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Saints get the help they needed: How soon can they clinch NFC South?

The New Orleans Saints got some help from unexpected sources Sunday (Dec. 2).

First, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Carolina Panthers, which let the Saints keep a four-game lead in the NFC South. Then, the New York Giants won in overtime against the Chicago Bears, which let the Saints keep a two-game lead in the race for a first-round playoff bye.

Suddenly, that 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday didn’t seem quite as costly as it could have been.

But to get back on top of the conference standings in the race for home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs, the Saints (10-2) need somebody to beat the Los Angeles Rams.

The Rams (11-1) won Sunday against the Lions in Detroit. Next, they’ll play the Bears (8-4) in Chicago. That appears to be their best chance at a loss, as they’ll finish the regular season against the sagging Eagles (5-6) followed by the Cardinals (3-9) and 49ers (2-10).

Meanwhile, the Saints can clinch the NFC South with a win on the road Sunday against the Buccaneers (5-7). A win there would secure a second consecutive division championship for the first time in team history. If the Saints don’t win Sunday, they can still win the division this week if the Panthers lose to the Gregg Williams-coached Cleveland Browns.

A division title would assure the Saints of at least one home playoff game.

After next week, the Saints have two games against the Panthers (6-6) — one Dec. 17 on the road and the other Dec. 30 at home — sandwiched around a Dec. 23 home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1).

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