NFL Preview - St. Louis (7-8) at Seattle (12-3)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Yes Virginia, the Seattle Seahawks can be beaten at home.
And now the NFC heavyweights are in danger of blowing their chance at winning the NFC West.
The Seahawks try to shake off their first loss at CenturyLink Field in two years on Sunday versus the St. Louis Rams, who have a shot at posting their first non-losing season since 2006.
Though a playoff spot has been locked up for a few weeks, the Seahawks have lost two of three since a seven-game winning streak to put their chances at a division title in doubt. They could have locked up the crown and a first-round bye last Sunday versus the visiting Arizona Cardinals, but instead lost a 17-10 decision.
With the San Francisco 49ers winning on Monday night, the 12-3 Seahawks are just a game up on the defending NFC champions. They can still claim their first NFC West title since 2010 with a victory over the Rams or a loss by the Niners to the Cardinals this weekend.
Seattle can also match the best record in franchise history on Sunday. The 2005 Seahawks went 13-3 en route to an appearance in Super Bowl XL.
But first, the Seahawks will look to bounce back from having their 14-game home winning streak snapped. Seattle took a one-point lead over Arizona on Russell Wilson's 11-yard touchdown pass to Zach Miller with 7:26 on the clock in the fourth quarter, but Arizona came back and went ahead with Carson Palmer's 31-yard scoring strike to Michael Floyd.
Arizona successfully converted the two-point try to account for the final margin with 2:13 to play.
"We saw a tremendous defensive football game today. It was a slugfest they won out," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "We had trouble in all phases today. We had some stuff after the whistle. We could not find the hookups we normally get. This goes into next week."
It was Seattle's first loss at home since Dec. 24, 2011 and the first of Wilson's NFL career. The quarterback threw for just 108 yards and was sacked four times while throwing a pick.
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 71 yards on 18 carries for Seattle, which got four interceptions from its defense. Two of those were by cornerback Richard Sherman.
The Rams are certainly no stranger to the Seahawks' excellent play at home. They are just 1-10 all-time at CenturyLink Field and have lost 15 of the past 17 meetings overall.
That includes a 14-9 loss at home to Seattle on Oct. 28.
The Rams come in having won two straight and four of their past six games to get to 7-8 on the season. That gives St. Louis a chance to post its first non- losing season since going 8-8 in 2006.
Rookie running back Zac Stacy paced a 23-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend with 104 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 33 carries. Fellow rookie back Stedman Bailey added a 27-yard touchdown run, Kellen Clemens completed 16 of his 20 pass attempts and defensive end Robert Quinn had three of St. Louis' seven sacks.
"Run the football, play good defense and then the other things happen," said Rams head coach Jeff Fisher.
Quinn's third three-sack game of the season gave him a franchise-record 18 sacks on the season, breaking Kevin Carter's record of 17 set in 1999.
Rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree forced two fumbles and first-year safety T.J. McDonald picked up the first sack of his career.
"I think a lot of credit certainly goes to our scouting department for finding those guys," Clemens said of the Rams' young contributors. "And a lot of it just goes to their work ethic. We're fortunate in some regards because some of these rookies still don't know what they don't know.
"I said it a couple weeks ago, we're a football team that unfortunately is not going to the playoffs, but you would not know it by the way that we continue to come in, continue to work and continue to show up on Sundays. And a big part of that has been the contributions that we've gotten from some of these young players."
St. Louis hopes those young guys can help the club snap an eight-game slide in Seattle, where the franchise has not won since Oct. 10, 2004.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Wilson's 14-game winning streak at home to open a season tied for the third- longest stretch in NFL history since 1970 and he still has 30 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions for a 113.6 passer rating in 15 games at home in his career. He has completed 64.3 percent of his pass attempts at CenturyLink Field while throwing for 2,970 yards.
Wilson will need to be nimble on his feet this weekend after getting sacked seven times in the earlier victory this season at St. Louis. Quinn and Chris Long got him three times each.
"I have no doubt that he'll be on it," Carroll said of Wilson preparing for the game after a loss. "He's been studying already; he's deep into the plan, getting ready for it. He really does as diligent a job of preparing as you can do. So hopefully everything works out right, but he'll do his part."
Quinn and Long have combined for 25 1/2 sacks this season, the most by any pair of teammates in the NFL. Quinn has the bulk of those, recording five multi-sack games on the year.
The third-year end has also forced seven fumbles this season and has emerged as one of the top pass rushers in the game. He is also now in the Rams record book.
"It's a great honor. Kevin Carter was a great player. He had 17 sacks, it's tough. To even top that is even tougher," said Quinn. "I can't do it by myself. Chris (Long) was like, 'You've done a lot by yourself.' But like I said, there's no way you can get that many sacks by yourself throughout a year. So, a lot of credit goes to my d-line and defense that helped me get to that number."
The bad news for the Rams is that the Seahawks' strength on offense is their ground game, which ranks third in the NFL at 138.5 yards per game.
Seattle also has the top-ranked defense in football, giving up 281.3 yards per game. The club has had some struggles in stopping the run and that could benefit Stacy (958 rushing yards) as he tries to become the third rookie in Rams history to rush for 1,000 yards. The other two are the accomplished Eric Dickerson and Jerome Bettis.
Since Week 5, when Stacy became the featured back, the Rams rank third in football with 140.9 rushing yards per game.
The rookie back will have to run behind a line that is minus offensive tackle Jake Long, who tore both the anterior and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee versus Tampa Bay.
A four-time Pro Bowl selection and the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, Long signed a four-year contract with the Rams in March after spending his first five seasons with the Dolphins.
Versatile lineman Rodger Saffold slid over to Long's spot and will remain at left tackle this weekend, with guard Shelley Smith taking over for Saffold on the right side.
"Rodger's a tremendous athlete and, when healthy, you could put him up there with some of the best in the league," praised Fisher. "I think we would like to think his future is probably at right guard or even left guard for that matter, but he plays the tackle position very well."
St. Louis' offense will face a Seahawks secondary that will have cornerback Walter Thurmond back in action following the completion of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's drug policy.
In 11 games, including three starts, this season, Thurmond has 31 tackles, a sack, six passes defended and one interception, which he returned for a touchdown. He is likely to step into a nickel role behind Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell, who has played well as a starter in place of Brandon Browner, who was out with an injury before getting suspended indefinitely for a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.
Sherman leads the NFL with eight interceptions, while Seattle safety Earl Thomas is tied for fourth with five picks.
The ground game should be featured heavily by both teams on Sunday. The Seahawks will try to ride Lynch to keep the Rams' pass rush in check, while Stacy has become the playmaker for St. Louis.
As usual, the other thing St. Louis will have to overcome is the crowd noise.
"Obviously, it starts with the football team. They're a very, very good football team," Fisher said of Seattle's home-field edge. "Then, they've got a fan base that never sits down. They stand up for three and a half hours and make noise. So, it's hard to hear and hard to communicate."
There isn't a whole lot on the line for the Seahawks as they are already guaranteed a playoff spot, but the club won't take its foot off the pedal with home-field advantage on the line.
"Every week's a championship game for us and that's how we've treated it all season long and that's how we'll continue to treat it until the season is done," noted Sherman. "It doesn't make it more or less meaningful. It's just another one of those championship opportunities for us."
The Seahawks have blown a few opportunities as of late. They won't do it again.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 17, Rams 9
12/27 14:27:22 ET