NFL Sunday: Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo and Todd Gurley on display in frantic NFC West
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By Cameron Hogwood
Last Updated: 08/12/19 11:14pm
The NFC West will take centre stage in Week 14 of the NFL as the Seattle Seahawks (10-2), San Francisco 49ers (10-2) and the Los Angeles Rams (7-5) continue on their varying roads to the playoffs.
The 49ers will open proceedings at the New Orleans Saints (10-2) as they look to respond to Week 13's narrow-margin 20-17 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens (10-2). Sunday's late matchup will then see the Seahawks, looking to clinch their playoff spot, visit the Coliseum to face a Rams side gripping on for dear life in the post-season hunt.
What to look out for as the spotlight turns to the NFC West...
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Seahawks closing in
Win or tie in LA and the Seahawks will have secured their playoff berth. It's been a case of when not if for Seattle since they took control of their division with a 37-30 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football.
That's not to say they have any reason to ease up over the remainder of the year, especially in light of the unyielding threat from San Francisco and the prospect of a first-round bye still to play for.
Pete Carroll's men face the Rams looking to extend their five-game winning streak along with their unbeaten record on the road this season. Quarterback Russell Wilson is in MVP-calibre form with a league-high 26 passing touchdowns, four fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives. Things are looking promising at CenturyLink Field.
A multi-faceted offense has also introduced what could prove a vital running back tandem in Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. Carson is eighth in the league for rushing yards with 981 for five touchdowns so far this year, having also assisted in the passing game with 32 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
After a stuttering start to the season, Penny appears to have come to life over the past fortnight, rushing for 129 yards and one touchdown in the win over the Philadelphia Eagles before registering 74 yards on the ground along with one rushing and one receiving touchdown in the victory over the Vikings.
The pair combined for 216 total yards and three touchdowns against Minnesota last time out, ensuring their team went unpunished for the 354 yards they allowed on defense and a freak Wilson pick-six.
The Seahawks were ranked first in rushing in the season they reached the Super Bowl back in 2014. They currently rank third.
One concern for Seattle had been its defense, evidenced by the 3,232 passing yards it has allowed so far this season - fourth most in the NFL.
That said, there have been signs of encouragement over the past three games, including the three turnovers forced against the Vikings, the five forced against the Eagles in Week, and the three against the 49ers.
Can 49ers see out the job?
The 49ers were 8-0 in November and looking in great shape to claim that all-important first-round bye. Two defeats later and they find themselves as the fifth seed and potentially heading for a Wild Card round matchup with the winners of the NFC East. It should, however, be noted those defeats came against the Seahawks and the Ravens.
Current circumstances mark a timely test of this team's resilience and nerve. They will guarantee a first playoff appearance since 2013 if they can beat the Saints and the Rams lose or tie against Seattle.
San Francisco continue to parade the NFL's No1 ranked defense having allowed just 3,011 yards this season at an average of 250.9 per game. Arik Armstead, a 2015 first-round draft pick, has starred on an outstanding 49ers defensive front with a team-high 10 sacks for 73 yards along with 42 total tackles and two forced fumbles including one recovered.
Armstead's efforts have combined with 6.5 sacks apiece for DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford in terrorising opposition quarterbacks.
Their next target comes in the form of 19-year veteran and 12-time Pro Bowler Drew Brees, who has thrown for a combined 76 of 104 for 723 yards and seven touchdowns across the Saints' current three-game winning streak. The 40-year-old has shown signs of a return to form of late having missed five games earlier this season with a thumb injury.
Linebacker Fred Warner, who leads the 49ers with 92 tackles, will also be vital in shutting down Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who has contributed as a threat both on the ground and in the passing game.
As for San Francisco on offense, they will be hoping George Kittle can rediscover his top form in what will be his third game since recovering from injury. The tight end marked his return to action against the Green Bay Packers in Week 12 with six catches for 129 yards and a touchdown, reestablishing himself as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's favourite target.
There is also life in the running game courtesy of Raheem Mostert after he rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown off 19 carries in last Sunday's 20-17 loss to the Ravens.
In doing so he asserted himself as a valuable asset in a talented backfield also including Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, the latter of whom has missed the last three games with an ankle issue.
Rams still in the hunt
The pressure increased on the Rams and their playoff chances on Thursday as the Chicago Bears beat the Dallas Cowboys to improve to 7-6 amid their own late charge.
Both sit one game behind the Vikings who the Rams could move level with if they can find a way to beat the Seahawks and Minnesota in turn lose to the Detroit Lions. Unlikely, perhaps. But nothing can be ruled out at this stage of the season.
Sean McVay's side head into the weekend in a positive place on the back of their 34-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals, during which quarterback Jared Goff threw for 424 yards and two touchdowns to win NFC Offensive Player of the Week. As far as responses to a 45-6 loss to the Ravens go, this wasn't bad.
The win over Arizona saw Robert Woods make 13 catches for 172 yards and Tyler Higbee reel in seven for 107 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps more importantly, Todd Gurley ran the ball 19 times for 95 yards and one touchdown amid a season in which his production has been bizarrely limited. If the Rams are to sneak into the playoffs then the kind of offensive balance on display in Week 13 must become routine - just as it was on route to the Super Bowl in 2018.
Asked about the reason for Gurley's increased involvement, McVay answered: "Me not being an idiot?"
After hosting the Seahawks the Rams are met by a tough finish to the year that includes road games against the Cowboys and 49ers followed by a divisional meeting at home to the Cardinals.
The Rams proved they can compete with the Seahawks in Week 5 when they were narrowly beaten 30-29 in a game that saw kicker Greg Zuerlein miss a field goal with 11 seconds left. Going one better second time around would be a major boost to their post-season odds.
Sky's coverage on Sunday begins at 5pm with 49ers at Saints at 6pm and RedZone on Sky Sports Mix (145) from 6pm.