SEATTLE The day of the Seahawks’ biggest regular-season game in years has a 40-percent chance of rain with temperatures in the upper 40s, a little warmer than lately around Puget Sound.
My advance story in The News Tribune on Sunday’s showdown with the Los Angeles Rams essentially for the NFC West championship details exactly how important this game is: a Seattle wins means a 79-percent chance the Seahawks make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive January. A loss means Seattle’s postseason chances drop to 19 percent.
"I mean this is a big-time game," strong safety Bradley McDougald said, discarding coach Pete Carroll’s every-game-is-the-same talk and getting real. "A lot of our season falls into this one game.”
The biggest pregame story will be the status of Seahawks All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner. He didn’t practice all week because of a strained hamstring and is questionable to play. But signs are he will try to go--and that Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright will not be able to because of a concussion.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (9-4) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (8-5)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m., CenturyLink Field, Ch. 13
Line: Seahawks by 1.
TV: Ch. 13 Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM
The series: The Seahawks lead the regular-season series 23-15. They have won two in a row after losing to the Rams three straight times and four times in five games. Seattle won at Los Angeles 16-10 on Oct. 8, when the Rams entered with the league’s highest-scoring offense. The Seahawks won in the Rams’ last visit to CenturyLink Field, 24-3 on Dec. 15, 2016. Then-Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff made his fifth career start that night. He completed 13 of 25 passes, was sacked four times and got knocked out of the game late by a sideline hit from Richard Sherman.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Bobby Wagner plays: The game—and Seattle’s season—comes down to whether the All-Pro middle linebacker will be able to start on a strained hamstring that knocked him out of last weekend’s loss at Jacksonville in the third quarter. The Jaguars scored 27 of their 30 points after he left. He hasn’t practiced all week, and is questionable to play. Knowing him, he won’t sit this one out, not with the NFC West title on the line. But even if he plays will he be able to run as he has in throttling Rams dynamic back Todd Gurley in their previous four meetings? Wagner and Pro Bowl outside linebacker K.J. Wright (doubtful with a concussion) have held Gurley to his fewest yards of any foe he’s faced more than once. Without Wagner and Wright—the fourth and fifth Pro Bowl guys hurt or out on Seattle’s defense—the advantage the Seahawks have had against Gurley and thus the Rams disappears.
Get to Goff: For the last three games, since after they lost Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor to season-ending injuries, the Seahawks have mostly dropped seven into coverage to help their patchwork secondary and relied on their front four linemen to create a pass rush. It did not get any pressure on Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles last week—no sacks, one hit in 27 drop backs. Seattle made Bortles look like Tom Brady with all that time to throw. Goff could destroy Seattle’s season if he has as much time. Look for the Seahawks defensive coordinator to blitz more than they have in a month, to disrupt Goff like they did for much of their win in L.A. in October But if Wagner can’t play, the Seahawks will have the tricky proposition of sending Michael Wilhoite and other fill-ins after Goff.
Run. For a change: For all the pressure and blitzing and athleticism the Rams have in their defensive front seven, they are just 28th in the NFL against the run. Seattle’s Mike Davis gained 66 yards last week, including 49 on four consecutive rushes late in the first half at Jacksonville as Seattle had center Justin Britt pulling for him off the left side. Davis is coming back from a rib injury that knocked him out of the Jaguars game in the second half, but says he’s ready to go. Expect Seahawks play caller Darrell Bevell to send Davis at the Rams early, to slow down Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and L.A’s pass rush that has 40 sacks. If Davis can’t get yards, it’ll be on Russell Wilson to win this game by himself. Again.
The pick: Seahawks, 23-20. That is assuming Wagner plays. If he does, the defense keeps Gurley in check again, and the offense may not have to do more than Wilson making another playground play or two. If Wagner can’t play, or is severely limited, Seattle’s season is in serious trouble.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
54 Bobby Wagner LB 6-0 245 sixth
Rarely has a Seahawks’ game—or season—relied so much upon one player’s availability. Wagner is that valuable, particularly against Gurley.
78 Luke Joeckel LG 6-6 307 fifth
Will be opposite Aaron Donald most of the time. Now is when Seattle needs him to earn that $7 million guaranteed
7 Blair Walsh K 5-10 175 sixth
It may come down to him. Started his Seattle debut season 12-13 on field goals, has gone 8-14 since.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
99 Aaron Donald DT 6-1 285 fourth
Russell Wilson says he’s the best defender he’s ever played against. Wrecks games. Seattle can’t let him wreck this one.
30 Todd Gurley RB 6-1 220 third
Offense revolves around him. Now his coach is saying he’s needs to get the ball more.
12 Sammy Watkins WR 6-1 211 fourth
Flourishing with 7 TDs since trade from Buffalo. Gives Rams a new dimension down the field