There's no way for the New Orleans Saints to not view Sunday's game in St. Louis as a significant one.
First, New Orleans (10-3) can clinch a playoff berth with a victory. Second, because the Saints are a game ahead of Carolina (9-4) in the NFC South Division as they prepare to take on the Rams (5-8) at the Edward Jones Dome, a win would guarantee that New Orleans would remain ahead of the Panthers and inch it closer to a division title.
Third – and, perhaps more significantly – the Saints would propel closer to one of the top two seeds in the NFC, which would guarantee a week of rest before playing a home playoff game.
And fourth, because quarterback Drew Brees said so.
The Saints haven't lately been able to roll into Edward Jones and have their way with St. Louis. They've split their last four meetings with the Rams, including a split of two games in Edward Jones, the Saints taking a 28-23 victory in 2009 and the Rams, entering their 2011 encounter with an 0-6 record, hammering away a 31-21 victory over the Saints, who entered with a 5-2 record.
Brees cut to the chase on the latter game, saying the Rams "beat the brakes" off the Saints as he recalled it after New Orleans' last game, a 31-13 home victory over Carolina.
So on Sunday, a game that otherwise might have had some characteristics of a "trap" game for New Orleans before it plays the Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., next Sunday, is one for which the Saints fully are attentive.
Taking care of the Rams would make it less of a necessity to beat the Panthers in order to win the division. And taking care of the Rams will require focus because the Rams have been dangerous before, and could be dangerous again.
Certainly, no assistance can be expected from the opponent.
"You prepare the same way every week whether you are in it or not, if you are contending for it or you still have a chance," Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said. "That is what we do.
"They are professionals. They come in. They work hard. They have fun. They look forward to coming into work and believe you have a chance to win every game."
The Rams have lost two straight, but earlier this season had blowout victories over Chicago (42-21) and Indianapolis (38-8), and played Seattle to a near standstill in a 14-9 loss.
The Saints figure to see that edition of St. Louis, rather than the one that has been outscored 53-23 in its last two games, road losses to San Francisco and Arizona. Plus, the Rams have played the Saints well in St. Louis.
In addition to a split of two games since 2009, the Saints split games with the Rams in St. Louis in 2004 (a 28-25, overtime win) and 2005 (a 28-17 loss).
"We haven't played them well there since I've been here," said right tackle Zach Strief, who joined the Saints in 2006.
Said Brees: "In '09, we barely got out of there with a win. Didn't play our best game, but were able to find a way to win. And in '11, we felt like we had a pretty good football team going in there and got beat pretty good.
"I think we just know the challenge of playing in that venue. They play very well at home. We just know the type of atmosphere we're walking into, how their defense kind of thrives on that.
"This is a very good football team that we're about to play, especially at home, especially over the last six weeks. I know they're well-coached and I know they're going to be ready to play us, based upon our track record there and what's at stake."