The Seahawks are 10-2 and can clinch a playoff berth with a win on Sunday, but they know they'll have their hands full with the Rams (7-5), who are coming off a big win and are still alive in the NFC playoff hunt.
If the Seahawks are going to emerge with a win and stay perfect on the road, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday night's game:
1. Seattle's one-two punch running game vs. a loaded Rams front seven.
Russell Wilson threw for four touchdowns and posted a season-high 151.8 passer rating the last time these teams met, so obviously the Seahawks will count on the passing game to do its part against the Rams on Sunday. But what could make the biggest difference for the Seahawks offense is a running game that has added a new element since these teams played in Week 5.
While Chris Carson has been a big part of Seattle's offense all year, including when he ran for 118 of Seattle's 167 rushing yards against the Rams, the Seahawks have seen Rashaad Penny take on a much bigger role over the past two weeks, giving the Seahawks a dangerous one-two punch out of their backfield.
Penny ran for a career-best and Seahawks season-high 129 yards with a touchdown in a Week 12 win in Philadelphia, then backed that up with 74 rushing yards and 33 receiving yards against the Vikings last week, scoring rushing and receiving touchdowns. With Carson rushing for 102 and a touchdown, the Seahawks finished with a season-best 218 rushing yards last week.
Facing a dangerous pass-rush that features two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, the Seahawks know a balance approach will help them, and they feel good about their chances of running the ball.
"I think we're playing our best football up front and this is a perfect time of the year for it," said left tackle Duane Brown. "Minnesota has a great really good defense. Really good against the run. For us to get over 200 yards is special. It's always a point of emphasis for us to run the football effectively and consistently. We were able to do that. We were able to keep Russ clean, play penalty free, and if you add those things up it gives us a great chance to win. I'm appreciative for my guys up front and the way we battled, as well as Rashaad and Chris Carson ran very tough. In November and December that's the kind of football you need to play if you want to be successful."
The Seahawks know that nothing will come easy this week against a Rams defense that allows just 3.7 yards per carry, tied for third best in the league.
"They've got some really good players," Brown said. "Obviously Aaron Donald is as good as there is in this league, Clay Matthews, really good player, (Michael) Brockers, (Dante) Fowler, they have a ton of really good players over there. They play well, they're fast. It's a challenge for us for sure. The run game is going to be important; I think they really thrive in rushing the passer, they try to make you one dimensional, and have you drop back and that's kind of when the pin their ears back. So, we want to avoid that kind of game, especially on the road in their environment, and go from there."
2. Todd Gurley vs. Seattle's run defense.
The Rams threw for 395 yards against the Seahawks earlier this season, but a big reason the Seahawks still won that game is that they limited Pro-Bowl running back to just 51 yards on 14 carries. And while Jared Goff is coming off of a big performance that earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in Week 13, the Seahawks know that stopping Gurley still has to be a priority.
That's especially true given the Rams' increased usage of Gurley of late. While Gurley's touches and production are down this year from the past two seasons, Gurley has been used more of late, carrying 25 times for 97 yards in a Week 11 win over Chicago, and 19 times for 95 yards in last week's win over the Cardinals.
"I think they're handing the ball off to Gurley a lot more than they were the last time we played them," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "I think it's in their team's benefit to give that guy the ball. So, we just have to be ready for him and be ready to stop him, he's fun to play against."
Said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll "He's such a great player. He's just such a complete football player. The running for sure. The special plays that he makes because of his style and his ability to break tackles and make you miss and all that. Then, given the whole passing game that he's extremely involved with as well, just gets him space and gets him up the screens and the perimeter stuff that they do. He's an incredible factor. When he's at his best like he has been—he carried the ball 19 times or 20 times two out of the last three weeks—they're on it. They're really good when he's going. He's just that good of a player."
3. The Seahawks pass rush vs. L.A.'s pass protection.
One of the biggest reasons for the Seahawks' recent defensive turnaround has been the improvement of the pass rush, which has produced eight sacks and 26 quarterback hits in the past three games. That pass rush has been a big factor in the Seahawks coming up with 11 takeaways over that same three-game span.
"You just see how much production they're getting out of their front and their rush," Rams coach Sean McVay said on a conference call. "Obviously, (Jadeveon) Clowney's done a great job. They're doing a good job getting Jarran Reed back. That's been a big boost. They're doing a nice job moving the front. I think it's made a huge impact. I just continue to come away impressed with how their defense as a whole attack the football and give the opportunities for the offense when they get it back to them."
The Rams have done a good job protecting Goff this year, allowing 19 sacks, tie for third fewest in the league, but with right tackle Rob Havenstein listed as doubtful, the Seahawks will hope to continue their recent trend of making life difficult on opposing quarterbacks.