By Danny O'Neil
Coronation or crisis?
Those are the two options facing the Seahawks in their regular-season finale against St. Louis on Sunday at CenturyLink Field. This game will iron out the contradictions that Seattle carries into the final week of what could be a historically successful season or one of its greatest disappointments.
At this point, there is no middle ground between the two scenarios. It's one of the other.
Running back Marshawn Lynch hasn't topped 100 yards rushing in any of the last five games, which has contributed to the Seahawks' struggles on offense. (AP)
"The fact that there's something at stake, legitimately, is good for us," coach Pete Carroll said, "and we'll try to make the most of it."
There isn't a better opponent than the Rams. At least not in terms of testing Seattle's readiness for the playoffs.
Now, for clinching the division, the Seahawks certainly would prefer an easier foe than this Rams team that sacked Russell Wilson seven times in that October meeting on Monday night and has held the Seahawks to 20 points or fewer in each of the three games since Jeff Fisher became St. Louis' coach.
But this is also a Rams team that hasn't won in Seattle since 2004, a team that is starting Kellen Clemens and quarterback, and if the Seahawks can't win at home against a 7-8 Rams team playing for its first non-losing season since 2006, well, this Seahawks team isn't capable of the Super Bowl run that seemed to be its destiny just three weeks ago.
A loss to the Rams won't keep Seattle from making the playoffs, but a win would go a long way to showing the Seahawks are in fact ready for the postseason. Coronation or crisis: which is it going to be?
The Seahawks own the very best record in the NFL. They also have an offense leaving skid marks as it has careened into a ditch over the past three weeks. Seattle stands one win away from matching the franchise record for regular-season victories, but just one loss away from a freefall that was almost unthinkable when December started.
|• Michael Grey: They have 30 or more rush attempts.||• Jim Moore: The Rams don't rush for 100 yards and Robert Quinn doesn't have any sacks.||• Dave Wyman: They score on defense.||• Bob Stelton: They can figure out their third-down problems and get the offense moving, don't trade field goals for touchdowns, limit the damage done by Robert Quinn and Chris Long, and eliminate the absurd penalties.||• Dave Grosby: Russell Wilson completes 60 percent or more of his passes.||• Brock Huard: Marshawn Lynch gets more than 75 yards rushing.||• Danny O'Neil: They have more rushing yards than the Rams.|
Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt, and in the NFC West it has generated competition. A division that was once a punchline has become a powerhouse with bare-knuckle defenses that are loaded up front and offenses that seek to run the ball above all else.
"Everybody knows each other," safety Earl Thomas said. "It's going to be another physical game."
And that makes it another test of Seattle's staying power a week after Arizona came to CenturyLink Field and became the first team to leave with a victory as it outlasted the Seahawks in a four-quarter battle of attrition. Don't expect it to be any easier this week when the Rams come to town, knowing they outrushed Seattle 200 yards to 44 back in the first meeting this year.
"It's about who can do it the longest, the best," Thomas said.
That will be as true for this game as it is for this Seahawks season.
Can the Seahawks sustain what they started? A victory will earn the Seahawks the division title, the top seed in the NFC playoffs and a first-round bye. It will mean that Seattle accomplished every strategic objective possible in the regular season and give the Seahawks some distance between the playoffs and this recent run in which they've lost twice in three games and scored just 17 points off the 10 turnovers the defense has forced in that time.
A loss would increase the uncertainty that is encroaching upon this Seahawks team. Why is this team struggling to score in December after it streaked through the final month last season? What about the running game, which has gone five weeks and counting without Marshawn Lynch hitting triple digits in a game?
This game is one last chance not only for Seattle to win the NFC West, but to regain a little of the momentum it had just three weeks ago.
"It's a good challenge," tackle Breno Giacomini said. "Especially this week. These guys are tough, man."
There are no secrets this week. Not in terms of the stakes for Seattle or the strategy or the significance as the Seahawks attempt to finish off what would be a remarkable regular season against an opponent that doesn't need a scouting report to know what's coming.
"This time of the year – especially division opponents – they know you," fullback Michael Robinson said. "We're not going to change much. They're not going to change much. It's all about execution."