On paper, this looks like a mismatch. Oddsmakers are favoring the unbeaten Rams by 7.5 points, and Seattle will be missing defensive standouts K.J. Wright and Earl Thomas, who may have played his last game as a Seahawk. That hobbled defense will be trying to slow down a high-flying Rams offense that is probably rivaled only by Kansas City in its ability to score, one that lit up the Vikings for 38 points in their last outing.
However, division games are never easy. Just think back to the dark days of the Jeff Fisher regime for evidence of that. As bad as the Rams were some of those years, they often gave then-powerhouse Seattle all they could handle and then some. The Seahawks will also be out for revenge after the Rams humiliated them at home last December.
Yes, I like the Rams to win this game, but it probably will be a tougher game than many expect. Also, you never know.. A turnover here, a significant penalty there, and an upset could happen.
Rams Offense vs. Seattle Defense:
If Seattle is going to pull the upset here, they probably need to keep the Rams offense from scoring more than 23 points or so, something no one has done so far in 2018. The 'Hawks don't have the firepower to win a shootout with the high-octane Los Angeles offense, barring the Rams going into the full turnover mode. The Seahawks are ranked a surprising 7th in the league in total defense and have been giving up only about 20 points per game.
Then again, they haven't exactly faced "murderers row" of NFL offenses, with games against the Cardinals, Cowboys, Bears, and Broncos. None of those teams is remotely in the class of the Rams, offense-wise. What makes things worse for Seattle is the fact that two of their big three defensive stars won't play on Sunday. Safety Earl Thomas, who may be the best at his position in the entire league, is out with a broken leg. Linebacker K.J. Wright continues to battle a knee injury, and also is expected to miss Sunday's game (in fact no one seems to know when he will be back).
Since the league has now suspended Mychal Kendricks, who had been filling in for Wright, that means rookie Austin Calitro will likely replace Wright. Calitro isn't a bad player and filled in reasonably well for middle linebacker Bobby Wagner against the Bears earlier this year--- but he isn't KJ Wright.
The Rams offense, meanwhile, looked almost unstoppable in their last game against the Vikings. Jared Goff (the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for September) was dropping dimes against the Vikings defense, and all three starting receivers for the Rams topped 100 yards as Goff threw for 465 yards against the league's number one defense last year. Todd Gurley, meanwhile, topped 150 yards in total offense, rushing for 83 yards and racking up over 70 yards catching the ball.
However, maybe the unsung hero of that game was the Rams offensive line, as has been the case all season. While guard Rodger Saffold missed some practice time this week, Rams Coach Sean McVay says that was a precaution and that he should play as usual Sunday. More bad news for Seattle was that their best pass rusher, Frank Clark, was down for much of this week with what speculated as food poisoning. I guess that Clark will play on Sunday, but whether he will be 100 percent is another question. If you have ever had food poisoning (as I have), it can take something out of you for a few days.
Given their injuries at linebacker and safety, Seattle probably has to generate a pass rush in this game to have a chance, even if it means blitzing a lot. I don't think they can do it without going blitz heavy, which could expose their pass coverage. However, we will see.
Rams Defense vs. Seattle Offense
I expect Seattle to go old-school ''ground and pound," trying to run the ball an effort to eat up the clock and keep the Rams offense off the field.
One of the few areas where the Seahawks seem to have improved over the 2017 'Hawks is in their ability to run the ball. Chris Carson and Mike Davis have logged 100-yard rushing games for Seattle, although top draft pick Rashaad Penny has been something of a disappointment so far.
If Seattle can run the ball and get a few breaks, they may have a chance to win this game. However, for that to happen, the Hawks O-line has to handle Ndamukong Suh, Micheal Brockers and Aaron Donald up front. I have my doubts about that happening, although some observers think the Seahawks offensive line is better than people think.
For the Rams, linebacker Mark Barron is expected to play for the first time this season. Rams outside linebackers Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre have shown flashes, but haven't been great overall this year (especially Longacre). They need to step up. If they can do that, this defense could go from pretty good to very good or even great. The other Ram defender who needs to improve this week is corner Sam Shields, who had his ups and downs against the Vikings.
The same could be said of fellow corner Marcus Peters, but I guess that a calf injury still hampered him against Minnesota. I hope for a better performance this week. The good news for the Rams is that Seattle's receiving corps is nowhere near as good as that of the Vikings. The critical battle here will be the Rams D-line against the 'Hawks O-line.
Aaron Donald has sacked Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson 7 times in eight games and took over the game in the last meeting of these two teams in December in Seattle. If that happens again, the Rams win this game in all likelihood.
The special team is an area that is hard to predict, mostly because of injuries to the Rams. Placekicker Greg Zuerlein is out again, and the Rams have signed former Chief Cairo Santos to replace Sam Ficken until ''Greg the Leg" returns. The bad news for the Rams is that Santos is not Zuerlein. The good news is that he is also not Sam Ficken. Rams Punter Johhny Hekker had a rare bad day against the Vikings, but assuming he isn't injured, I don't expect that to happen this week. Kick returner Pharoh Cooper is still out for Los Angeles, but Jojo Natson, who did a decent job filling in for him, is expected back. For Seattle placekicker, Sebastian Janikowski has been up and down but did kick a game-winner against the Cardinals last week. Kick returner Tyler Lockett is always dangerous for Seattle. I'm going to check the box here for Seattle, even though I think it's close
No offense to Pete Carroll, who after all has a Super Bowl Ring, but I think Sean McVay is a near-genius when it comes to coaching an offense, and Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips and special teams coach John "Bones" Fassel may be the best at what they do in the NFL as well. It's not that the Seattle coaching staff is terrible--they are not. It's that the Rams coaching staff is good.
Division games are always tough, and Seattle generally has one of the most significant home field advantages in the NFL. If Seattle can run the ball effectively, play good defense, and make a play or two on special teams, they can win this game. However, the ''play good defense" part against this offense and with Seattle's injuries won't be easy. If Los Angeles jumps out to an early lead and Seattle has to abandon the run, this could get ugly. An upset is indeed possible here, and I don't think it will happen.