The Rams secured a playoff berth with a 26-20 win over Cleveland on Monday night, their fifth in a row. St. Louis can win its third division crown in five years with a victory over the Seahawks.
The Rams will earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs if Carolina and Minnesota each pick up a loss or a tie, or if the Panthers and Dallas lose or tie and Philadelphia loses.
Even if the Rams win their final three games, the Eagles (10-3) still need to lose one of their three remaining contests to give St. Louis homefield advantage in the postseason. The Eagles have a better conference record, the first tiebreaker.
“That’s what you’d want,” Rams coach Mike Martz said of home field. “The players understand there’s a lot of work left. The goal has never been to just make the playoffs.”
St. Louis has won 28 of its last 36 NFC West games, but has dropped two straight to Seattle. The Seahawks rally from a 13-point deficit for a 24-23 win over the Rams at Seahawks Stadium on Sept. 21.
The Rams appear to have the advantage this week, as are riding a 12-game home winning streak and will face a Seattle squad that has struggled on the road with five straight losses.
In their last meeting in St. Louis, Marshall Faulk scored four touchdowns and rushed for 183 yards as the Rams offense amassed a season-high 478 yards in a 37-20 win on Oct. 20, 2002.
Faulk looks for another big game after rushing for 102 yards on 24 carries against the Browns, his fourth straight 100-yard game.
“It reflects back to the people you have on the team, and the character that’s here,” Martz said. “It’s not just about ability, it’s the attitude of these guys and what they’re willing to do for each other.”
Marc Bulger was 22-of-36 for 223 yards with one touchdown to improve to 16-3 as a starter. The Seahawks have dealt him two of those three losses.
The Rams have made the playoffs four times in five years since Martz became offensive coordinator in 1999, the season the Rams ended with their first Super Bowl championship. St. Louis went 7-9 in 2002 and missed the postseason.
“It’s sweet to get back to the playoffs,” said Aeneas Williams, who returned an interception for a touchdown last week. “We’ve kind of been under the radar most of the season, which is OK. But the coaches have always talked about what is possible.”
The Rams were dealt a blow Wednesday when they found out middle linebacker Robert Thomas, the team’s leading tackler, has a torn groin and will be sidelined up to a month. St. Louis hopes he will be back for the playoffs. Jamie Duncan will replace Thomas for now.
Sunday’s game is a pivotal one for the Seahawks, who hope to make the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season, Mike Holmgren’s first as coach.
The Seahawks lost for the second time in their last three games Sunday, 34-7 to Minnesota.
Seattle was only down 13-7 after Shaun Alexander’s 1-yard touchdown run with 13:42 remaining in the third quarter, but the Seahawks fell apart the rest of the way in their most lopsided loss of the season.
“We didn’t do anything today to change the momentum,” center Robbie Tobeck said. “We did things to help their momentum.”
Matt Hasselbeck, who had eight touchdown passes in his last two games, didn’t throw one again the Vikings. He was 17-for-34 for 218 yards and two interceptions, though his receivers had several drops.
“I’m angry about how we played,” Hasselbeck said. “The true test of this team will be how we bounce back from this.”
The Seahawks have allowed only 15.1 points per game at home, but have surrendered an average of 33.4 points in their last five road games after a 38-0 win at Arizona on Sept. 14.
Seattle plays two of its final three games away from home, including a season-ending matchup at San Francisco on Dec. 27.
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