By Sam McPherson
Back in Week 2, the Los Angeles Rams dealt the Seattle Seahawks a surprising 9-3 loss, and that was the third straight time the Rams had beaten the Seahawks. Los Angeles will go for a fourth straight win over Seattle on Thursday Night Football this week, as the Seahawks look to wrap up the NFC West Division title for the third time in the last four seasons. Both teams had very rough outings in Week 14, with each squad losing by four touchdowns against playoff contenders. How each team responds to that kind of adversity will go a long way to determining the outcome of this game on short rest.
With the game in Seattle and so much on the line for the Seahawks, including NFC playoff seeding, this game promises to be very different from the prior meeting this season. The Rams have lost eight of their last nine, while the Seahawks have won just once in the last three weeks. Neither team has been able to establish an offensive rhythm this season, while both defenses have played well at times this year despite falling short of preseason expectations. Los Angeles also goes into this game with an interim head coach, after Jeff Fisher was fired on Monday following the team’s 42-14 loss to Atlanta on Sunday.
Seahawks Season Record
With an 8-4-1 mark, Seattle has a three-game lead over the Arizona Cardinals in the division standings. In addition to a tie against the Cardinals and the prior loss to the Rams, the Seahawks have also lost to the Green Bay Packers, the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yet Seattle also has wins over the Falcons and the New England Patriots. It’s been that kind of uneven season for the Seahawks, who have struggled offensively all year for a variety of reasons. However, the sad state of the NFC West has left Seattle alone atop the division nonetheless, as the Rams have struggled against a similar lineup of opponents.
Seahawks On Offense
In four straight playoff seasons from 2012-2015, the Seattle offense averaged at least 24.6 points per game each year. In 2016, however, the Seahawks have struggled mightily with the ball, averaging just 21.1 points per game. That may not seem like a big drop off, but four times this year, the Seattle offense has been held to 10 points or less. That had happened just twice between 2012 and 2015, so despite a few scoring outbursts this season against bad defenses in Carolina and San Francisco, the Seahawks just aren’t the same offensive team as they have been in the past.
Quarterback Russell Wilson is having his worst season ever, in terms of QB rating (88.1), throwing just three more touchdowns than interceptions this year. Without a consistent running game, Seattle isn’t moving the ball as effectively as it has in the recent past. The Seahawks have used three different starting running backs this year, without being able to match the success that Marshawn Lynch used to provide for them. However, tight end Jimmy Graham has stepped up to help out the offense, posting his best numbers since 2013. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin remains Wilson’s favorite target, however.
Seahawks On Defense
Despite giving up a season-high 38 points on Sunday to the Green Bay Packers, the Seattle defense still ranks fourth in the NFL for points allowed (17.8 per game). The Packers game was the first time all season the Seahawks surrendered more than 25 points in a game, and it may have had something to do with the absence of safety Earl Thomas, who broke his leg in Week 13 and is out for the year. The five-time Pro Bowler had started all 107 games of his NFL career before the injury, and it will be interesting to see how Seattle adjusts to the personnel loss going forward.
But, don’t think for a second the Seahawks defense will collapse. This is still a defense loaded with talent at every position: Linebackers Bobby Wagner (140 tackles) and K.J. Wright (101 tackles) are ball-chasing zealots, and the secondary still houses perennial Pro Bowlers in safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman. Plus, defensive ends Cliff Avril and Frank Clark have combined for 17.5 sacks, so Seattle isn’t light up front, either.
Seahawks Players To Watch
Seattle’s running game is getting better, as the team has averaged almost 164 yards on the ground over the last four weeks, but the offensive onus is still on Wilson. He threw a career-worst five interceptions last week against the Packers, and you can bet he doesn’t do that again against Los Angeles. Look for Wilson to establish his game early with some QB runs and pinpoint passes to Graham, taking advantage of the Rams’ defensive schemes.
On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks defense will stack the line to stop L.A. running back Todd Gurley, and that means Chancellor and Sherman will be on the spot to cover the Rams receivers down field. If those two are on their game, it will be a long day for L.A. quarterback Jared Goff.
The Seahawks close with three division games, and they have to be thinking that all three games are must-win situations if they want to wrap up a bye for the NFC playoffs. As the Seattle coaching staff has more time to adjust to the Thomas injury, the team will get better on defense.
This game is at home for the Seahawks, and the Rams aren’t a good team. Seattle also has to want payback for three straight losses to Los Angeles, dating back to last season. The Seahawks may not blow the Rams out in this game, but they will win by a 30-17 score with at least one defensive TD in the mix. The L.A. offense just hasn’t shown the league anything interesting this season to warrant a different prediction, especially on a short week of preparation for one of the best defenses in the NFL while also transitioning the coaching staff.