SEATTLE – If this all seems familiar for the Seattle Seahawks, that’s because it is.
A season ago, the Seahawks beat the St. Louis Rams in Week 17 of the 2013 season to wrap up the NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Nearly the exact same scenario is in play this Sunday when the Seahawks close out the regular season hosting the Rams. A victory would give the Seahawks (11-4) their second straight NFC West title. Barring a rare tie between Green Bay and Detroit, a Seahawks victory would route the NFC playoffs through Seattle for the second straight season.
“Not a lot of people want to come to Seattle, so if we make everybody fly out to Seattle and come enjoy our wonderful weather and our great fans, I think they kind of enjoy it – a little bit,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
Seattle is riding a five-game win streak, mowing through Arizona and San Francisco twice and knocking off Philadelphia to put the NFC playoff race back under the Seahawks’ control. It was a significant turn from where Seattle sat after losing at Kansas City in Week 11 and falling to 6-4.
Sitting there is the opportunity for home-field advantage and making the rest of the NFC come to CenturyLink Field, where Seattle is 23-2, including the playoffs, over the past three seasons.
St. Louis (6-9) beat Seattle 28-26 in October, but hasn’t beaten a team on the road with a winning record. A win over the Seahawks would throw the entire NFC playoff seeding into turmoil and give the Rams a third straight seven-win season.
“It’s not about rocking their world and affecting their playoffs, it’s just trying to find a way to win the last game,” St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said.
Here’s what else to watch as the Seahawks and Rams meet in Week 17 for the fourth time in five seasons:
Along with Seattle’s win streak has been some of the best play of Russell Wilson’s young career. The Seattle QB has a passer rating of 106.2 during the five-game span, with seven touchdowns and one interception. He’s also averaging nearly 55 yards per game rushing during the span.
With one more big game, Wilson could become the first quarterback in league history with 3,500 yards passing and 900 yards rushing in a single season. Wilson would need 58 yards rushing and 264 yards passing to reach those benchmarks.
“The best way to describe it is that he’s an extra player on offense. They’re playing with 12 and that’s very hard to defend,” Fisher said.
The Rams’ pass rush was mostly silent the first five games of the season. The Seahawks served as a kickstarter.
St. Louis sacked Wilson three times in October. That was just the start. Over the past 10 games, the Rams have 36 sacks, including eight against San Francisco, seven against Washington and six vs. Oakland. The Rams are tied for 15th in the league.
“It’s one you don’t necessarily look forward to all the time because they do so many different looks, they’re physical, they know how to get to the quarterback,” Wilson said.
With another stellar defensive performance, the Seahawks could join a rare fraternity in NFL history as the best defense in the league for consecutive seasons. Seattle led the NFL in yards and points allowed last season and is in position to do it again. The Seahawks would become just the fourth team in league history to lead those categories in consecutive seasons. Seattle can also become the third team the lead the league in scoring defense in three straight seasons, the last being the Vikings from 1969-71.
Marshawn Lynch likely won’t set a single-season career high in yards rushing on Sunday. But he could cap off arguably the best all-around season of his career. Lynch has 1,246 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, along with four TDs receiving. The 16 total touchdowns lead the NFL.
“He’s the hardest tackle in the NFL, in my opinion,” St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis said.
Special teams difference
St. Louis won the first meeting largely because of its special teams. There was the 90-yard punt return touchdown by Stedman Bailey when the Rams duped Seattle’s coverage unit by running to the opposite side of the field of where the ball was kicked. Benny Cunningham had a 75-yard kickoff return to set up another score.
The capper was punter Johnny Hekker, a Seattle-area native, completing his second career pass against Seattle on a fourth-down fake punt with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game.
“Being able to play for a coach that does like to throw that kind of stuff in quite frequently is kind of fun,” Hekker said. “It throws the players a bone that sometimes doesn’t get recognized.”
The Seahawks could get two key offensive linemen back for their regular-season finale. Left tackle Russell Okung has been cleared to play after bruising a lung two weeks ago against the San Francisco 49ers. Center Max Unger, who missed the last five games after suffering a high-ankle sprain against Kansas City, worked in consecutive practices this week for the first time since being injured.
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