By Cedric Williams
Since their bye week three weeks ago, St. Louis has played Chicago, San Francisco, and Arizona — all teams with a legitimate shot at making the playoffs — and will next face New Orleans, which currently has the second-best record in the conference.
When the St. Louis Rams went on its bye week back in mid-November, the team came back to work thinking it had a shot at making the playoffs in what was still then a wide-open NFC wild card chase.
The Rams were 4-6, but were coming off a confidence-building win over the Indianapolis Colts, and were looking at a schedule that featured five of its six remaining games against teams that were also still legitimately in the playoff hunt.
St. Louis then won its first game back, against the Chicago Bears, which gave even more credence to the thought that the Rams might still have a chance to make the playoffs.
But two lousy losses since then to the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals have officially ended any shot at making the postseason this year for the Rams, who now have just three games left in the 2013 NFL regular season.
Still, St. Louis has a gauntlet schedule to complete, with games against the two best teams in the NFC sandwiched around a matchup against fellow 2013 also-ran Tampa Bay.
This weekend, the Rams will host the 10-3 New Orleans Saints in a matchup with huge playoff implications for the visitors, who are battling the 11-2 Seattle Seahawks for the coveted possession of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Many experts agree that the team that has the home-field edge is most likely the team to get through to the Super Bowl, and with a loss to Seattle two weeks ago and just three games left in the regular season, New Orleans is running out of chances to make up ground.
New Orleans on Offense
The Saints will come into St. Louis on Sunday with the No. 6-ranked offense in the NFL this year and the No. 2-ranked passing game, led by their MVP candidate quarterback Drew Brees, who ranks second only to Peyton Manning to passing yards (4,107) and touchdowns (33).
Just last week, Brees led the Saints to their biggest win of the season so far, when he threw for 313 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions in a 31-13 drubbing of the the rival Carolina Panthers.
Those two clubs are battling for the NFC South Division crown, and Brees’ sensational Sunday night effort gave New Orleans a leg up in that race.
The Saints have thrown the ball almost 200 more times than they’ve run it this year, which means players like tight end Jimmy Graham (74 catches, 1,046 yards, 14 TDs), wide receiver Marques Colston (56-721 4 TDs), and running backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles (combined 122-959 7 TDs) are all likely to see plenty of targets when Brees throws the ball.
When New Orleans runs it, Thomas, Sproles, and former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram are the players who do the dirty work, with Thomas leading the club in yards, Sproles leading in rushing touchdowns, and Ingram leading in yards per carry.
New Orleans on Defense
Because the Saints are so overwhelmingly known as an offensive juggernaut, it might surprise many to hear that New Orleans also has the No. 6-ranked defense in the league this year.
The Saints also are just one of three teams overall who give up less than 200 passing yards a game.
With only 10 total interceptions this season, that No. 3 overall ranking against the pass is more a function of New Orleans’ tremendous pass rush, which led by DE/LB Cameron Jordan’s 11.5 sacks, is tied for second-most in the league with 43 total sacks this season.
Fourth-year vet Junior Galette is also having a breakout year, with nine sacks this season, including three last week in New Orleans’ big win over Carolina.
The Rams lead the all-time series with the Saints, 39-32, with most of those matchups dating back to their days as longtime rivals in the old NFC West.
Despite its troubles throughout the past decade, the Rams have won three of the past five meetings with the Saints, including that stunning 31-21 win over New Orleans in 2011, a season which saw the Rams go 2-14 and the Saints finish 13-3.
For more Rams news and updates, visit Rams Central.
Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a freelance reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the Rams and small-school college sports for Examiner.com and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can be found on Examiner.com.