On Sunday, theSeattle Seahawks will begin their 40th NFL regular season on the road against the St. Louis Rams. The Seahawks hold a 21-13 series advantage as they won the last meeting 20-6 in Week 17 last season in Seattle.
The Seahawks are in unchartered waters as they are aiming for a third straight Super Bowl appearance under the direction of head coach Pete Carroll. The offseason for Seattle has been a non-stop soap opera with a blockbuster trade for Jimmy Graham, as well as the signings of Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner to long-term contract extensions. Then news broke on Friday that there will be no further negotiations between the Seahawks and safety Kam Chancellor as one of the most illogical contract holdouts in team history continues. It is going to be up to Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas to lead the way in the secondary and play like the All-Pros they are while bringing guys like Dion Bailey along and get them playing confidently right away.
St. Louis heads into a bit of a crossroads type of season on multiple fronts. There is the looming elephant in the room of this potentially being the final season for the Rams in St. Louis, as owner Stan Kroenke continues to move his stadium project in Inglewood, Calif., along. Then there is the issue of head coach Jeff Fisher, who needs to start winning immediately in order to get himself off the hot seat, as he has underachieved in St. Louis with a 20-27-1 record. In Fisher's 21 years as a head coach he has led his teams to better than a 8-8 record just six times.
Seattle at St. Louis
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seattle -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. How will Dion Bailey perform in place of Kam Chancellor?
As Seahawks fans have suffered the ongoing incessant nauseating coverage on Seattle sports radio about Chancellor's holdout, Dion Bailey has gone quietly about his business and is quickly establishing himself as someone with a lot of potential in the eyes of other front office executives around the league. Bailey, while lacking experience has a golden opportunity to step up and make a name for himself while Chancellor sits at home. Look for Bailey to make a critical play or two in the second half to help the Seahawks defensively salt away a win on Sunday.
2. Russell Wilson
After signing a new contract in the offseason Seahawks fans anxiously are awaiting to see if Wilson can live up to being the second highest paid quarterback in the NFL. They also are looking to see how Wilson responds from that horrific interception down at the one-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX that cost Seattle a chance to repeat. While the play call from offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was illogical, a quarterback the caliber of Wilson has to avoid throwing an interception in that situation. Wilson, is only 1-2 so far in his career at the Edward Jones Dome against the Rams and will have to be patient against an aggressive St. Louis defense in order to lead Seattle to victory.
3. Tyler Lockett
Lockett has been electric in the preseason with big plays at receiver and more importantly the return game. The Seahawks last year in the return game were subpar at best and this for a team that thrives on field position. Look for Lockett to step up and make a key punt return to set up a short field situation for the offense early to get momentum rolling for Seattle. Also, you can bet that Bevell will look to get Lockett involved in the passing game in a similar fashion on Sunday like he did in the final preseason game where Lockett had a 63-yard touchdown reception that showed his ability to take the top off of opposing defenses. Now, the challenge for Lockett is going to be to produce at a high level when it all counts for real against a Rams defense that will be well aware of his presence.
Seattle should have too many weapons offensively to hold off the Rams as the Seahawks are going to try to get Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham rolling early, which will create some interesting matchup issues. Defensively, the front seven for Seattle is going to be the difference-maker as rookie Frank Clark, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril will look to take advantage of a St. Louis offensive line that is battling health issues. The linebacker corps of Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Bruce Irvin should be able to take advantage of being indoors on turf and will be ready to make life for Nick Foles very difficult all afternoon long.
If St. Louis wants to beat the Seahawks the Rams are going to need trick plays like a fake punt or fake field goal along the lines of what they did a year ago in a 28-26 victory over Seattle last October. They also are going to need to get Foles going early in the passing game to get him some confidence and see if they can take advantage of Chancellor's absence.
Overall, with what is expected to be a sparse crowd on Sunday creating a neutral-site type of environment, it is going to be critical for the Seahawks to start fast and impose their will on the Rams. This should happen as the defense will send a strong message to Chancellor loud and clear that the unit can win games without him. Thus, the question remains will a Seahawk win and a convincing defensive performance be enough to bring Chancellor to his senses and get him back in the fold for the trip to Lambeau to play the Packers next Sunday?
Prediction: Seattle 23, St. Louis 13
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @scottwhittum.