EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Even as the Atlanta Falcons were driving toward a potential game-winning drive in San Francisco on Monday night, the St. Louis Rams couldn't help but root for the division rival San Francisco 49ers.
Not that the Rams have much love for San Francisco. No, the Rams are finished playing the Niners for the year but the trickle down effect of a San Francisco loss would have potentially left St. Louis finishing the season against a less than inspired Seattle team on Sunday.
Instead, NaVorro Bowman happened, the Niners won and Seattle finds itself playing the Rams in a game that has plenty at stake for both teams. Instead of resting starters and getting healthy for the postseason, the Seahawks need a win to wrap up the NFC West division crown and clinch the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
The roles will reversed Sunday as San Francisco will be firmly in the Rams' corner this time around, hoping St. Louis can pull off the upset and catapult it into the NFC West crown.
"We'd much prefer that because, in a lot of ways, if it didn't and they locked up home field throughout and everything then you guys put the little asterisk by the win if that happens," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "We'd rather have it mean something."
There will be no asterisks applied to what happens at 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks and Rams will square off with plenty on the line for both sides.
While it's easy to see what Seattle is playing for, you have to look a bit harder to understand from the Rams' side. But St. Louis has a chance to continue its rebuilding project with an eye toward 2014.
A win against Seattle would give the Rams plenty of tangible building blocks to add to the behind-the-scenes improvements they've already made as they pursue a return to relevance in the league's toughest division.
At 7-8, the Rams have a chance to get to .500 for the first time since 2006. An 8-8 record is, by definition, mediocre but it would also represent a sign of progress for a franchise that hasn't even sniffed mediocrity much in the past decade.
"We were close last year," Fisher said. "It'd be great. It'd be a great way to go into the offseason, but I think overall what we've done over the last couple weeks against a very good opponent -- in particular, two weeks ago -- I think you can see the improvement. That's where we are. The guys, I heard them talking [Sunday] after the ball game that they've got a lot of games left. They don't want to stop playing. So, that ought to be a daily reminder as we push through the offseason."
An eighth win would also give the Rams a total of 15 in the past two seasons. Big deal, right? Well, considering they went 15-65 in the five years before Fisher's arrival, it's safe to say those wins are welcome in the Gateway city.
Beating Seattle would also give the Rams their first three-game winning streak of the season. Perhaps most important, it would allow them to send a reminder to the NFC West that they're still a team to be dealt with in a division arms race that seems to get stronger by the week.
The Rams wrapped up a winning record outside the NFC West last week but have just one win in the division this year. You'd be hard pressed to find a more impressive win for the resume than one that takes place at Seattle when the Seahawks have so much on the line.
Fisher said Wednesday afternoon his team's motivation for this one is palpable.
"You can tell right now they're really excited," Fisher said. "This is a meaningful game for the Seahawks and this is a meaningful game for us because it's our last one. So, they want to play well."
From the outside, the chances of the Rams actually playing spoiler and knocking Seattle from its perch might look like a long shot but for those who have followed the three meetings since Fisher took over, it's far from it.
In fact, there aren't many teams that have played Seattle as close as the Rams in the past two seasons. In those three meetings, the Seahawks have outscored the Rams by a total of six points and have just one more takeaway than St. Louis.
The Rams have actually outgained the Seahawks in those meetings by an average of 318.7 to 272 total yards per game and the Rams have piled up 15 sacks in those meetings.
While Seattle is 2-1 against the Fisher-led Rams, every yard and every point has been hotly contested.
"I think there's matchups," Fisher said. "You have to have speed up front on defense to match [Seattle quarterback] Russell's [Wilson] speed and we can do that, but every game's different. You can look back and say they were close, but the matchups are the same, but the games are different. We can't go up there thinking, well we played them close the last few times we played them, so expect to go in there and play them close again. You have to actually go in there and execute."
Make no mistake, the Rams have plenty of respect for Seattle and its recent success but they also are well aware of the opportunity that waits. Although the Rams won't be playing in the postseason again this year, they could view this as a chance to play for something meaningful.
"I think it is," middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "We've got a big one in Seattle. [For a] young team, that's a tough place to play. It's very loud, and a very good football team, and they play a lot better at home. It'll be a big rivalry game for us. It'll mean a lot for us."