Saints can clinch playoff berth today

Associated Press photo by BILL HABER -- Saints coach Sean Payton is seen on the field before a Dec. 8 game against the Carolina Panthers. Show caption
Associated Press photo by BILL HABER -- Saints coach Sean Payton is seen on the field before a Dec. 8 game against the Carolina Panthers.

According to the NFL’s official playoff scenarios, the New Orleans Saints can punch their postseason ticket seven different ways in Week 15.

The Saints are interested in only one of them. To them, it’s simple: Win Sunday, and they’re in.

Eager to get back to the postseason after a disappointing 7-9 season a year ago, the Saints (10-3) will become the second team to qualify for the NFC’s half of the playoff bracket if they can get past the St. Louis Rams (5-8) in the Edward Jones Dome.

While the Saints can’t win the NFC South title this week, they can at least earn a playoff spot and check off one of their preseason goals. But only one.

Still, they aspire to take the first step toward a deep run in the playoffs — nothing more — with two regular-season games left, linebacker Junior Galette said.

“We’re just embracing the moment, taking it one day at a time,” said Galette, whose three sacks last week keyed a solid defensive effort in a 31-13 victory against the Carolina Panthers that set the Saints up for Sunday’s opportunity.

“We’re just happy to be in the position that we’re in,” he said. “This is what we’ve worked for all offseason. This is what we wanted to be doing. We want to finish good and win this division.”

But the Saints know it’s first things first against a Rams team that has caused lots of problems in recent meetings.

The Rams were 0-8 in 2007 when they walked into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and shocked the Saints 37-29.

More recently, they put up a big fight before the Saints escaped with a 28-23 victory in 2009. They were winless again at 0-6 two years ago when they throttled the Saints 31-21.

The latter game served as a wakeup call for the Saints, who went on to win their final eight regular-season games and a playoff game before losing in the NFC Divisional round.

“In ’11, we thought we had a pretty good team and we got beat pretty good,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “We just know the challenge of playing in that venue (Edward Jones Dome). They play very well at home.”

That means the Saints are on high alert despite the Rams’ record and the fact that they were eliminated from the playoff race last week.

Knowing they have little to play for in the final three games is the perfect time for the Rams to play the spoiler role this time against the Saints.

When asked at midweek whether the challenges the Rams provided in the past was a point of emphasis during their preparations, tackle Zach Strief said, “It has come up.”

Brees has not been immune to the problems the Saints have experienced against the Rams. In that 2011 loss, he was sacked six times for 42 yards lost, with defensive end Chris Long collecting three of them.

“I just know the environment we’re walking into and how their defense kind of thrives on that,” said Brees, who threw four touchdowns last week and became only the fifth player in NFL history to reach 50,000 yards in career passing. “Their pass rush, we try to neutralize that.

“They do a great job of taking the ball away. In a lot of cases, because of their pass rush, quarterbacks have to get rid of the ball earlier than they want or (they cause) sacks or fumbles and other things like that. We just have to make sure we’re very cognizant of that.”

Just like they’re cognizant of what can happen, like the last two times they visited the Edward Jones Dome.

Strief said he remembers the 2011 loss more than their 2009 win, which was the ninth of what would be 13 consecutive wins to start that season. Of course, they went on to win Super Bowl XLIV that year.

“It’s the one where we got beat to death,” Strief said. “It’s hard to say what it is about a team, but really, I can only remember playing them twice when it wasn’t a close game.

“They’ve played us well every time and certainly there, they’ve played us well. For whatever reason that is, it’s always a challenge for us.”