Not many pinned the St. Louis Rams to be successful after losing quarterback Sam Bradford in the middle of the season, but they have a real shot at playing spoiler against the Seattle Seahawks in the conclusion of the NFL's regular season.
Week 17 will give the Rams the chance to go 8-8 on the season after losing Bradford in Week 7. The Seahawks enter play having yet to establish their fate in regards to the playoffs. While they have already clinched a playoff berth, Seattle has yet to win the division or clinch home-field advantage throughout.
There's a lot on the line for both teams in this one. While the Rams are eliminated from playoff contention, there's still a lot for them to play for.
A few of the top storylines from the NFL this week will be resolved in this game.
Can the Seahawks Bounce Back?
Perhaps the biggest storyline in this game is whether not the Seahawks can bounce back from a shocking loss in the fourth quarter to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16. The most shocking thing about the loss was that it happened on their home turf—a place Russell Wilson had previously been undefeated.
The defense—a unit that has been stellar all season long—let the team down late in the fourth quarter. Carson Palmer put the offense on his back and made the plays that a big-time quarterback must make. He's the reason why the Cardinals still have an outside chance at an NFC playoff spot.
Can Seattle bounce back in Week 17?
The Seahawks are losers of two of their past three games—both to division rivals that happen to be playoff contenders. Losing to the Rams (another divisional opponent) would force the Seahawks to enter the postseason on a low note with little confidence.
Bouncing back and taking care of business against a deceptive Rams team is crucial this week for Pete Carroll and Co. They can't afford to enter the playoffs losing three of their past four.
We all know what momentum can do for teams in the playoffs.
Seahawks Can Lock Up No. 1 Seed in NFC
Aside from momentum entering the playoffs, the Seahawks need a win in order to lock up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Sure, the loss to Arizona proved that Seattle is susceptible to losing at home, but I'll still take them on their home field over any other NFL team.
Wide receiver Doug Baldwin told Larry Stone of the Seattle Times what to make of their loss in Week 16:
If there's a positive I take away, it's a good thing it happened here because now we know we're not invincible at home. This is going to help us not only with the next game next week but through the playoffs if we get home-field advantage.
Perhaps the loss to Arizona will make the Seahawks more comfortable at home. No longer will they be forced to play with the pressure of knowing that their undefeated home mark is on the line. Now, the players can relax and play the game they are capable of.
Seattle is the last team I'd want to face at home, especially as the No. 6 seed.
Rams Can Enter Offseason Confident
Despite injuries, inconsistencies and Kellen Clemens starting at quarterback for the majority of the season, the Rams are in a position to enter the offseason confident in their future.
An 8-8 record following all of the adversity they faced this season is a reason to celebrate—even if it resulted in a last-place finish in the NFC West.
Who will shine brightest next season?
The climb to the top of the division won't be easy, but the Rams are in a good position to improve dramatically this offseason. A full season from Bradford would—in theory—improve the overall chances of the team. A full season of knowing how to use rookie sensation Tavon Austin would also help their cause.
Zac Stacy has established himself as a viable NFL running back, and a full season of him as the starter will work wonders.
General manager Les Snead would do well to acquire another wide receiver and some help on both lines this offseason, but those are only minor needs for a young team with loads of potential.
The sky is the limit for the Rams over the next three seasons.