Seahawks and Rams meet again, with control of NFC West at stake

Six points was the margin of victory for the Seattle Seahawks over the Los Angeles Rams back in Week 5, but it was really more like six inches.

Trailing 16-10 with 67 seconds left, Jared Goff drove the Rams to Seattle's 20-yard line, where they had three chances at the game-tying touchdown. They came this close to getting it when Cooper Kupp got open behind Seattle's secondary, but Goff's throw went off the receiver's outstretched hands.

This Sunday's rematch at CenturyLink Field (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox) carries more significance with Seattle having escaped from Los Angeles with a 16-10 victory in the first meeting.

ESPN NFL Nation reporters Alden Gonzalez and Brady Henderson take a closer look at the matchup and what's at stake.

What this game means

Rams: It's a chance for the Rams to take control of the NFC West. Taking a step back, it may also be an opportunity to definitively dethrone the Seahawks, who have made five straight trips to the playoffs and have won division titles in three of the past four years. With a win, the Rams would sport a two-game lead on the Seahawks with two games remaining. They would also stay within striking distance of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings for a first-round bye. With a loss, the Rams would fall to second in their division and their playoff hopes would suddenly dim.

Seahawks: As Russell Wilson was reminding his teammates in the locker room after Sunday's loss at Jacksonville, Seattle (8-5) is playing for the lead position in the NFC West. A win against the Rams (9-4) would give the teams the same record, but the head-to-head tiebreaker would put Seattle in first place with two games left. A loss would deal a huge blow to the Seahawks' chances of winning the division. It wouldn't be mathematically impossible, but it would be exceedingly difficult.

Biggest injury concern

Rams: The Rams received some encouraging injury news heading into this game. Wide receiver Robert Woods and outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who have been out in recent weeks, are expected to return. So are left tackle Andrew Whitworth, right tackle Rob Havenstein and cornerback Trumaine Johnson, all of whom suffered injuries in Sunday’s loss to the Eagles. But the Rams will play the rest of this season without cornerback Kayvon Webster, who starts opposite Johnson on the outside. Nickell Robey-Coleman, who normally plays the slot, will probably replace Webster in base sets. In sub-packages, it’ll be Troy Hill or Blake Countess.

Seahawks: Bobby Wagner (hamstring) and K.J. Wright (concussion) both left Sunday's game in the second half and never returned. Wagner is in the midst of another excellent season that has him squarely in the conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, while Wright is a Pro Bowler himself. Not having either or both of those two every-down players would be hard on Seattle's defense in any game. It would be especially significant this Sunday given the matchup against Todd Gurley, who's a factor as a receiver out of the backfield in addition to being the league's third-leading rusher.

Each team's X factor

Rams: Gurley, who leads the NFL in touchdowns (13) and ranks second in scrimmage yards (1,637). The Rams are 7-0 when Gurley gets more than 20 touches and 2-4 when he doesn’t. He received a season-low 16 on Sunday. That was mainly because the Rams ran only 45 plays, but first-year coach Sean McVay stated that he needs to be more conscious of keeping Gurley involved, especially on the ground. The Rams are throwing the ball more often than all but three teams over the past five weeks, even though they’re better off when Gurley is the focal point.

Seahawks: Wilson, who's in the MVP discussion largely because of the degree to which he has carried Seattle's offense this season. Wilson has either thrown (29) or rushed (three) for all but one of the Seahawks' 33 offensive touchdowns. He's the team's leading rusher with 482 yards, and his mobility will again be key against a Rams defensive front that has always given Seattle's offensive line trouble. Wilson threw his 16th and 17th fourth-quarter touchdown pass of the season on Sunday, a new NFL record, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. That shows how excellent he has been late in games. As good as Goff has been in his second pro season, you'd have to like Wilson's chances of outplaying him in the fourth quarter if this Sunday's game comes down to the wire again.

Why they'll win the division

Rams: They’re a more complete, talented and healthy team at this point. Not to mention they have a one-game advantage heading into the final three weeks. The Rams have lost two of their past four games, but that was to the Eagles and Vikings, two elite teams that they could’ve beaten. They still rank first in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average and second in point differential. They’re efficient on offense, intimidating on defense and dynamic on special teams. Yes, they lost to the Seahawks earlier this year. But the Rams outgained them by 134 yards in that game. They’re the better team.

Seahawks: If there's one advantage the Seahawks have over the Rams as each team chases the NFC West crown, it's the fact that they've been here before. Seattle made the playoffs five straight seasons whereas this is unfamiliar territory for the Rams. The Seahawks tend to play their best football this time of the year. Since the start of their playoff run, their 20-6 record in December and January regular-season games is third-best in the NFL (it was first before Sunday's loss). That includes a 12-3 record at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks will play two of their final three games.

Why they won't win the division

Rams: Inexperience. Nineteen of the Rams’ 22 starters have never been to the playoffs. Meaningful December games are foreign to most of the players they’ll count on, which sits in stark contrast with the battle-tested Seahawks team they’re competing against. That’s important. Take Sunday, when the Rams gave up 102 yards on penalties, several of which extended drives and kept the ball out of their offense’s hands. Leading in the fourth quarter, Goff coughed up a fumble deep in his own territory to set up the winning field goal. That can’t happen this time of year. The Rams need to learn fast.

Seahawks: They have an ultra-thin margin for error. That's true on the field, where Seattle has already lost three Pro Bowlers on defense (Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril) and could be without two more Sunday depending on what happens with Wagner and Wright this week. It's also true in the standings. If they lose, the only way the Seahawks could still win the division is if they win out and the Rams lose out. Seattle could be favored in each of its final two games, which are at Dallas (7-6) and versus Arizona (6-7), but those still aren't slam dunks. And winning both would be only half the equation. After playing the Titans (8-5) in Nashville in Week 16, the Rams finish the regular season at home versus San Francisco (3-10), a game they are unlikely to lose. The Seahawks need to win Sunday or their chances of claiming the NFC West will be reduced to needing an improbable scenario to come true.