Saints vs. Rams 2013 game preview: New Orleans scrapping for 1-seed

The Saints will need some help from the Seahawks if they want the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They will also need to win, starting with Sunday's game against the Rams.

The New Orleans Saints can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, though they may have their goals set higher than playoff eligibility. They are technically still in the running for the NFC's No. 1 overall seed, one game back from the 11-2 Seattle Seahawks. Technically, the Saints will have to make up two games due to their Week 13 loss to Seattle, but with three games left there is still a chance they can climb the standings.

The Rams won't be playing for anything other than pride. At 5-8 overall, they have been mathematically eliminated from the postseason, and are reeling off a 20-point loss to the Arizona Cardinals. They have played above expectations before, however, beating the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears in consecutive weeks, and the Saints are capable of a stinker as evidenced by a midseason loss to the New York Jets.

Perhaps the Rams will be motivated by the opportunity to play spoiler to the Saints' 1-seed hopes.

Meet the Rams

Despite a 5-8 record, the Rams should be encouraged by how they've played in a few key areas, particularly on defense. The rush defense is relinquishing just 3.9 yards per carry despite facing 361 carries so far this season. They have been excellent rushing the passer, with a 8.4 percent sack rate that ranks fourth in the NFL. Defensive end Robert Quinn is second in the NFL with 13 sacks so far this season.

The offense has been a relative mess, however. The Rams rank just 27th in the NFL in total offense. While Zac Stacy has emerged as a viable starting running back, the passing game hasn't given him much support. Kellen Clemens is completing 52.9 percent of his passes since taking over for the injured Sam Bradford, and has thrown just five touchdowns to five interceptions in seven games.

Meet the Saints

The Saints are arguably the NFL's most complete team. At least, they are the only team in the NFL that ranks in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense through 13 games. The fact that the defense has been as good as it has is probably the most impressive aspect of this year's Saints. Coming off a historically bad 2012 season, Rob Ryan has turned the Saints' defense into one of the league's most fearsome units. They rank No. 1 in the NFL with a 9.2 percent sack rate, and have one the league's best pass defenses giving up 199 yards per game at 6.8 yards per pass.

The Rams could have success on the ground, however. The Saints give up 4.7 yards per carry when opponents choose to run. Fortunately for New Orleans, opponents have been unable to run often thanks to the healthy leads created by a potent offense. Drew Brees may have 5,000 yards and 40 touchdown passes before the regular season is over. He may also have his lowest interception total since 2004.

Local Takes: Rams

Ryan Van Bibber at Rams blog Turf Show Times breaks down the Rams' dreadful third down defense.

The Rams defense, now coordinated by former Lions secondary and third down package coach Tim Walton, allowed the Cardinals to convert 57.14 percent of their third downs. Carson Palmer did most of the damage on third downs, along with his receivers that nobody in the Rams secondary seemed able to stop.

Palmer was 10-for-12 with 114 yards on third downs. All but three of his completions on third down resulted in a new set of downs. All together, the Rams allowed the Cardinals to convert eight of 14 third down attempts. It was their second worst third down performance of the season, after allowing the Bears to convert 60 percent of their third downs two weeks ago.

Local Takes: Saints

Jon Oliver at Saints blog Canal Street Chronicles was thoroughly impressed by the Saints' offensive performance last week.

Despite letting Carolina control the ball for five more minutes on Sunday than the Saints did, New Orleans thoroughly manhandled the Panthers. After getting off to a slow start, punting after only three plays on their first possession, the Saints racked up more yards in the first half than they managed in Seattle a week prior. The three first-half touchdowns largely secured the win before the break, and Sean Payton's squad seemed to focus on trying to add some more passing yards to their stats in the second half.

While the Saints would definitely be better off if they did not require a possession or more to get in gear for every game, the level of play which they displayed in the first half could take them deep into the postseason.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Turf Show Times and Canal Street Chronicles, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@TurfShowTimes

@SaintsCSC

@nwagoner -- Rams beat writer

@LarryHolder -- Saints beat writer

Prediction

From the Week 15 picks:

The Rams don't have any sort of discernible home field advantage. No surprise when at least half the seats in the Dome are filled with the other team's fans and another quarter of those seats are empty. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald embarrassed the Rams secondary last week. The Rams are only allowing an average of 45 yards per game to tight ends, but Jimmy Graham isn't Drew Brees' only option in the passing game.

The pick: Saints

Odds

The Saints opened the week as 4.5-point favorites, and the spread has become even wider since according to OddsShark.

Next Week

The Rams will stay home to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 1 p.m. ET next Sunday. The Saints will be on the road at the same time for their pivotal rematch against the Carolina Panthers.

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