The Seattle Seahawks (12-4) will host the Los Angeles Rams (10-6) in the rubber match of their season series on Saturday afternoon. Los Angeles won the first meeting 23-16, but Seattle came back to take control of the division with a 20-9 win in Week 16.
Los Angeles Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks
Saturday, January 9, 2021 – 04:40 PM EDT at CenturyLink Field
Both offenses have been trending downwards, and they have not combined for more than 40 points in each of their last three meetings, but Russell Wilson is still a great reason to trust the Seahawks to advance in this one. Seattle is a 4-point favorite at most NFL betting sites. Rams coach Sean McVay is 5-3 against Seattle coach Pete Carroll since 2017.
Jared Goff or John Wolford?
Jared Goff is reportedly a longshot to play this Saturday, which opens the door for John Wolford to make his second straight start. We will assume that Goff’s thumb injury prevents him from playing in this one, which could be a rainy, cold game where grip and ball protection will be extra important.
Going from Goff to Wolford is a significant loss of experience, but it may not be that big of a deal in the caliber of play. Sure, Wolford threw an interception on his first pass attempt on Sunday that set up Arizona on a short field for its only touchdown of the game. He cannot do that against Seattle, but it is not like Goff has been protecting the ball well this season. Goff had 17 turnovers in 15 games this season, and he only led the Rams to nine points against Seattle two weeks ago.
In the last eight games, Goff has thrown more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (eight) and was only averaging 6.57 yards per attempt. That is down significantly from the first seven games this season when Goff had 12 touchdowns, four interceptions, and 8.03 yards per attempt. Wolford was at 6.08 yards per attempt in his debut on Sunday.
The added dimension that Wolford brings to this offense is the ability to run. He had six runs for 56 yards on Sunday, including three first downs on third-down runs. Those are very valuable plays. That is something that Goff cannot do, and designed runs may be part of the game plan this week. Ironically enough, Goff had his career-high in rushing yards in a game against Seattle in Week 16 when he had 23 yards. Wolford can do better than that.
McVay’s offense is built around play-action passing – no team attempted more such passes in 2020 -- and yards after the catch. Theoretically, it should be easier for McVay to plug in any random quarterback to his offense and still have success.
Wolford had three completions of more than 25 yards against Arizona. None of the plays involved play-action, but they all saw the Rams get favorable matchups with Robert Woods on a linebacker, blown coverage on Tyler Higbee, and running back Cam Akers was wide open on a rare deep route.
The last time McVay coached a playoff game, his offense scored three points and lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots. No one is expecting fireworks from the offense this weekend – the game’s 42.5 total is the lowest this weekend. But McVay will have to be creative and show Seattle some different things as they hope to win a low-scoring game.
Should We Trust Seattle’s Defense?
After this game is over, the Seattle defense could be stealing the headlines over Russell Wilson or Aaron Donald or McVay. Seattle has not allowed more than 23 points in eight straight games. In the highest-scoring season in NFL history where teams are averaging 24.8 points per game, this is a really good streak. It is the longest active streak in the NFL, and it's tied for the second-longest streak since 2019.
The incredible part is that this defense was terrible in the first half of the season. Through eight games, Seattle allowed the third-most points (243) in the league. But in the last eight games, the Seahawks have allowed a league-low 128 points.
After the 44-34 loss in Buffalo that put Seattle at 6-2, Pete Carroll’s quote was “I don’t recognize us” when it came to the defense. Seattle had just allowed its fifth 360-yard passer in eight games, and the defense had allowed more net passing yards (2,897) than any defense in NFL history through eight games.
But in the last eight games, the Seahawks have allowed the seventh-fewest passing yards in 2020, only one 300-yard passer (Goff), tied for the fewest touchdown passes (seven) allowed, and only the Rams (28) have more sacks than Seattle (27).
What changed? Versatile defender Jamal Adams, the team’s sack leader (9.5), has been healthy after missing four games early in his first season with the team. Cornerback Quinton Dunbar, who has the worst coverage metrics of anyone on Seattle this year, has been out injured since the Buffalo loss, so a blessing in disguise there. Carlos Dunlap has also helped the pass rush since coming over in a midseason trade from Cincinnati.
That is not a ton of change, but Carroll believes in his system and knows this was a difficult season without a real offseason due to the pandemic. Offenses were well ahead of the defenses early, but things have been getting closer to a level playing field since.
The other simple truth is Seattle’s schedule of opposing offenses got a hell of a lot easier in the second half of the season. While the porous defense was setting records, they were getting picked apart by Josh Allen, Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton before the Patriots could not throw. But the second-half improvement has coincided with facing Jared Goff twice, soon-to-be-benched Carson Wentz, backup Colt McCoy, bust Sam
Darnold, soon-to-be-released Dwayne Haskins, and San Francisco backup C.J. Beathard on Sunday. Even in the Arizona rematch, Kyler Murray injured his shoulder that night.
No wonder the defense improved so much. Still, this whole debate carries much more weight should the Seahawks face Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers in the later rounds of the playoffs. For this week, they get John Wolford and a Rams offense that has not scored more than 20 points in four straight games. Half of the 18 points the Rams scored on Arizona were by the defense, which also had a pick-six off Newton in the 24-3 win over the Patriots.
Speaking of Newton, there is almost no way he would come close to the 397 yards he threw for against Seattle in Week 2 if he played them now. That speaks to how teams have changed over the course of this season and that Seattle’s defense is undeniably playing better. It still may not be a Super Bowl-caliber unit, but it is good enough to win this game for sure.
Should We Trust Seattle’s Offense?
Perhaps the more interesting question is, can we still trust the Seahawks and Wilson as a Super Bowl-caliber offense? Wilson would have run away with the MVP award halfway through the season. He tied the NFL record with 22 touchdown passes through six games, but only finished the season with 40. Halfway through the season, Wilson was completing 71% of his passes with 317.6 yards per game and had 8.56 yards per attempt.
In the last eight games, the Seattle offense was only able to exceed 350 yards or 28 points against the 0-12 Jets. Over the last eight games, Wilson has been held to 208.9 passing yards per game and an uncharacteristic 6.40 yards per attempt.
Like Seattle’s defensive improvement, there is a schedule factor at work here. It is easier to run up stats on the Falcons, Cowboys, or when the 49ers were injured, than it is the Rams (twice) with mega talents such as Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey on the field. Wilson has a losing record (8-10) against the Rams in his career, and they often make things difficult on him.
The biggest fear for Seattle is the offense imploding completely as it did in a stunning 17-12 loss at home to the Giants in Week 13. Wilson lost 47 yards on five sacks in that game. The Rams have also sacked Wilson five times in each meeting this year, but his Week 16 performance was one of his better ones over the second half of the season.
If Wilson can avoid the turnovers that lead to points for the struggling Rams, then Seattle should be okay in this one. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett have not done a lot of damage to the Rams in the last two years. So, Wilson will just have to be patient and realize that 17-to-24 points will likely put this game away.
These are division rivals who just played each other in Week 16, so it is hard for two teams to know each other better than this. In addition to the Goff injury, the Rams may just be getting wide receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive lineman Michael Brockers back from bouts with COVID-19, so their status is in question too.
The Rams are really limping into this postseason after losses to the Jets and Seahawks and just getting by Arizona. It would not surprise me if this game looked similar to the Week 16 meeting where the Seahawks led 13-9 in the fourth quarter, the defense came up with a big sack and stop, and Wilson put the game away with a touchdown drive.
This season, the Seahawks are 9-2 in close games. The defense has held up nine one-score leads (most in the league) and only blew one late lead against Arizona in an overtime loss. For my NFL picks this weekend, I am going to trust Wilson and his defense to hold back another bad offense and cover this spread in a 20-15 type of game.
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.