Friday, December 31, 2010
Final Word: NFC West
By Mike Sando
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:
QB Matt Hasselbeck's status remains unclear as Seattle's crucial game against St. Louis looms.
Quarterback gamesmanship. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has painted a bleak picture for injured quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's starting prospects heading into the NFC West title game against the St. Louis Rams. There's still a chance Hasselbeck will play, of course. The Rams are probably banking on it. If Carroll is playing injury mind games, he probably has his own team in mind more than he has the Rams in mind. He wants Seattle preparing as though Charlie Whitehurst will get the start. That way there's no letdown if Hasselbeck cannot go.
The playoff picture is clear. The winner of the Rams-Seahawks game draws a wild-card playoff matchup at home against New Orleans or Atlanta. The NFC West champ can expect to play the Saints. Drawing Atlanta in the wild-card round would require Carolina winning in the Georgia Dome and the Saints losing at home to Tampa Bay. The Saints and Falcons were each 2-0 against the Rams and Seahawks this season. They scored 34 points in three of the four victories, with New Orleans beating the Rams by a 31-13 score in the other game.
Seahawks rendered defenseless. Seattle has allowed more than 5,700 yards in a season for the fifth time in the 2000s and the eighth time in Seahawks history. The 2000 team allowed a franchise-worst 6,391 yards. That figure is safe heading into Week 17 -- the Rams would have to gain 688 yards to bring that mark into play -- but the 2010 team could wind up allowing the second-highest total in team history. The Rams can make it so by gaining at least 345 yards Sunday. Seattle is allowing 380.9 yards per game.
Watch those offensive tackles. Seattle's Sean Locklear and Russell Okung could have problems against Rams defensive ends Chris Long (8.5 sacks) and James Hall (10.0 sacks). Okung's balky ankles complicate matters for Seattle. Fred Robbins, the Rams' defensive tackle, also has a favorable matchup against the Seahawks' interior offensive line. The Rams' tackles could have their own issues, which leads into the next note.
Rams like to get a jump. Only the Minnesota Vikings (30) and Oakland Raiders (29) have committed more false-start penalties than the Rams (28) this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Teams visiting Qwest Field have committed a league-high 103 such penalties since 2005. Rams players with the most false starts this season: right tackle Jason Smith (five), left tackle Rodger Saffold (five), center Jason Brown (three), left guard Jacob Bell (two), right guard Adam Goldberg (two) and tight end Billy Bajema (two).
Bonus note. Yes, the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers also play in Week 17. A victory by the 49ers would mark the seventh season in a row one team has swept the other in this series. Draft positioning is also on the line. The loser of this game could select as early as No. 2 overall in the 2011 draft if enough other variables fell into place. The way things stand heading into Week 17, the Cardinals would draft fifth and the 49ers sixth. The winner is likely to lose roughly five spots.