The battle for the NFC West title comes down to a 60-minute street fight Sunday at Lumen Field as the Seattle Seahawks (10-4) host the Los Angeles Rams (9-5). These two teams met at SoFi Stadium on Nov. 15 as Los Angeles picked up a 23-16 win in a hard-fought contest, but plenty has changed since then.
Winners of four of five, the Seahawks kept things rolling in last week's trip back east. Seattle held off a second-half charge by Washington in a 20-15 win to clinch a trip to the playoffs. Seattle has made the postseason eight times now in the last nine seasons, and that is a testament to the overall stability of this franchise.
The running game was able to generate a couple of big explosive plays led by Carlos Hyde's 50-yard touchdown run and a key Russell Wilson 38-yard run on another touchdown drive. Carlos Dunlap II picked up another critical sack on third-and-15 with over a minute left in the game to seal the win for the Seahawks. Jamal Adams also extended his sack streak to four games, and he seems to be peaking at the right time heading into the playoffs.
Things aren't as cheery on the opposite sideline after Rams head coach Sean McVay committed a borderline fireable offense by not having his team ready to play last week. Los Angeles lost to the previously winless Jets 23-20 last Sunday at SoFi Stadium. It was seemingly a lose-lose for both teams since the Rams' inexcusable loss forced them into even more of a must-win scenario this week and it likely cost the Jets Trevor Lawrence and the No. 1 draft pick too.
Jared Goff was average at best when he completed 23 of 34 passes for 209 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. Keeping a clean pocket for Goff was another problem, as the offensive line allowed the Jets to collect eight quarterback hits and three sacks. Defensively, it was the inability to get off the field on third down that ended up being costly as New York converted 7-of-17 against them on the day. That is normally a strength for the Rams; they have the second-lowest third-down conversion rate allowed in the NFL (35.0 percent).
Both teams are likely playoff-bound, but a win would be crucial even outside of the division race. The Seahawks have an outside shot at the NFC's lone first-round bye but will likely need to win out, and the Rams can clinch a postseason berth win a win.
Los Angeles at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 27 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' offense stand up to the Rams' defense?
In order for the Seahawks to clinch the division this week, it is going to be very important for their offense to play fearless football. There have been too many occasions when Seattle has played Los Angeles during the Sean McVay Era when they have played scared and allowed themselves to be dominated at the line of scrimmage. Wilson completed 22-of-37 passes for 248 yards and two interceptions in the first meeting this season as he tried to do it all himself. That can't happen this week if the Seahawks want to stay in this game; Wilson needs to be a good point guard and take what the Rams defense gives him.
The offensive line should have extra confidence heading into this week since they did not allow a sack against an excellent Washington defensive front. DK Metcalf will have his hands full against Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is outstanding and held Metcalf to just two receptions for 28 yards in the first meeting. Patience with the running game will also help Wilson out, as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer needs to grind out at least four yards a pop with Chris Carson and Hyde to slow down the Los Angeles defensive line led by Aaron Donald.
2. What type of response will we see from the Los Angeles offense?
It will be interesting to see how this unit responds after such a rough outing last week against the Jets. Cam Akers will not play this week after suffering a high ankle sprain in the game. Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson Jr. will be expected to step up in a big way to grind out around 100-120 yards on the ground on Sunday. That could be a challenge against the Seahawks, who rank third in the NFL at just 94.6 rushing yards allowed per game.
Circling back to the passing game, it's going to largely boil down to how Goff starts the game during the first 15 plays. If he gets in a nice rhythm and can spread the ball around to Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds, and the rest of the skill guys, then he will be fine. However, if Goff stumbles out of the gate and commits an early turnover, then all bets are off as far as the Rams' chances of winning on Sunday are concerned.
3. Will the Seahawks' defense make the Rams earn everything they get on offense?
The mission for Seattle's defense this week is pretty simple: They need to win the battle up front against the Rams' offensive line. Dunlap, L.J. Collier, and Co. will have to find a way to get hits on Goff just like the Jets did. Five quarterback hits and three sacks won't be enough this week. That will allow the much-maligned secondary to step up.
Cornerback D.J. Reed had 10 tackles in the first meeting against the Rams and has played very well since joining the Seahawks. Shaquill Griffin will play in this game, and that should be a difference-maker as he will be matched up against Woods or Kupp. Limiting explosive plays is going to be another key to victory because it will be far easier to stop Los Angeles if the Rams have to grind out drives of 70-plus yards. If the defense can limit the number of explosive plays, then they should be in a good shape to win in the fourth quarter.
After what took place last week, it would be very easy to say that Rams have no chance and that there is not a logical reason to pick them this week. That is why, as everyone overreacts to the Jets loss, they will probably respond in a very strong fashion this week with their backs against the wall. Seattle will play better as well on defense this time around, but until Russell Wilson and the offensive line can prove otherwise, they are going to have issues this week. Bottom line, Los Angeles will win a close one with both teams scoring in the low 20s to jump back into control of the NFC West.
Prediction: Rams 24, Seahawks 20
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Parler @Scottwhittum.