Be wary, Seahawks: Rams shape up as perfect trap game

December 26, 2012 

The Seahawks’ regular season ends Sunday at CenturyLink Field, where the St. Louis Rams figure to become the latest victims of Team Buzz-Saw.

Or maybe not.

The forecast is calling for a slight possibility of chaos and the stronger possibility of a letdown. Not that I’m eager to rain on anybody’s Road-to-the-Super-Bowl parade, but football is a game played by human beings. It will have been a week (a Christmas holiday week, at that) since the Seahawks drubbed San Francisco on national television.

Factor in the anticipated announcement, which could come as soon as today, that cornerback Richard Sherman – the defense’s best player and most animated yell leader – must begin a four-game suspension against the Rams, and a letdown of some degree appears inevitable.

All eyes at the Clink will be on the out-of-town scoreboard, adding to the potentially conflicted emotions of the afternoon. If the 49ers allow the Cardinals to hang around long enough to keep the NFC race in suspense, the Seahawks will have plenty of motivation to win their regular-season finale.

On the other hand, if the Niners are as dominant against visiting Arizona as Las Vegas oddsmakers think they will be – San Francisco is a 15-point favorite – it could have some strange implications for a team, and a crowd, familiar with the fever-pitch intensity of a Seattle home game.

Say the 49ers (whose kickoff, like the Seahawks’ start, is scheduled for 1:25 p.m.) go into halftime with a commanding lead. In that case Seattle will have no tangible ambitions at stake during their second half: They’ll be guaranteed nothing worse than the fifth NFC playoff seed, thanks to a tiebreaker edge over both Minnesota and Chicago.

Realizing that the No. 2 seed, along with the first-round bye and second-round home game, is out of the question, will coach Pete Carroll consider substituting for the regulars in the third or fourth quarter? While I suspect – and hope – Carroll doesn’t give into the temptation, he could justify it by noting that a road playoff game awaits his team the following Saturday.

With a short practice week and a long trip on the Seahawks’ agenda, and with Sherman facing an almost certain suspension, the last thing Carroll needs to contemplate is a fluke injury sustained in a game that poses no reward for winning and no consequence for losing.

Ah, but there’s this palpable surge of momentum the Seahawks have been riding ever since rookie quarterback Russell Wilson directed two inspired touchdown drives against the Bears on Dec. 2. The first helped send the game into overtime, the other won it.

As the Seahawks were grilling fiddy-burgers on the Cardinals and Bills, you and I and all the household pets between Alaska and Montana got the sense of a seismic power shift afoot in the NFL.

When the obliteration of the 49ers was seen on NBC, football commentators across the country piled onto the bandwagon.

The gist of their analysis: “This is a playoff-bound team nobody else wants to face right now.”

True that, but momentum seemingly attained in one day also can be surrendered in one day. Losing to St. Louis, with nothing obvious on the line except record-book implications – 11-5 looks a bit better than 10-6 – costs the Seahawks their mojo, with no assurance they’ll ever get it back.

The Rams will be up to the task. All but eliminated from the playoffs five weeks ago, when they fell to 3-6-1, new coach Jeff Fisher has his 7-7-1 team positioned to finish with its first winning record since 2003.

A 49ers victory on Sunday will likely find the Seahawks going places – either Washington, to take on the Redskins, or Dallas, to take on the Cowboys. Whatever happens between San Francisco and Seattle, the Seahawks are playing football in January.

But for the Rams, the 2012 finale at the Clink is their version of a playoff game, an opportunity to finish a turnaround season with an emphatic “gotcha!” to the midsection of their once and future rivals. Still undefeated in the NFC West, their mission is to return to St. Louis with a 2-0 record against The Playoff Team Nobody Else Wants To Face Right Now.

Sunday is looming as a classic trap-game challenge for the Seahawks. They’re supposed to win, and they’re expecting to win. A Rams team that hasn’t been relevant in years doesn’t barge into CenturyLink Field and shut up the 12th Man, does it?

Beware these guys. Beware their hunger, and their determination to surprise the home team as it glances, every few minutes, at the out-of-town scoreboard update from San Francisco.

Beware the letdown.


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