The hole card for the Seahawks in their quest to win the NFC West is their schedule in the final six games of the season.
It’s a slate in which Seattle will play only one team with a winning record, with four games against teams that currently have three wins or fewer.
Whether Seattle will really have to put that card into play, though, will be determined in the next five days, when the Seahawks face what are two of the toughest games remaining on their schedule — Sunday at Los Angeles against the Rams and Thursday at home against Arizona.
Each is 5-3 to Seattle’s current 6-2.
Win both and Seattle will have at least a two-game lead on the rest of the division when it heads into its “mini-bye’’ following the Arizona game and before an 11-day break before playing again at Philadelphia.
Lose both and the Seahawks could be in third place by Friday.
A split, and the Seahawks would at least still be in good position, especially considering the Rams and Cardinals still have to play each other twice.
Of course, the big carrot remains getting the best record in the NFC and the first-round bye that comes with it, meaning every game of the season figures to have something riding on it.
In the wake of last Sunday’s 44-34 loss at Buffalo, though, what the Seahawks need more than anything against the Rams is something to feel good about in the moment regardless of the bigger picture.
The loss to the Bills was staggering in how the defense fell apart a week after there had been hope that a turnaround was truly beginning in the win over the 49ers.
“It was definitely disappointing,’’ middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said this week via Zoom. “You know, you definitely want to kind of feed off and go off that momentum that you had the last game, and it didn’t work out the way that you’re planning. So you have to go back to the drawing board.’’
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, they will be going with two backup cornerbacks against a Rams offense that has scored 28 or more against Seattle in each of the last five games the two have played, and will have to figure out a way to get a pass rush against a team that has allowed just 10 sacks, tied for the second-fewest in the NFL.
Seattle may be compelled to again want to blitz at a high rate, as it did last week against the Bills in getting a season-high seven sacks.
But a Rams team that thrives on a quick passing game and lots of misdirection can make being aggressive backfire in a big way.
Another poor performance by the defense would only put that much more public heat on defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., with Seattle on pace to allow both the most total yards and most passing yards in NFL history by wide margins (currently averaging 455.8 and 362.1), with Buffalo taking the audacious task last week of basically giving up the run early in the game with the pass working so well (a 28-3 ratio in the first half).
Coach Pete Carroll, though, has made clear he takes as much responsibility as anyone for fixing the defense.
And on Friday, Carroll also spoke with typical optimism of how he thinks the defense could show marked improvement now that end Carlos Dunlap has a game under his belt and others such as Jamal Adams are getting healthy.
“We had a terrific week of planning,’’ Carroll said. “We’re excited about the plan that we have going, but we have to go through and do it on field, so we got to wait to see. … we’re getting back there, almost everybody together so that’s a good feeling. And we’ll see how we turn it loose against these guys.’’
Offensively, no one expects another four-turnover game from Russell Wilson, and as everyone with the team pointed out this week, the Seahawks scored 34 points against the Bills as it was.
Still, there are challenges there, too, with center Ethan Pocic out with a concussion and Seattle giving Kyle Fuller his first NFL start at center — and first of any kind since 2017 — going against a stout Rams line led by future Hall of Fame tackle Aaron Donald. Running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde again were declared out due to injury with Seattle having to rely on DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer at running back.
In all, Seattle will be without seven starters or key players due to injury.
The Rams, meanwhile, are coming off their bye and listed no players as out or doubtful for the game and only three as questionable, and are allowing the second-fewest passing yards per game in the NFL (197.1) and tied for allowing the fifth-fewest rushing yards (94.8). The Rams have held five opponents to 19 points or fewer with turnovers and special teams issues factoring heavily into losses to Buffalo and Miami.
Add it up, and the Seahawks are an underdog for the first time this season, the Rams listed as 2½-point favorites heading into the game.
Wilson, though, said to not be surprised if the Seahawks thrive in the rare role of not being expected to win.
“We’re a great football team,’’ Wilson said. “We’ve done a lot of great things this year. We’ve got to tighten up a few things but I think the reality is that we’re right where we want to be.’’