The last time the New Orleans Saints beat the Denver Broncos was 1994. Denver is 5-0 in its last five meetings with New Orleans and 9-2 in the series.
But on that 1994 Saints staff was Vic Fangio, then a linebackers coach.
"That was my first stop in my NFL career — I had nine great years there," Fangio said this week. "New Orleans is the place I’ve been the longest in my NFL journey. So, every time I go back there — even though we’re not going back there this time — it kind of feels like my second home.”
Now, 26 years later, Fangio is going up against his former team as the Broncos head coach. And across the way will be Sean Payton, who is in his 14th year as the Saints head coach and who has become quite familiar with Fangio over the years.
"He's an outstanding defensive coach. He has a great staff, a veteran staff there. And they've played good defense this season," Payton said. "I've known Vic (Fangio) a long time, he's going to play out of a base 34 front. And he's also going to play out of a nickel package and some dime on third downs. The challenges are sometimes you'll see his nickel to your base, and sometimes his 3-4 to your nickel.
"And so I think the identification as to front and coverage when they're in their base package, and then understanding what they're trying to do in their subpackage."
Fangio similarly had high praise for Payton, saying he's always felt Payton's "one of the best play callers in the league."
With Drew Brees on the injured reserve and backup, dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill replacing him, Fangio's improving defense versus Payton's distinct offense will be a key chess match Sunday. The Saints rank 12th in total offense and the Broncos rank 13th in total defense.
"They get pretty creative with what they do," Saints running back Alvin Kamara said. "And how they try to stop the run and stop the pass. They're pretty talented. So we've got to be pretty sound in what we're doing and the looks that we're trying to take advantage of, we have to make sure we execute."
Payton said one player New Orleans will be watching extra carefully Sunday is Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, who has recorded 6.5 sacks this season.
"Man he's playing well," Payton said. "We're jumping ahead to third down now. He is a very, very good rusher. We loved him coming out of college. We know him a little bit coming out because I think our defensive line coach (Ryan Nielsen) had him when he played at NC State. It's good to see him healthy back on the field and he's someone you have to account for."
On the other side of the ball, it will likely come down to Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, as it has most of this season.
Lock and the Broncos will be facing arguably its most difficult challenge this season, going up against a Saints defense that ranks third in the NFL. Denver ranks 22nd in total offense.
"I think the very first one is a very good running game," Payton said. "And when they're able to get that going, and they did last week, then that quarterback becomes dangerous relative to the play action, the balance. And so I think it starts with their running game. And they've got two really good backs and (Phillip) Lindsay and (Melvin) Gordon."
While the Saints recognize the Broncos aren't the best offensive team they've seen this season, they know if Lock can find a rhythm with his playmakers, they can surprise teams.
"They've got a lot of talent. Shifty, speed," Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins said. "We see that the quarterback and the receivers are not really on the same page. But that could turn at any point, it's the NFL. So, we just have to stay on our toes. Just be ready to play football."