|Creepy skullface Rams fan picture included for optimism. |
The final game of the regular season is here, as the Rams
make the long trek to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seattle Seahawks
. The Seahawks have been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this year, currently sporting a nifty 10-5 record and one of the most physical, dominating defenses in the league.
Case in point: last week, the San Francisco 49ers went in to Seattle and proceeded to get absolutely demolished, 42-13. More impressively than the win or the score, though, was the way in which the Seahawks went about imposing their will on the 49ers. San Francisco has been bullying teams physically the past two seasons; Seattle turned the tables and simply beat the Niners up. It was impressive, to say the least.
On top of being a good team, and a hot team, and a physical team, the Seahawks are also a motivated team; they still have a chance at winning the NFC West with a victory today. So, you know, another tick in their favour. Could be tough sledding for the Rams today.
Keys to not-so-tough sledding after the jump.
Key #1: The Field of Play
The Seahawks enjoy perhaps the biggest homefield advantage in all of football. Century Link Field is a house of horrors for opposing teams, and it shows in the 7-0 home record Seattle has compiled this year. The noise levels in that stadium are deafening. Trying to make any sort of comeback is nearly impossible. In short, going to Seattle just kind of sucks. (If you're an opposing NFL team, that is; it's a lovely city otherwise.)
If the Rams are going to have any hope at all of handing the Seahawks their first home loss of the season, it is absolutely imperative they do something positive early on to limit the crowd's impact. This is a team riding an enormous wave of momentum; they've scored 150 points their past three games, are headed to the postseason as a trendy pick to win the NFC, and are probably the hottest team in the league right now. If the Rams let Seattle work their magic early on and get behind, there will be no comeback.
Fast starts have not been a strength of this Rams team this year. If they're going to have any chance at all today, that needs to change.
Key #2: Keeping Russell Wilson in Check
The Seahawks are running a rookie quarterback out onto the field this season, and it's been going...pretty well. (See that bit about 150 points in three games a moment ago.) Russell Wilson didn't come out of college touted as the next big thing, but he has the kind of dynamic playmaking ability that really speaks for itself, hype or no hype.
The Rams played a similar quarterback already this year; twice, in fact, in Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers. And, much like against Kaepernick, the biggest key to effectively limiting the damage Wilson can do against you is to contain him. He's a perfectly capable pocket passer all the same, and even staying in one place he can hurt you, but it's the broken plays where the biggest issues crop up.
It takes discipline from a defense to keep a lid on an explosive talent like Wilson, and there's no guarantee the Rams can slow this offense down even if they do manage to keep him bottled up most of the afternoon. Still, this Ram defense hasn't allowed more than 17 points in four of its last five games -- the exception being that miserable performance against the Vikings and Adrian Peterson -- and is seeing a clutch of young talent really beginning to come to fruition.
Key #3: 'Roid Rage
The Seahawks will have the biggest of their big-time cornerbacks on the field this week, as Richard Sherman was successful in appealing his suspension for a violation of the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy. Sherman is a special, special player, capable of making a true impact on the game all by himself, but he's also indicative of what the Seattle defense is about as a whole.
This is a team of bullies. Don't take that as anything but a compliment, but that's the word for it. The Seahawks' defense is one of the most physical, just plain nastiest defenses in the league. They punch you in the mouth right out of the gate, and then they never stop punching. I hate to keep coming back to talking about the San Francisco 49ers -- the Rams played them twice, beat them once, and should be done with those guys for the year -- but the Seahawks are really a remarkably similar team. Both have the kind of brutal, physical defense capable of imposing their will on the opposition, and that's exactly what Seattle will be trying to do to the Rams today.
The Rams have done themselves proud this season playing up against physically tough opponents; at no point have I seen the shrinking violets of some other seasons show up. Again, though, in this environment, with the combination of a team with all the momentum in the world behind it, an extraordinarily physical defense, and the toughest atmosphere in the NFL, I'm just not sure how well the Rams are going to be able to weather the storm today.
Final Prediction: Rams 16, Seahawks 34
The season ends on a low note, leaving those of us in the scribing business to cook up positive-spin narratives about how encouraging the season was despite the ugly loss at the end.