(SportsNetwork.com) - A loss to the hosting St. Louis Rams in Week 7 had many questioning if the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks would even be able to make the playoffs.
A victory over those same Rams this Sunday at CentruyLink Field will give the Seahawks a second straight NFC West title and the possibility of home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
Seattle was just 3-3 on the season following a 28-26 loss to St. Louis on Oct. 13, just the Seahawks' third setback in their past 19 meetings with the Rams. But the defending champs have won eight of their last nine games -- including five straight -- to clinch their ninth postseason berth in the past 12 years.
The Seahawks' current winning streak began with a win the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle swept the season series between the clubs with last Sunday's 35-6 victory in Glendale. The two clubs are tied atop the NFC West standings at 11-4, with the Seahawks needing a win or a loss by the Cardinals to secure the division title.
The Seahawks can also make sure that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through Seattle with a victory as long as the Detroit/Green Bay matchup on Sunday does not end in a tie.
They could also do so with a win and a Dallas Cowboys loss to Washington.
Seattle racked up a franchise-record 596 yards of offense versus Arizona last weekend, with 267 of that coming on the ground. Russell Wilson ran for 88 yards on six carries with a score while also throwing for 339 yards and two touchdowns.
"That's a lot of yards against a really tough group," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. "Just a fantastic job."
Marshawn Lynch added 113 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries, including a career-high 79-yard scoring run that put the game away.
The Seahawks already held a 21-6 advantage before Lynch, battling a stomach illness, burst through the hole and cut across the field along the right sideline and stiff-armed Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson at the Seattle 45.
Lynch then powered through Peterson and Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson across midfield and Alex Okafor was unable to make a shoe-string tackle at the 20 before Lynch leapt into the end zone to complete the phenomenal touchdown with 10:14 left to play.
"As good of a run as I remember seeing," Carroll said.
Tight end Luke Willson caught three passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns and Doug Baldwin hauled in seven receptions for 113 yards in the triumph, while Seattle's top-ranked defense held Arizona to 216 yards of offense.
The Rams come in needing a victory to match last season's 7-9 record and they'll try to avoid a third straight loss to end the campaign.
St. Louis pitched back-to-back shutout wins over San Diego and Oakland ahead of a 12-6 loss to Arizona in which the Rams again did not allow a touchdown. However, they struggled to keep the New York Giants out of the end zone last Sunday, falling in defeat 37-27.
Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. racked up 148 yards and two touchdowns as well as some late hits from the Rams defense. One by linebacker Alec Ogletree in the second quarter sparked a brawl that saw three players ejected, including Rams defensive end William Hayes.
In all, the teams combined for 21 penalties totaling 225 yards.
"Very disappointed in the actions on the other sideline, there's no place for that in the game," said Rams coach Jeff Fisher. "It just was unfortunate that it got out of hand over there. I thought the officials did a nice job controlling it."
Shaun Hill threw for 290 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception, while wide out Kenny Britt made nine catches for 103 yards. Rookie running back Tre Mason ran for a score and 76 yards on 13 carries.
Shaun Hill hit on 24-of-32 throws for 290 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Rams. Kenny Britt finished with 103 yards on nine catches, while Tre Mason had 76 yards and a touchdown on 13 rushes in the loss.
However, the St. Louis defense was tagged for 514 yards of offense by the Giants.
"I guess I'll say I'm extremely disappointed in a number of areas. Defensively, we've been playing better defense than that obviously," noted Fisher.
The Rams have lost nine straight in Seattle, having not won there since 2004.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Seahawks are near-impossible to beat when their offense is playing as well as the defense, something the Cardinals found out recently. Seattle is giving up just 16.5 points and 268.6 yards per game, both tops in the league, and just 184.5 yards through the air in this pass-heavy NFL.
The secondary, led by cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas, is the face of the unit, but the return of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner has been key as well.
Wagner missed five games with a toe injury, but has racked up 44 tackles in five games since coming back, and Seattle has allowed just 6.6 points and 193.6 yards per game during that stretch.
Wagner is second on the club in tackles with 94 behind only linebacker K.J. Wright's 100.
"I think we're playing really well right now. I think we're on it, from the run game to the pass game," said Wagner. "I think that we're really gelling right now in the chemistry that we've got right now. It's scary to the league."
See Wilson or Lynch with the ball is no pretty sight either.
Lynch has put up MVP-type numbers this season with 1,246 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground while adding another 34 catches and four receiving TDs.
Wilson, meanwhile, appears as if he will fall just shy of a 1,000-yard rushing season, having amassed 842 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He also has thrown 20 touchdown passes to just six interceptions.
St. Louis knows his dual-threat abilities all too well. When Wilson faced the Rams in Week 7, he became the first player in NFL history to throw for over 300 yards and rush for more than 100 in the same game.
The Rams defense was able to shut down some teams in recent weeks, but that wasn't the case last Sunday and the Seahawks will look to keep the unit reeling.
While Lynch is making a case as the top player in football, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has a great shot at capturing NFL Rookie of the Year honors. He leads all rookies with eight sacks and has added 17 tackles for a loss.
Linebackers Ogletree and James Laurinaitis have both reached 100 tackles and end Robert Quinn has totaled 10 1/2 sacks.
St. Louis also showed last weekend that it will get physical, but Seattle won't approach the unit any differently.
"We are trying to play the game we want to play, and play it on our terms as best as we can, and not be taken out of that," noted Carroll. "This is no different than any other game, although we do recognize something happened last week. That's not going to change anything."
On offense, the Rams are finishing with Hill under center after losing Sam Bradford to season-ending injury in the preseason. The unit ranks just 25th in the NFL with 319.3 yards per game.
Mason has been a bright spot, much like Zac Stacy emerged last season, as he is second among all NFL rookies in rushing yards with 737 despite not starting the first four games of the season.
Mason is one of many players on the Rams just looking to finish on a high note.
"We want to play good football. That's what we want to do," said Fisher. "We want to go into the offseason having finished up playing good football. They know that and they understand the challenge. We've got four days or whatever it is here to really focus and prepare ourselves and go up and play good ball."
It looks like the Seahawks will be enjoying the comfort of home and help from the vaunted "12th Man" in the upcoming playoffs.
With the offense and defense moving like perfect clockwork, even the NFL's elite would have trouble stopping the Seahawks right now, let along the offensively-challenged Rams.
To Carroll's credit, his team most likely won't be looking past this game and should roll into the postseason off a big win.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Seahawks 27, Rams 9