With another playoff berth in their back pocket the Seattle Seahawks (9-5) now set their sights on doing what they need to do in order to lock down the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs. The difference between the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds in the first round is plain and simple. You don’t want to have to go to Green Bay during wild-card weekend if you’re the Seahawks as a trip to play the winner of the NFC East would be much more advantageous.
The St. Louis Rams (6-8) put an end to the playoff hopes of Tampa Bay last Thursday, as the Rams beat the Buccaneers 31-23 in an emotional home finale at the Edward Jones Dome. Offensively, St. Louis showed some signs of life as quarterback Case Keenum was efficient in the passing game, completing 14-of-17 passes for 234 yards. Todd Gurley climbed over 1,000 yards rushing in his rookie season with 79 tough yards. Aaron Donald caused plenty of havoc along the defensive line, making Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston earn everything he got all night long.
St. Louis at Seattle
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Seattle -13
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks’ health
If the Seahawks are to make a deep run in the NFC playoffs let alone back to the Super Bowl they need to get through these two games without suffering too many significant injuries. Russell Okung and Kam Chancellor sat out of practice on Friday, which raises even more questions about their availability this afternoon. Doug Baldwin is battling a hamstring issue and Michael Bennett a toe injury, but both players took part in practice on Friday. Look for Seattle to take a conservative approach and keep Okung and Chancellor out and trust its depth along the offensive line and in the secondary to get the job done.
2. Can the Rams pound the rock with Todd Gurley?
The recipe for success for St. Louis is going to be its ability to grind the game to a screeching halt by running the ball well with Gurley. If Gurley can get 25 carries and well north of 100 yards against the Seahawks’ defense, then the Rams will be in the game in the fourth quarter. So even if Gurley doesn’t bust any long runs early in the game the Rams will need to stay patient and just keep plugging away until he break free. Look for Seattle to dare quarterback Case Keenum to try and beat its defense by throwing early and often.
3. Seahawks’ offensive line vs. Rams’ defensive line
This will be a fun matchup to follow as the St. Louis defensive line always seems to give the Seahawks’ offensive line fits every time these two teams meet. The biggest threat to the Seattle offensive line will be defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is second in the NFC and sixth in the NFL with 11 sacks. Another key for the Seattle offensive line will be its ability to protect Russell Wilson on third downs. The Rams are second in the league on third down defensively, holding teams to a conversion rate of just 32.6 percent. Thus, the ability to stay on schedule offensively is going to be vital for the Seahawks in order to maintain drives this afternoon.
In spite of all of the health concerns for Seattle, the Seahawks have usually taken care of business against the Rams in recent years at CenturyLink Field and this afternoon should not be any different. Look for the Seahawks to play with their hair on fire defensively against St. Louis after getting embarrassed in Week 1 at the Edward Jones Dome. In the season opener, the Rams upset the Seahawks 34-31 as Nick Foles threw for 297 yards. However, things have changed a great deal since then with St. Louis entering today’s game at 6-8 and out of playoff contention and Foles not under center. Seattle has already clinched its fourth consecutive playoff and is now trying to position itself for the postseason. With these two teams going in opposite directions, look for another rout by the Seahawks as Russell Wilson will have another strong performance in the passing game. They also will get plenty of help on the ground from Christine Michael and Bryce Brown to lock down the Seahawks’ 10th win.
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Rams 10
— 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.