RENTON - These two teams didn't rise to the top of the NFC West so much as the rest of the division suffered self-inflicted wounds that led to those teams sinking to the bottom of the standings.
Predicted to be the top two teams in this division at the beginning of the season, instability at the all-important quarterback position led to defending champion Arizona and San Francisco suffering major setbacks.
So today Seattle (6-9) and St. Louis (7-8) will collide at Qwest Field at 5:15 p.m. for a chance to host a home playoff game next week.
If Seattle goes, it will do so with a 7-9 record, becoming the first team in league history in a non-strike year to make the playoffs with a sub-.500 record. A win for St. Louis would make the Cardinals 8-8 and put them in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
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With the game flexed to prime time for a national television audience, both teams are seeking respectability and a chance to extend their season.
“This is an opportunity to win a championship,” Seattle safety Lawyer Milloy said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but as long as we go out there and use our crowd to our advantage and play good ball, we have a chance.
“I’m anticipating a war, and whatever team wins this game, no matter how much people want to talk about our division, because of what I’m expecting this game to be, whoever is going to go into the playoffs (will be) that much better because this is a playoff game right here.”
St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo has produced a turnaround for the Rams. He’s taken the Rams from 1-15 in his inaugural season to 7-8 and on the brink of the playoffs in his second.
One player that got a first-hand look at Spagnuolo’s rebuilding effort is Seattle receiver Ruvell Martin, who played in eight games for the Rams last season.
“The discipline he brought to that team was different, and it was tough to try and get the guys on the same page,” Martin said. “I think that was a work in progress, and I think you’re probably starting to see the fruits of his labor this year.
“ ... He definitely changed the way things were around there.”
Now Martin is on the other side, trying to beat his former team.
“I’m not so much concerned with knocking them out as knocking us into the playoffs,” Martin said. “It’s going to be fun out there. I’m very excited.”
Rams running back Steven Jackson is happy to have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season in 2004.
“You look around the league and see your peers, guys you were drafted with, play in Super Bowls and achieve a lot of things – you kind of want that,” Jackson said. “This is what we all play for.”
Seattle coach Pete Carroll, in his first season, is playing with house money. Few expected the Seahawks to be in playoff contention after winning nine games combined in the two previous seasons, particularly with the amount of turnover – 275 roster moves and counting – they’ve had this season.
Carroll accomplished his main priority of re-making the roster, cutting cumbersome salaries and evaluating young talent, yet still putting his team in position to play for a division title.
“We’ve earned the opportunity to be in a situation like this, so we’re going to enjoy the heck out of that and hopefully our fans will as well, and everybody around the Seahawks program,” Carroll said. “So this is what happens at the end of the year if you’re in a championship race. We like it.”
If the Seahawks make the playoffs, it will be their sixth appearance in the past eight seasons, and 11th overall in franchise history.
For the Rams, it would be their first since 2004. The two teams have won all but three division titles since the NFL realignment brought the Rams, Seahawks, San Francisco and Arizona together in the NFC West in 2002.
The Cardinals won the past two titles and were on their way to setting up a potential juggernaut in the dessert, but that all came crumbling down when quarterback Kurt Warner retired at the end of last season.
Seattle and St. Louis picked up the pieces, positioned for a chance to make the postseason, although with a combined 13-17 record, it hasn’t been exactly evoked memories of when both teams battled for division titles in the past.
“If just feels like we’re fighting, just like they are,” Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. “We’re fighting for our lives trying to stay alive and trying to get in. Because anything can happen once you get in, but everybody just wants to go.”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org
ST. LOUIS (7-8) AT SEATTLE (6-9)
Kickoff: 5:15 p.m., Qwest Field
TV: Ch. 5
Radio: 1240-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: The Rams won the first game between the two teams this year, 20-3, in St. Louis on Oct. 3. The Seahawks had won 10 consecutive games against St. Louis before that. It’s the 25th meeting of the two teams. Seattle owns a 14-10 edge in the series.
What to watch: Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck suffered a hip injury in the first quarter of last week’s game at Tampa Bay and is listed as questionable. Hasselbeck was limited in Seattle’s practice Friday, and coach Pete Carroll indicated he could be a game-time decision. If Hasselbeck can’t go, Charlie Whitehurst will get his second career start. ... Tyler Polumbus will get his first start at left guard as Carroll decided to put him in the lineup and take veteran Chester Pitts out, giving the Seahawks their 10th different starting offensive line combination this season. ... The Seahawks are 32-25 in prime-time games. ... The Seahawks need 109 yards today to avoid having the worst rushing total for a season in franchise history, set by the 1989 Seahawks with 1,392.
TNT pick: Rams, 24-13.
No. Name (position) Ht.Wt.Year
17 Mike Williams (WR) 6-5235Fourth Hasselbeck or Whitehurst? Doesn’t matter if Williams doesn’t produce.
33 Leon Washington (RB/KR) 5-8203Fifth Seahawks needs some instant offense from Washington on returns.
23 Marcus Trufant (CB) 5-11197Eighth Veteran has been a frequent target of other teams
51 Lofa Tatupu (LB) 6-0250Sixth Needs to play big in stopping Rams’ running game.
8 Sam Bradford (QB)6-4228First Talented rookie will have to make plays to move the chains.
39 Steven Jackson (RB) 6-2236Seventh Physical runner will take pressure off Rams passing game.
72 Chris Long (DE) 6-3276Third A physical rusher who demands a double team.
55 James Laurinaitis (LB) 6-2247Second Son of wrestling legend Animal is the leader of Rams defense.
Eric D. Williams, staff writer