49ers, Rams chasing playoff dreams

ST. LOUIS — No matter what happens, the St. Louis Rams' second year under coach Steve Spagnuolo should be considered a success.

Six wins is a huge leap forward, matching the total from the previous three seasons. Last year, the Rams were 1-15 and rarely competitive, earning the right to draft quarterback Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall draft pick.

The kid who has played a major role in the turnaround was optimistic from Day 1. Perhaps he sounded a bit naive. And with the two games to go, a trip to the playoffs is still possible.

"I think before the season if you would have asked anyone, they would have told you we had no shot of making the playoffs," Bradford said. "I think the only people who probably would have told you different are the guys in this building."

Win two more, and they're in. Even after losing their last two, including last week's bellyflop at home against the Chiefs, the Rams (6-8) have a clear-cut path to a first NFC West title and first postseason berth since 2004.

And even if they don't win today, they'll still have an outside shot.

The division is so weak that the 49ers (5-9) are in it, too. There's still a shot the preseason favorites, once 0-5, can salvage their season and end up in the postseason with a 7-9 record.

Win this week and at Arizona and the 49ers can keep alive their dreams of a first playoff spot since 2002, needing the Seahawks to lose one of their games to do it. So what if the Chargers whipped them 34-7 last week?

"I just know our record isn't where we'd like for it to be, but we've still got a shot at the playoffs," defensive end Justin Smith said. "I know they've taken shots at our conference, but oh well."

Lose this week and they're done. Win to stay alive.

"It's awesome," center David Baas said. "It's a great opportunity and we have to take advantage of it. We know that."

Running back Steven Jackson and long snapper Chris Massey are the only players left from the Rams' last playoff team, which came near the end of the Mike Martz era. Cornerback Ron Bartell, a second-round pick in '05, is still waiting for his playoff chance.

"As a competitor, the toughest time of the year for me is wild card weekend," Bartell said. "You're sitting at home and you're watching and you see the atmosphere.

"I've talked about that to the guys in our room. You don't want to be sitting at home — unless you have a bye."

They'd like to make their home finale more memorable than last week, when they were tomahawk-chopped off their own field by visiting fans who made the drive across Interstate 70.

"Yeah, I heard it," center Jason Brown said. "That's why they cranked up the music to drown them out. This weekend, we've got to keep San Francisco fans out of our home."

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