NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- A win Monday night by St. Louis over the New Orleans Saints means a lot, not only to the Rams but the San Francisco 49ers as well.
Both St. Louis (10-2) and San Francisco (10-3) would clinch a playoff berth if the Rams prevail as expected.
New Orleans has won three of the last four meetings from its NFC West rivals, including a 31-28 victory in the wild card round at the Superdome last December.
New Orleans (7-5) is a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay (7-6) for the third and final NFC wild card berth.
In the first meeting this season on Oct. 28 at St. Louis, the Saints intercepted Kurt Warner four times and erased an 18-point deficit in a 34-31 victory.
Meanwhile, in the AFC playoff picture, the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) and the Oakland Raiders (10-3) have clinched the Central and West division titles. In the AFC East, The Miami Dolphins (9-4) can clinch a playoff berth with a win Saturday against the New England Patriots and a loss by the Seattle Seahawks.
Culpepper to have surgery
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn., Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who has missed the last two games, will have arthroscopic surgery on his injured left knee, probably this week.
Vikings Coach Dennis Green confirmed Monday that Culpepper would get "a small scope" and added,"It's not a big deal at all. But, whether or not it's a 10-day injury or a two-week injury, that's something you never know when you go in to scope a knee."
Built like a linebacker at 6-4, 260 pounds, Culpepper was forced to leave a Dec.2 game at Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter with soreness in the knee.
North Texas, CSU kickoff bowl games
NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- North Texas and Colorado State kick off the 25-game 2001 college bowl season Tuesday night when they meet in the inaugural New Orleans Bowl at the Superdome.
The long bowl season winds up on Jan. 3 when Miami meets Nebraska in the Rose Bowl for a claim on the national championship.
For North Texas, it will mean an end to the longest current bowl drought of any Division 1-A team. And, it needed help from the NCAA to do it.
The Mean Green (5-6), which last played in the postseason in the 1959 Sun Bowl, already had wrapped up the Sun Belt Conference title and the automatic bowl berth before losing to Troy State in their season finale.
North Texas became the first team to take advantage of an NCAA waiver that allows a conference champion to play in a bowl game without the mandated six victories.
CSU is favored by two touchdowns.
Two other bowl games are on tap this week. No.25 Marshall (10-1) will play East Carolina (6-5) Wednesday in the Mobile Alabama Bowl. North Carolina State (7-4) faces Pittsburgh (6-5) Thursday in the re-birth of the Tangerine Bowl at Orlando, Fla.
U.S. Davis Cup opener set
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y.. Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The United States will stage its first-round Davis Cup tie with Slovakia at the Myriad Center in Oklahoma City from February 8-10, 2002, the USTA announced Monday.
Pete Sampras and Andy Roddick are possible participants when the Americans begin their quest to claim their first Davis Cup since 1995. They are expected to face a Slovakian team that will include Dominik Hrbaty and Karol Kucera.
The USTA will lay down an indoor hard court at the Myriad Center, which will be reconfigured to seat 5,500 fans for the best-of-five match series. It is the first time Oklahoma will host a Davis Cup tie.
Sampras, who has played in Davis Cup sparingly since the Americans lost to Sweden in the 1997 final, told U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe that he is available for action in 2002.
Roddick, the 18-year-old who won three tournaments this past season, should be the team's anchor. Other candidates for next year's team are Jan-Michael Gambill, James Blake and veteran Todd Martin. The four-man squad Will be announced by Jan. 29.
Madrid's Figo gets soccer award
ZURICH, Switzerland, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Real Madrid's Luis Figo Monday became the first Portuguese player to be named 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year.
England star and Liverpool top scorer Michael Owen earned the 2001 European Footballer of the Year honors, an award won by Figo last year.
Figo, a 29-year-old midfielder who last year finished second to Real Madrid teammate and French international Zinedine Zidane in the FIFA poll, bested England and Manchester United midfielder David Beckham and another club teammate, Spaniard striker Raul who finished third in the voting.
Figo scored six of Portugal's 33 goals during qualifying to propel the Iberian nation into the 2002 World Cup with a 7
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