The stakes in this one are simple — if the Seahawks beat the Rams on Sunday they win the NFC West, something they haven’t done since 2016

Maybe it’s fitting that it likely comes down to this game, though it’s worth remembering Seattle can still win the division even if the Rams win Sunday. That would require a Seahawks win over the 49ers and a Rams loss to Arizona next week, one offshoot of LA’s stunning setback vs. the Jets last week.

Seattle’s first three division titles of the Pete Carroll era — 2010, 2013 and 2014 — were also clinched with wins over the Rams (though they then played in St. Louis), all at home.

None was easy, and this one might be the toughest of all.

On to some keys to Sunday’s game:

Matchup to watch 

The battle of the running backs.

When the Seahawks lost to the Rams in Inglewood on Nov. 15 they started Alex Collins at running back with rookie DeeJay Dallas as the backup. Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde were out because of injuries, and Rashaad Penny was recovering from a knee injury. Carson, Hyde and Penny are back, with Penny returning in last week’s win over Washington and ready to take on a larger role. Seattle rushed for 113 yards in the first game against the Rams — 60 from QB Russell Wilson. With the running-back position getting healthier, the Seahawks have had three of their four biggest rushing totals of the season in the past five games, including 174 and 181 yards the past two weeks while averaging 5.7 per attempt. The Rams, meanwhile, will be without rookie Cam Akers, their leading rusher with 591 yards, putting the onus on Darrell Henderson (562) and Malcolm Brown (372). 

Players to watch

Center Ethan Pocic and guards Damien Lewis and Mike Iupati/Jordan Simmons

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Pocic also missed the first game against the Rams because of a concussion. Seattle actually did a credible job on all-everything Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in that game — his Pro Football Focus run-defense grade against Seattle was his lowest of the season, though he did have six hurries. But with Pocic back, Seattle should be a little better equipped to handle Donald (though no one is saying he can be stopped). One thing to watch is the health of Iupati, who suffered a stinger against Washington and is listed as doubtful. That likely means another start at left guard for Jordan Simmons, who started four games this year for Iupati and has filled in during a few others.

Coaching decision to watch

Will the Rams again put Jalen Ramsey on DK Metcalf?

Well, of course they will as much as possible. Metcalf remains on pace for the best receiving season in Seahawks history, needing 65 yards to surpass the 1,287 by Steve Largent in 1985. But Metcalf has been quieter since the first game against the Rams — just one of his five 100-yard receiving games two of his 10 touchdowns have come in the six games since. Of course, Seattle has somewhat shifted its offensive philosophy as well. After attempting 32 or more passes in eight of the first nine games Seattle has attempted that many just once since. But Metcalf also hasn’t been as explosive, with his two lowest yards per catch averages coming in the past two games (10.2 and 8.6, compared with a season average of 16.5). Metcalf had just two catches on 28 yards (his second-fewest yards of the season) in the first game against the Rams, with Pro Football Focus detailing that Ramsey covered Metcalf on 37 snaps and held him to zero catches on two targets. Seattle, though, moved Metcalf around more last week — he had 13 snaps in the slot last week compared with a combined 19 in the previous three games — something the Seahawks may continue to do to try to find ways to get Metcalf free.

The X-factor 

Special teams

For years in this series, it was the Rams who had a habit of making a game-turning special-teams play. But this year it’s Seattle that has the special-teams edge. Seattle has the third-ranked special-teams unit in the NFL this week via FootballOutsiders, and the Rams are 30th. LA still has canny punter Johnny Hekker, a Bothell High graduate. But the Rams have allowed one kickoff return for a touchdown, missed six of 24 field-goal attempts (Seattle is 20-for-20), and have marked disadvantage in net yards in both kickoff (minus-7.9) and punt returns (minus-6.9). Seattle needs to make those trends continue.

Players who could surprise

Ends Rasheem Green/L.J. Collier/Alton Robinson

Carlos Dunlap appears on his way back to playing a full load of snaps, giving the Seahawks one sure thing as a pass rusher. But one of Dunlap’s biggest contributions is drawing enough attention to open things up for others. Seattle will need a team effort to hold down the Rams offense and could use a big play or two from some of other ends. Green, in particular, might be due for a breakout. He has just one sack and two quarterback hits in seven games since coming off injured reserve (and he’s played substantially in all, with at least 55% of snaps in the past five games). Robinson had a key sack late last week, and though Collier has been a little hit-and-miss he also had a big sack on the final series against Washington. Seattle needs to pressure struggling Rams QB Jared Goff, who has only 895 yards passing with four TD passes and five turnovers (four of which are interceptions) the past four weeks. 

Key stat

191 

That’s the points Seattle has allowed the Rams in the past six games, an average of 31.8. Though Carroll is one of the greater defensive masterminds of this NFL era, he’s had a hard time slowing the Rams since Sean McVay arrived as coach in 2017. The Rams have won five of the past six against Seattle, scoring 23 or more in each game and topping 30 three times. The Rams have also gained at least 352 yards in all seven games McVay has coached against Seattle, with 455 or more four times.

The final word 

Seahawks 27, Rams 23

Forget what happened to the Rams last week against the Jets. That won’t be the team the Seahawks face Sunday. The first LA game might have been the nadir of the season for Wilson, who had two interruptions and lost a fumble. Seattle has retooled its offense since then to lean on its running game more, playing in hand with a rapidly improving defense. But the key to this one could still be Wilson, who gives Seattle an edge at the game’s most important position over the erratic Goff. Count on Wilson to make a few timely plays to give Seattle the win and the NFC West.