The Seattle Seahawks hardly looked capable of repeating as Super Bowl champions following an October loss in St. Louis that dropped them to 3-3.
They’ve won eight of nine since, however, and are on the verge of locking up home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs for a second straight year.
The Seahawks look to clinch the NFC West title and avenge their earlier defeat to the Rams on Sunday in Seattle, where they’ve dominated the series over the last decade.
After looking up in the standings for much of the season, Seattle (11-4) took control of the West from Arizona with last Sunday’s 35-6 road victory over the Cardinals. Winners of five in a row, the Seahawks, who trailed in the division by three games six weeks ago, can capture the West and a first-round bye with another victory. They’ll also get the conference’s No. 1 seed with a win and if Sunday’s Detroit-Green Bay game does not end in a tie, or Dallas loses.
“Week 17 is a huge game and that’s what our focus is on,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “We’re going to keep our sights on that next game. Every victory in this league is very hard to come by and it’s hard fought. You appreciate the wins and the grind and sacrifice that everybody makes.”
This will be the fourth time in five seasons that the Seahawks host St. Louis in Week 17.
Seattle lost to the Rams 28-26 on Oct. 19 with St. Louis scoring on a punt return and converting a fake punt on a fourth down late in the fourth quarter. Losing the rematch in Seattle seems unlikely, however, as the Seahawks have won 23 of 25 home games including playoffs.
They’ve also won nine straight at home over the Rams (6-9) since falling 27-20 in a wild-card game following the 2004 season. In the last seven in Seattle, the Seahawks have averaged 27.3 points to 8.6 for St. Louis.
“It’s a great place to play, it’s a hard place to play and they have a great home-field advantage as everybody knows,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “We’re going to have to go up there and play good football and not turn it over. They have a lot to play for so it’s going to be an exciting game.”
Seattle also had plenty to play for last Sunday and racked up a franchise-best 596 yards against an Arizona team that came in ranked third in scoring defense.
The Seahawks rushed for 267 yards and are averaging 175.3. It’s the second-highest per-game average in the NFL since 1985, trailing Atlanta’s 183.7 in 2006.
Seattle ran for 171 yards in the first matchup with St. Louis, with Russell Wilson gaining 106. He also passed for 313 yards with a pair of touchdowns to become the first player in NFL history with at least 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in the same game. He threw for 339 yards, a career high in the regular season, and ran for 88 against Arizona.
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 113 yards on 10 attempts last week after sitting out the first quarter with what the team called an “upset stomach.” Lynch has averaged 99.6 yards in his last seven and leads the NFL with 16 touchdowns but was limited against the Rams in October, rushing for 53 yards on 18 carries.
The Rams have two Pro Bowl players on the defensive line in end Robert Quinn and rookie tackle Aaron Donald but the unit has been vulnerable against the run in the last two weeks, allowing 271 rushing yards.
St. Louis gave up an opponent season-high 514 yards in last Sunday’s 37-27 loss to the New York Giants which clinched an eighth straight losing season. The Rams had not allowed a touchdown in the previous three games.
”I mean, 500 yards of offense, you can’t do that,” linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. ”I don’t care who you’re playing, you can’t do that. It’s disappointing for us to play like this.”
St. Louis had three turnovers and center Scott Wells twice snapped the ball over quarterback Shaun Hill’s head. Fisher is sticking with Wells, though, valuing his communication on the line and his ability to make the correct protection calls.
Those factors will be of the utmost importance at raucous CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks have totaled nine sacks in their last two games.
Led by three Pro Bowlers on defense, Seattle ranks first in yards allowed at 268.6 per game and first in points at 16.5 per contest, and is trying to become the fourth team to lead the NFL in both categories in consecutive seasons. The last team to do it was the Chicago Bears in 1985 and ’86.