Even if the playoffs are no longer a realistic goal, the St. Louis Rams still can take a couple of more steps this season toward changing the culture of the team.
Most importantly, by winning their last two games, the Rams (6-7-1) can post their first winning record since 2003.
"I want to win these last two games," Rams left tackle Rodger Saffold said. "I think it can carry some momentum into next season. I'm definitely a guy who thinks the cup is half full, so I think it's really good that we can finish over .500 in the transition from such a horrible year last year."
The Rams, who tied for the NFL's worst record last season with a 2-14 mark, will be seeking their fourth win in five games when they play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
They'll close out the season against the Seahawks on Dec. 30 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Rams running back Steven Jackson said the team remains motivated.
"It's a whole new roster, a whole new team," Jackson said. "The chemistry, the excitement, the guys, it doesn't feel like work. It actually feels like you're hanging in the locker room with your buddies, and because of that, guys are going to go out and play for each other, regardless of what may happen or what may transpire (for the) postseason. Guys are going to play these next two games all out."
The Rams are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but it would take a series of events akin to winning the lottery or shooting two hole-in-ones during the same round of golf.
To make the playoffs, the Rams would have to win their final two games on the road. They also need the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants, the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings to lose their final two games.
"There is a slim chance," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "You'd rather have slim chance over no chance at all. Remember 'Dumb and Dumber' when he says, 'One in 100?' And she says, 'No, not even one in a million.' So, we've got at least one in a million chance. So, we're in there."
The Buccaneers (6-8) have been officially eliminated from the playoffs. Once in the thick of the race, their playoff hopes were dashed by their current four-game losing streak.
The Buccaneers were blown out by the New Orleans Saints 41-0 last week. It was their first loss by more than a touchdown this season.
The Buccaneers rank No. 1 in the NFL in run defense. They're allowing only 83.3 yards per game.
That means Jackson won't have easy time in registering his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season. He needs 92 rushing yards over his final two games to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
As good as they've been against the run, the Buccaneers have struggled against the pass. They're 30th in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 393.3 yards per game.
"What happens is when you're stopping the run?" Fisher said. "People, what do they do? They just start throwing it, and so that's basically what's happened to them."
Buccaneers rookie running back Doug Martin has 1,250 yards and 10 touchdowns. He'll be trying to bounce back from a season-low 16 rushing yards last week against the Saints.
"He's just an outstanding back," Fisher said. "We had high grades on him coming out of last year's draft. Knew he was going to be a good pro. He's got, I think, over 300 touches. Making a lot of plays in the passing game as well as in the running game."
Martin also has 38 catches for 397 yards and one touchdown.
Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman needs 341 yards to surpass Brad Johnson's team record set in 2003.
The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Freeman has thrown 25 touchdown passes and only 12 interceptions.
"The tough part about him is that he's so big and strong," Fisher said. "He's hard to get down. He can break tackles. He'll get himself out of trouble just because of his strength."
The Buccaneers also have some size at wide receiver. Vincent Jackson (6-5, 230) is the Buccaneers' top receiver with 62 catches for 1,228 yards and eight touchdowns. Mike Williams (6-2, 212) has 50 catches for 799 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Big, tall, strong targets. Can go get the football," Fisher said. "The quarterback trusts them. Of course, they've got (tight end) Dallas Clark, who I'm very familiar with. They do a nice job offensively."
Clark, who as a member of the Indianapolis Colts played against Fisher and Tennessee Titans twice each season, has 43 catches for 403 yards and four touchdowns.
The Rams lead the overall series 9-8, but the Buccaneers have won the last five meetings in Tampa.
The Buccaneers clipped the Rams 18-17 in the last meeting on Oct. 24, 2010, thanks to Freeman's 1-yard touchdown pass to Cadillac Williams with 10 seconds left.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.