For the fourth time in franchise history, the Seahawks will face a team in the playoffs that they split with during the regular season when they host the Los Angeles Rams in a wild-card game Saturday.
And if you’re looking for good omens, Seattle won the rubber match each time — Denver in 1983, the Raiders in 1984 and the 49ers in 2013.
You want another good omen?
Seattle has never lost a home playoff game under coach Pete Carroll, going 6-0 and winning by an average of 9.8 points.
But as Carroll says, it’s not what you’ve done but what you’re going to do.
So let’s look at some keys to Saturday’s game at Lumen Field:
Matchup to watch
Seattle WR DK Metcalf vs. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey
Metcalf turned in the best statistical receiving season in Seahawks history with 1,303 yards. But he gained little of that in two games against the Rams — eight receptions for 87 yards and no touchdowns on 12 targets. And he gained even less when matched up against Ramsey. According to the NFL Network, Ramsey had single coverage on Metcalf on 53 of his 77 routes against the Rams, holding him to one reception for 11 receiving yards on four targets. That’s why the Seahawks had Metcalf line up in different spots when they hosted the Rams on Dec. 27 — to get him matched up against someone else. According to Pro Football Focus, Metcalf was in the slot for a career-high 22 snaps in Seattle’s 20-9 win over the Rams on Dec. 27, from where he had most of his six catches in that game (for 59 yards). Expect Seattle to do more of that. Via PFF, Ramsey allowed just 309 passing yards on 581 coverage snaps this season.
Player to watch
Right guard Damien Lewis
We’re highlighting Lewis as a way to address one key matchup — Seattle’s interior front against Rams standout tackle Aaron Donald. Lewis had a stellar rookie season, named to Pro Football Focus’ All-Rookie team this year and the 18th-best rookie overall. Lewis graded much better as a run blocker than a pass blocker this year, though, and Donald is one of the best interior pass rushers in NFL history. Via PFF, Donald finished with the league lead in pressures (96), 20 more than any other player. The task of dealing with Donald won’t fall to Lewis solely, of course. Center Ethan Pocic and left guard Mike Iupati will get their time, with Seattle also doubling him and using backs. But somehow the Seahawks must keep Donald from wreaking too much havoc.
Coaching decision to watch
How aggressive will the offense be early?
Seattle’s slow offensive start last week against the 49ers didn’t appear to be a result of trying to establish the run. The Seahawks called 22 pass plays in the first half last week to just 10 runs.
But seven of Seattle’s first nine first-down plays were runs that gained just 15 yards, which fit a recent pattern of throwing less often on first down than earlier in the year. For the season, Seattle threw on first down 60.67% of the time, about four percentage points higher than in 2019. But that dropped to 51.92% the last three games this season (and was 52.38% against the 49ers). Wilson’s best down passing this season was first down — a 109.3 rating and 8.3 yards per attempt. The Rams, though, had statistically the NFL’s best pass defense, allowing 190.7 passing yards per game. It might be easier said than done to throw on running downs. But it might be worth a shot.
The Rams’ quarterback situation
Will Jared Goff’s surgically-repaired right thumb progress well enough that he can start? Or will the Rams have to go with John Wolford, who would be making just the second start of his career?
If the Rams go with Wolford, you’d think Seattle might come at him aggressively early. Wolford impressed last week with his poise and mobility. But if he gets the call, Seattle might want to test both of those early. The same might be true if Goff plays — he’s far less mobile than Wolford, and if he plays just 13 days after breaking his thumb he might be more prone to inaccurate passes, especially under pressure.
Player who could surprise
OK, Dickson is far from an off-the-radar player, having turned in a season worthy of the Pro Bowl. But considering the Rams’ strong defense and QB situation, Carroll might more than ever want to force them into mistakes, and Dickson’s ability to pin opponents deep could loom large. Dickson led the NFL with 32 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Four came in the win over the Rams, all inside the 15, on five punts, when he had a net average of 46.4 yards.
The first stat is how many consecutive home playoff games Seattle has won, and the second is Seattle’s home playoff record. The 10-game streak dates to the 27-20 loss to the Rams in a wild-card game following the 2004 season. The only other home playoff loss in Seattle history came following the 1999 season against Miami, the final game in the Kingdome. Home-field advantage, though, was muted around the NFL this year with few, if any, fans allowed at games. Home teams were just 127-128-1. Seattle bucked that trend, going 7-1 a year after going 4-4. But especially with the Rams’ quarterback situation, this is one time it’d be nice to have a loud, full-throated stadium and true home-field advantage.
The final word
Seahawks 20, Rams 13
For all the angst about the Seahawks, they DID go 12-4 this season, better than all but three other teams. The Rams have possibly the league’s best defense, so this probably won’t be easy on the heart. But the bet here is that it’s similar to the game two weeks ago. Seattle — and Wilson, who also despite inconsistencies threw for more TDs than anyone other than Aaron Rodgers — will find a way late to survive and advance.