home. It is a really, really loud environment. I remember when we went down there in - it must have been six years ago now - they put a whooping on us, and it was a loud whooping. That place was rocking.

“Obviously, Drew has had a lot of success there.”

Since that matchup, the Saints have played 16 more night games in Superdome, winning 15. That includes a streak that currently stands at 13 home victories at night, during which New Orleans’ average margin of victory has approached 20 points.

The lone home loss at night since Green Bay’s last visit came, oddly enough, in 2009, the season New Orleans won the Super Bowl. And the Saints weren’t out of that game until DeMarcus Ware’s sack and strip of Brees in the final seconds sealed a 24-17 Dallas victory.

Apparently, the streak is even something oddsmakers are unwilling to ignore. The Saints, who have not lost any games in the Superdome - day or night - since 2012, opened this week as slight favorites. That’s despite the fact New Orleans will be hosting a Green Bay club bringing a four-game winning streak to the Big Easy.

The Saints struggle to explain precisely why, for more than half a decade, they’ve consistently been their best in night games in the dome. They suspect it has something to do with the energy and noise that fans in a football-savvy, party town can bring when they’ve had all day to get ready for a game.

“Our fan base here, especially at night games, is something else,” Payton said. “We’ll need every one of the (73,000) helping us Sunday.”

Here are some things to know about the Packers’ visit to New Orleans:

CLOSE CALLS: Three of the Saints’ four losses have been by a field goal or less. In all three cases, New Orleans had a lead in the final two minutes. That, along with the fact the Saints have not lost at home, were reasons Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy’s message to his players was: “We are not playing a 2-4 football team. This is an excellent football team that has lost some tight games and we are just staying true to what they have put on video - and we have been impressed.”

ELITE QBs: This season, Brees is once again among the most prolific in the NFL in terms of yards passing; his 314.3 yards per game rank second in the NFL. Rodgers, however, has far better numbers when comparing touchdowns vs. interceptions. Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdown passes and has been intercepted only once. Brees has 11 TD passes and has been intercepted seven times.

“When you have Aaron Rodgers on the other side of the ball, that offense and the way they execute and the way they score points, it just makes you feel like you have to be even that more precise and execute that much better, take advantage of every opportunity that you get,” Brees said.

TURNOVER MARGIN: The Packers lead the NFL in turnover margin at plus-10, including 10 interceptions by eight players. By contrast, the Saints are tied for 29th at minus-8. “The turnover ratio will be huge in the game on Sunday night,” McCarthy said. “Our awareness of taking care of the football is even heightened when you go into this environment.”

HOBBLED SAINTS: Several key members of the Saints’ second-ranked offense have been unable to practice or limited this week. Tight end Jimmy Graham, who leads the Saints in yards and touchdowns receiving, tried to play last weekend with a sore shoulder but did not have a catch. Meanwhile, running back Pierre Thomas is dealing with a shoulder injury and Khiry Robinson has a forearm injury.

NO PRESSURE: The Saints know they’ll need to pressure Rodgers but have struggled to get sacks so far. While outside linebacker Junior Galette has four, no other Saints has more than one, and they have only nine as a team, ranking 24th in sacks per pass attempt.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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