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NFC West lead at stake as Seahawks host first-place Rams
By TIM BOOTH
SEATTLE (AP) Perhaps it's a strange quirk in the way the schedule falls. For each of the past eight seasons when December or early January arrived, the Rams make a visit to Seattle.
None of those chilly December trips to the Northwest carried the amount of significance as Sunday's meeting between the Rams and Seahawks.
There have been games of importance with playoff implications, including a 2010 pillow fight between below-.500 teams in Week 17 that decided the NFC West title. But Sunday's meeting represents one of the few opportunities over those eight seasons when the Rams can gain the advantage and knock Seattle from its pedestal on top of the division.
"It's obviously going to be a big one," Rams QB Jared Goff said. "A big one for us, a big one for them."
If Seattle wins, the Seahawks (8-5) would be in first place in the division thanks to holding the tiebreaker over the Rams after winning in Los Angeles earlier this season. Seattle would still need to beat Dallas and Arizona to claim its fourth division title in the past five seasons. The Rams (9-4) would need Seattle to stumble in the final two weeks, or avoid any loses themselves to have hopes of a wild-card berth.
If Los Angeles wins, the division race would likely be over and Russell Wilson's unblemished run of making the playoffs every season would be in serious jeopardy after two straight losses.
"Hopefully, here we are in a great finish mode with all of this stuff that's out there to be had," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "We're going to rely on what's brought us and see if we can pull it off."
There's a good chance this won't be another 16-10 score as in Week 5 in Los Angeles. The Rams remain one of the top offenses in the NFL with Goff's continued maturity, the top running back in the NFC in Todd Gurley, and a talented receiving corps that'll get better with the return of Robert Woods. Seattle's defense is far different than two months ago, potentially down as many as five starters due to injuries.
That puts a huge responsibility on Wilson to rediscover his MVP form that slipped last week. Wilson was again great in the fourth quarter with two late TD passes, but threw three interceptions earlier in the game that helped contribute to the loss to Jacksonville.
Here's what else to watch in the NFC West showdown:
OFFENSIVE OUTBURST: Twice this season Seattle has faced the No. 1 offense in the league at that time. Both times the Seahawks held that opponent to 10 points, including the first matchup with the Rams. It's one of the few times this season the LA offense was stymied. Los Angeles has scored at least 20 points in 12 of 14 games, with Seattle and Minnesota the only two teams to hold down the Rams, both losses.
The biggest issue for Los Angeles in the first game was a season-high five turnovers.
"Anytime that you have one-possession game at the end, other than points there's no greater indicator. We lost the turnover battle five to two, and those are things that we can't afford to do," Rams coach Sean McVay said.
WHO ARE YOU? Seattle has had a month to get used to being without a trio of stars on defense: Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. The Seahawks could be without two more standouts this week.
K.J. Wright suffered a concussion last Sunday against Jacksonville, but the bigger blow would be the potential loss of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. After being bothered by a hamstring injury for weeks, Wagner aggravated it early in the third quarter. While not a direct correlation, it was notable that the Jaguars scored 27 points after Wagner went to the sideline and never returned.
If Wagner can't go, veteran Michael Wilhoite would start at middle linebacker.
KUPP OF CATCHES: Rookie Cooper Kupp has a bad memory of the first meeting against the team from his home state. Kupp had a chance to come up with the winning TD catch in the final seconds, but his diving attempt bounced off his hands and fell incomplete.
It's one of the few times things haven't gone Kupp's way. The third-round pick from Eastern Washington leads all NFL rookies with 783 yards receiving. He has at least five catches in five straight games and last week had a career-high 118 yards receiving against Philadelphia.
"He's really good. He really fits into their offense in a way that they know how to use him," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "He's been a factor in a lot of games."
STABILIZED LINE: The arrival of Duane Brown and return of Luke Joeckel have stabilized Seattle's shaky offensive line. It's far from perfect, but the amount of pressures being allowed against Wilson, and Seattle's uptick in running the football, are clear signs of improvement.
The toughest challenge the improving line has faced comes this week with the Rams' defensive front, including Robert Quinn and nemesis Aaron Donald. In seven career games against Seattle, Donald has four sacks and 35 total tackles.
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Updated December 14, 2017