National Football League
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PLAYOFFS
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  === Saints shoot for playoff berth vs. Rams ===
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - A victory by the New Orleans Saints this weekend won't
 give them the NFC South title they are battling for, but it would punch their
 ticket to the postseason.
 
 The Saints can clinch a playoff spot this Sunday with a victory over the
 hosting St. Louis Rams and keep their claim on first place in the division
 after moving a game past Carolina with last weekend's 31-13 home win over the
 Panthers.
 
 The statement victory snapped Carolina's eight-game win streak and moved New
 Orleans to 10-3 on the season. It also put the Saints in the driver's seat for
 a division title as they visit the Panthers next weekend following the road
 game versus the Rams.
 
 It was a milestone day for quarterback Drew Brees, who picked apart Carolina's
 top-ranked defense. He threw four touchdown passes -- three during a 21-0
 second quarter -- and ended with 313 passing yards on 30-of-42 throwing. In
 the process, Brees became the fifth player in NFL history to reach 50,000
 career passing yards, joining Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and John
 Elway.
 
 Brees was the fastest player to ever do so, reaching the mark in 183 games. He
 has thrown for 37,678 yards since joining the Saints in 2006.
 
 "To be in that class of four people now really hits on his consistency, his
 durability, his availability along with his skill set. We are happy for him
 and obviously proud," said New Orleans coach Sean Payton.
 
 After falling behind 6-0 in the first quarter, New Orleans tallied three
 touchdowns in the second quarter against a Carolina defense that hadn't
 allowed more than two in a single game this season. Brees was 14-of-16 for 159
 yards in the frame.
 
 Wide receiver Marques Colston had nine receptions for 125 yards and two
 scores, while tight end Jimmy Graham added a pair of TD catches for the
 Saints, who bounced back from a 34-7 setback at Seattle last Monday night and
 moved to 7-0 at the Superdome this year.
 
 "We had the division championship riding in the balance," Brees said of the
 importance of Sunday's win. "We have three more weeks to go and we'll see
 these guys again at their place in a couple of weeks. We wanted to bounce back
 in a big way with a big win. We were able to do that today."
 
 New Orleans claimed the ninth 10-win season in franchise history, with five
 coming under Payton since he took over in 2006.
 
 While the Saints are hoping they can secure their first division title and
 playoff berth since 2011, the Rams will officially miss the postseason for a
 ninth consecutive year following last Sunday's 30-10 road setback to the
 Arizona Cardinals.
 
 The Rams, who went 7-8-1 last season and have not made the playoffs since
 2004, fell to 5-8 thanks to their second straight setback -- both on the road
 -- and fifth in the last seven games overall.
 
 Kellen Clemens passed for 181 yards and was picked off twice, one returned 23
 yards for a score just 10 seconds into the second half. He was also sacked for
 safety, while the run game was held to just 44 yards not counting wide
 receiver Tavon Austin's 56-yard end around.
 
 St. Louis fell to 1-4 versus the NFC West this season and will also host Tampa
 Bay next weekend before ending the season on the road in Seattle. Over that
 time, coach Jeff Fisher and his club will be looking to build momentum ahead
 of next season.
 
 "We're going to get better, and our focus is going on the Saints," noted
 Fisher. "That's what we're going to do. We're going to get better. We're going
 to take it one game at a time and we're going to get better. We've got some
 guys banged up."
 
 That includes Austin, who suffered a leg injury on his long run.
 
 The Rams snapped a two-game losing streak to the Saints with a victory at home
 in the last meeting on Oct. 30, 2011. Brees threw for 269 yards with a
 touchdown, but was picked off twice and sacked six times.
 
 New Orleans lost in St. Louis for only the third time in their last eight
 trips there.
 
 
 WHAT TO WATCH FOR
 
 The 34-year-old Brees continued his assault on NFL record books last weekend.
 In addition to his 50,000-yard milestone, his six-yard touchdown pass to
 Colston in the second quarter gave him a sixth consecutive season of 30-or-
 more touchdown throws. That broke a tie with Favre (1994-98) for the longest
 such streak in league history.
 
 Brees also went over 4,000-yards passing on the season with his effort against
 the Panthers, his NFL-best eighth season in a row surpassing that mark.
 
 Brees' success has translated into big numbers for Colston and Graham. The
 former became the first Saint and 87th player in league history to top 8,000
 career receiving yards, while Graham's two TDs gave him 14 on the season,
 extending his own team record.
 
 Graham's 14 touchdowns are the second highest single-season total by a tight
 end in league history, behind only Rob Gronkowski's 17 with New England in
 2011.
 
 "Fifty thousand is pretty unbelievable. I'm very lucky to have a quarterback
 like that," Graham said of Brees. "He's taught me everything that I know. He
 trusts me in situations that most quarterbacks wouldn't. He's just a special
 guy. I call him the surgeon. He knows who is open. He knows where to go with
 the ball. It's just an amazing feat."
 
 New Orleans ranks second in the NFL with 302.9 passing yards per game and
 Graham's six 100-yard games this season are tied for the most by a tight end
 in NFL annuals.
 
 But what makes the Saints really dangerous is the improvement of a once-
 laughable defense under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. New Orleans held
 Carolina to 239 total yards last weekend and ranks sixth in total defense
 (313.6 YPG). The Saints are also giving up under 19 points per game.
 
 "He has done a great job," Fisher said of Ryan. "He is an outstanding coach.
 He has them playing well and he has the pieces now. There are no holes in the
 defense. Everyone is playing well together."
 
 Defensive end Cameron Jordan and linebacker Junior Galette teamed up to record
 all five of the Saints' sacks last week. That upped the team total to 43, the
 highest single-season total since 2001.
 
 Galette had a career-high three sacks versus the Panthers, giving him nine on
 the season, while Jordan's two sacks moved his season total to a personal-high
 11 1/2. Jordan is the first Saint to reach double-digit sacks since Will Smith
 (13 1/2) in 2009 and he is tied for fourth in the NFL.
 
 It is St. Louis' run game that should be of concern to the Saints, despite
 last weekend's struggles. Stacy has rushed for 507 yards and five touchdowns
 over his last six games, sparking the offense since taking over as the
 starter.
 
 "Well we drafted Zach because we felt like he had a chance to do what he has
 done thus far," said Fisher of the 2013 fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt.
 "It takes young backs a while, some longer than others. It didn't take Zach
 very long at all to what we call figure out how to play without the football.
 It is very important to us.  He got that stuff down and when he got the
 opportunity he took advantage of it."
 
 Stacy will be looking to rebound from his lowest single-game total in nine
 starts, held to 25 yards on 14 carries by the Cardinals.
 
 The Rams will test Brees with a push rush that features defensive ends Robert
 Quinn and Chris Long.
 
 Though held without a sack for a second game in a row, Quinn still leads the
 NFC with 13 this season, the second-highest total in football, while Long has
 6 1/2 sacks on the year and three the last time these two clubs met.
 
 St. Louis managed just one sack versus Arizona, with rookie linebacker Alec
 Ogletree getting the first of his career. He is also second on the club with
 94 tackles, two back of middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.
 
 OVERALL ANALYSIS
 
 The Saints seem to have the right attitude by focusing on the a division title
 to avoid making this a dreaded trap game. Brees mentioned following last
 weekend's win just how much securing a first-round bye can be, something that
 will likely belong to the NFC South champion.
 
 "A couple of years ago in 2010, we were 11-5 and found ourselves as the five
 seed going to play at 7-9 Seattle," noted Brees, whose club lost that matchup
 with the Seahawks. "Atlanta was 13-3 and won our division. That's why it is
 important to win the division. You want to secure that first-round bye if you
 can. Certainly, that is on our list of goals. We just need to focus on winning
 the division championship."
 
 The Rams showed the last time these teams played that a good pass rush can
 help to slow Brees down, but the Saints quarterback continues to play off the
 charts and is near unstoppable when Graham is at his disposal.
 
 Feeding Stacy the ball will help to keep the Saints offense off the field, but
 Brees doesn't need all that much to work with.
 
 Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 24, Rams 16
 
 
 12/13 09:38:04 ET