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New Orleans Saints take even-keeled approach to big game against Rams

'I look at it more from, this is the next challenge'

This is not a playoff game.

There is no finality attached, no win-or-go-home element, no survive-and-advance tension. Win or lose, each team will leave the field still knowing that, with eight and seven regular-season games remaining, respectively, it can reach the goals it has set.

But it's a big one, and Sunday's matchup between the New Orleans Saints (6-1) and Los Angeles Rams (8-0) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome has all the feels.

New Orleans has won six straight games, and will be playing the NFL's last unbeaten team, in a game that could have a bearing on the NFC's No. 1 seed for the playoffs. And it'll be the latest in a string of big games for the Saints on a brutal schedule – road games against Baltimore and Minnesota, who each led their respective divisions at the time, preceded this week's battle between the leaders of the NFC South (the Saints) and NFC West (Rams).

"When you see a team coming in here unbeaten, and you know they're in the NFC, you recognize the significance of the game," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "I look at it more from, this is the next challenge.

"Three weeks ago, we were looking at on-the-road Baltimore. Then the following week, it was the Vikings. Then the following week. So we just stare, in this city, at the pothole in front of us. That's the one we've got to worry about, not the ones that are coming up beyond that. This one sits square in the middle of the street, and it's an important game."

It's important not just for the conference standings, but also because New Orleans either will be attempting to create space between itself and Carolina in the NFC South, or will be trying to stay a step ahead of the Panthers in the division.

But there's no question that a game featuring teams with a combined record of 14-1 – the fourth-highest combined winning percentage (93.3 percent) of two teams meeting in Week 9 or later since the 1970 merger – is significant just for that reason.

Still, the Saints' approach is one of levelheadedness.

"It's exciting," quarterback Drew Brees said. "It's a great challenge. But here's the thing: It's one game.

"Yes, it's a big game. Yes, it's against a great opponent who is undefeated and is playing exceptionally well right now. But for us, it's another opportunity to take the next step, to continue to improve. I like the tract that we're on, but we can still get better."

Linebacker Manti Te'o had similar feelings.

"I think for us, we're approaching it the same," Te'o said. "I know it sounds cliché, but we're approaching it the same way. We understand who's coming into town, but we're approaching this week the same way we've approached all the other weeks. We're going prepare the same way we've prepared, understanding our opponent, understanding ourselves and go out there and play some good football."

That approach has worked for the Saints, and they're counting on it to lead to another successful result.

"It's definitely a significant game, we all know that," defensive tackle Tyeler Davison said. "But I do feel like the most important thing is to not look at that big picture too much, and focus in and hone in on what exactly it is that you have to do, as an individual and as a team.

"I feel like that's what we're doing right now. We're just taking it one day of preparation at a time leading up to the game. When the game gets here, we're going to take it one play at a time and go from there."

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