It’s NFC West rivalry week as the Seattle Seahawks (2-2) take on the red-hot Los Angeles Rams (4-0) on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
Last week, Seattle escaped the desert with a 20-17 win over Arizona as Sebastian Janikowski’s 52-yard field goal on the final play of regulation was the difference for the Seahawks. Earl Thomas suffered a season-ending injury to his left leg late in the fourth quarter. Then, as Thomas was being carted off the field, he was caught on camera giving the middle finger to the Seahawks sideline. That image of Thomas flipping the bird to the Seahawks is a rough way for him to go out of town.
Los Angeles continues to cruise through the 2018 season like a Ferrari on offense as they beat the Minnesota Vikings 38-31 in front of a "Thursday Night Football" national television audience. Jared Goff continues to silence any remaining naysayers who call him a system quarterback. Goff completed 26-of-33 passes for 465 yards and five touchdowns. The running game was on point with Todd Gurley as he carried the ball 17 times for 83 yards, which was more than enough for the Rams. The defense does have some health concerns in the secondary, as the Rams need to Marcus Peters to get back to 100 percent after he gutted out every snap against the Vikings.
Seattle leads the all-time series 23-17. In the teams' last meeting, the Rams dominated the Seahawks 42-7 in Seattle on Dec. 17, 2017.
Los Angeles at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 7 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Rams -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' offense vs. Rams' defense
If Seattle is going to compete in this game, the Seahawks must find a way to be at least competent in running the football, as they were against Arizona, rushing for 171 yards on 34 attempts and averaging five yards per carry. Mike Davis filled in for Chris Carson, who missed the game against the Cardinals due to a hip injury. Davis had 21 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Rashad Penny was another bright spot for the Seahawks in the running game, gaining 49 yards on nine carries. Running the football effectively will set up short yardage situations and increase Seattle’s chances of keeping the explosive Los Angeles offense off the field. For the Rams, it will be about sticking to the formula that has worked very well in containing Russell Wilson. That is, dominating the line of scrimmage with a defensive front that boasts Aaron Donald, who has owned the Seahawks' offensive line. Also, it will be very important for Los Angeles to avoid giving up unnecessary deep passes, instead forcing the Seattle passing game to methodically work its way down the field on Sunday. The odds of the Seahawks being able to consistently drive 70-80 yards against the Rams defense are long, so patience and discipline will be key all day long.
2. Los Angeles offense
Jared Goff should have ample opportunity to test the Seattle secondary as Tedric Thompson steps in to replace Earl Thomas this week. Thompson has drawn plenty of praise from the Seahawks coaches for his efforts in practice. But this matchup on Sunday against Goff and wide receivers like Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins is a different animal. It will be interesting to see how aggressive Rams head coach Sean McVay will be early on in this game with Goff and the passing game. Todd Gurley, who rushed for 152 yards and three touchdowns in the teams' Week 15 meeting last December, should be a major factor as well on Sunday. Overall, Los Angeles should feature a nice mix of run and pass to keep the Seahawks' defense off balance for four quarters.
3. Third down offense
Seattle has been below average at best this season offensively on third down. Last week, the Seahawks were 0-for-10 on third down against Arizona. That won’t cut it against an elite team like Los Angeles. A good target number for the Seahawks on Sunday would be to convert around 45-50 percent of their third down opportunities. Thus, staying on schedule with down and distance is beyond crucial on Sunday. The Rams are second in the NFL in third down conversions at 48.84 percent, which is outstanding. Defensively, the Rams are 25th in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert 44.23 percent of their third down opportunities. Seattle ranks eighth in the NFL in third down defense, limiting teams to a 34.69 percent conversion rate.
This game for Los Angeles provides an excellent opportunity to essentially clinch the NFC West just five weeks into the season. The Rams will take a three-game lead in the division with a win on Sunday over the Seahawks. Thus, the sense of urgency should be high enough for Los Angeles to avoid any sort of a letdown. The Seahawks will also have a little bit of an emotional advantage since they were embarrassed on their home field by the Rams last December. There is also the emotion involving Seahawks owner Paul Allen, who announced this week that his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has returned. However, emotion can take a team only so far, and that is why Los Angeles will weather the storm and pull away in the second half for its fifth win.
Prediction: Rams 33, Seahawks 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.