Well, after all that for the Seahawks it comes down to this — win Sunday and be assured of homefield through the NFC playoffs, lose and be at the mercy of the 49ers and possibly falling to the fifth seed, and likely having no more home games this season.
So what are the keys to game against the Rams Sunday? Here are five:
1, Stopping the Mighty Quinn: The most intriguing individual matchup of the game may be on the line, where Seattle left tackle Russell Okung will attempt to stave off the pressure of St. Louis end Robert Quinn. Quinn leads the NFL with 18 sacks, setting a single-season team record a week ago. That total includes three against the Seahawks in Seattle’s 14-9 win over the Rams in St. Louis on Oct. 28. Okung, however, did not play in that game. Right tackle Breno Giacomini will also have his hands full with St. Louis end Chris Long, who also had three sacks in the first game against Seattle.
2, Unleash the Beast: Seattle is averaging 138.5 yards rushing per game, third in the NFL. But the Seahawks haven’t topped that total since getting 211 at Atlanta on Nov. 10. Marshawn Lynch also hasn’t topped 100 since getting 145 against the Falcons, and hasn’t averaged more than four yards per contest in any of the five games since then. St. Louis, meanwhile, has a stout run defense and held the Seahawks to a season-low 44 rushing yards in the first meeting this year. Lynch has 1,160 yards for the season, but has just three 100-yard games after rushing for 100 or more yards 10 times in 2012. Seattle will need more out of the running game to advance deep into the playoffs.
3, Righting Russell: Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson had one of the worst statistical games of his two-year career in last Sunday’s 17-10 loss to Arizona, completing just 11-of-27 passes for a season-low 108 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was hardly solely to blame for the passing game struggles as the Cardinals did a good job covering the Seattle receivers, and Wilson was often under pressure, sacked four times and hit nine times. But Wilson also simply mis-fired a few times, as well. St. Louis is likely to get to Wilson a few times Sunday. But Wilson and the Seattle passing game need to become more efficient to get the win, and to get back on track heading into the playoffs.
4, Pruning penalites: Or, well, something like that. Seattle coach Pete Carroll has all season sort of downplayed the importance of penalties, noting that there is little real statistical correlation between being flagged a lot and winning. As proof, Seattle is tied for the best record in the NFL yet has been among the leaders in penalties all year — and right now has a pretty big lead with 121. Penalties, though, felt like a pretty big deal in last week’s loss to Arizona as the Cardinals got six of their 16 first downs via penalties, including the third-down conversion that keyed the final, game-winning drive. The Rams game also figures to be fairly intense and emotional — recall what Seattle players said this week about how much the Rams like to talk. At the very least, Seattle will have to curb the extraneous stuff.
5, Turnovers: Okay, maybe the biggest cliche I can throw out there is to state the importance of turnovers. But this allows an opportunity to point out that last week’s game, when Seattle got four interceptions yet still lost, was the first time this year Seattle had lost when it had gotten more turnovers than its opponent (granted, not a lot of losses to choose from). Seattle is 9-1 this year when getting more turnovers than its opponents, and 26-4 under Carroll. The four picks last week (and a plus-two turnover differential for the game) allowed Seattle to improve its turnover differential for the season to plus-18, tops in the NFL. St. Louis, though, isn’t far off at plus-10, tied for sixth. The first game was largely decided due to turnovers as Seattle didn’t have any while getting two interceptions, including Richard Sherman’s pick and 38-yard return that set up a Seahawks touchdown in the first half.