RENTON, Wash. – Don’t try to tell the Seahawks this is a big game. Yes, the NFC West top spot is on the line against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
So? It is just another championship opportunity, the same mantra for every game under coach Pete Carroll.
It sounds corny and hard to believe entering a game that means as much as the one at CenturyLink Field this weekend, but the Seahawks believe it. Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin said teams that get too fired up about one game tend to make mistakes.
“They try to do too much,’’ Baldwin said. “They go outside their means. They make things up. We always say here, ‘We just need you to be you.’ If you try to be something else, it’s not going to work out because you won’t be consistent.”
Regardless of the team philosophy, December games with something on the line is as good as it gets in the NFL regular season. When the NFL schedules divisional matchups late in the year, the hope is to get a few games that really matter.
So here we are. The winner is the leader in the division with two games to go.
For the Seahawks, it is a chance to show they still are the big boys on the block, having won three of the last four NFC West titles (and a Super Bowl) and eight division crowns since 2004. For the Rams, it is a chance to show the torch has passed to a team that has not won a division championship since 2003.
Yes, it’s big. Actually, it’s close to a must-win for the 8-5 Seahawks. Both teams enter the game after a loss, but the Rams are 9-4. A victory by Los Angeles doesn’t clinch the division title, however, a two-game lead with two to play looks pretty good.
A victory for Seattle places both teams 9-5. Seattle would have the division advantage with two wins over the Rams this season. A loss by the Seahawks would leave them is precarious position of making the playoffs, even as a wildcard team.
Both teams have games they should win at home to end the regular season _ the Arizona Cardinals in Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers in LA. Both the Rams and the Seahawks play tough road games next week – the Rams at Tennessee and the Seahawks at Dallas.
The Seahawks enter Sunday’s game as a 2-point favorite, but injuries on defense are a major concern.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, probably the leading candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has a hamstring injury and his status in uncertain. Linebacker K.J. Wright is going through concussion protocol this week.
The Seahawks were concerned enough about it that they made a move Wednesday, bringing up former TCU linebacker Paul Dawson from the practice squad.
If Wagner and Wright are out, the Seahawks would enter the biggest game of the season without five Pro Bowl players on defense, including defensive end Cliff Avril, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor.
The Rams have been the surprise team of the season, which likely will make rookie head coach Sean McVay Coach of the Year. What McVay and his staff have done to turn around second-year quarterback Jared Goff is a huge factor in the team’s success.
“It’s a big difference for Goff from last year,’’ Carroll said. “He’s playing up to his potential. He’s making great throws and he’s in command of the offense. He’s really grown.”
And defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has brought out the best in a talented group of players on the other side of the ball.
The Seahawks pulled off a 16-10 victory over the Rams at the Coliseum on Oct. 8. That said, Seattle never has faced a Rams team this good in December since Pete Carroll took over in 2010.
“They’ve really turned everything around and have had a fantastic season,’’ Carroll said. “We have great respect for what they’re doing.”
Just don’t call it a big game if you’re around the Seahawks. It’s another championship opportunity.