- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - What transpired to open the season turned out to be a mirage for both St. Louis and Seattle.

The Seahawks overcame their slow start and a series of late collapses, including the season-opening loss at St. Louis, to again be in the NFC playoffs and a threat to reach a third straight Super Bowl.

And the Rams proved again they are not yet ready to be a contender in the NFC West alongside Seattle and Arizona.

Seattle will host St. Louis on Sunday with the lone remaining goal for the Seahawks (9-5) trying to land with the higher wild-card seed in the NFC. The Seahawks will be either the No. 5 or No. 6 seed with Arizona already having clinched the NFC West title. But finishing with the No. 5 seed would mean opening against the NFC East champion. Finishing with the No. 6 seed could mean a trip to Green Bay.

“We want to keep driving it and try to play the best we can this week and have a successful week,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We’ll see what that leaves us next week. There will be no reason not to go for it again.”

The Rams (6-8) will prove a significant test for whether Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson can continue on his record pace of the last month. St. Louis has caused the Seahawks problems in the past.

Wilson’s numbers over the past five games are staggering: 19 touchdown passes, zero interceptions and a 143.6 passer rating. They are numbers that should have Wilson in the MVP conversation, but he continues to be saddled by Seattle’s sluggish start that included the 34-31 overtime loss to the Rams to open the season, when he was sacked six times.

In his past six games against the Rams, Wilson has been sacked 29 times.

“He’ll take a sack if he needs to or he’ll throw the ball away if he needs to. But, the guy’s got a ring,” St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said. “I mean, he’s a good player. We’re going to have to obviously deal with him first and foremost.”

The new wrinkles St. Louis will bring into this matchup are running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Case Keenum. Gurley was a spectator in Week 1 but has lived up to his billing as one of the top running backs to enter the league in years, rushing for 1,023 yards despite missing the first two games.

Keenum has started and led the Rams to wins in their last two games, and was 14 of 17 for 234 yards, two TDs and a 158.0 passer rating last time out against Tampa Bay.

“I think we’ve got some good feelings going, but we’ve got to continue to work and get better,” Keenum said.

Here’s what else to watch for as the Seahawks and Rams meet:

BALDWIN’S ROLL: The biggest beneficiary of Wilson’s recent run has been wide receiver Doug Baldwin. In the past four games, Baldwin has caught 10 TD passes, joining Jerry Rice as the only wide receivers with that many TD catches in a four-game span. Baldwin has tied a franchise record with 13 TD catches this season - tied for the NFL lead - and needs 95 yards to become Seattle’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Bobby Engram in 2007.

NEW COORDINATOR: The St. Louis offense is greatly improved with Rob Boras calling plays the last two weeks, both victories. Boras hasn’t hidden the fact it’s been a nerve-racking experience and has vomited several times in or near the booth upstairs.

HANDLING DONALD: Defensive tackle Aaron Donald was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season after being the 13th pick in the first round out of Pittsburgh, and this year he’s been even more of a handful. Donald leads tackles and is among the league leaders for all players with 11 sacks, including three against the Lions two weeks ago. He also leads the Rams with 21 tackles for loss. He’s just the third Rams tackle to reach double figures in sacks and his two-year total of 20 is four more than any other NFL tackle in that span.

NO SCORING: Thanks to holding its last three opponents to a combined 26 points, Seattle is back in the race to be the top scoring defense in the NFL. The Seahawks are allowing 17.7 points per game, good for second and barely trailing Cincinnati at 17.4. If Seattle can shut down St. Louis and Arizona the final two weeks, it could finish as the league leader in scoring defense for a fourth straight season.



AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/

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