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Rams-Seahawks: NFC Super Wild Card Weekend preview

Viewers can watch the broadcast live on FOX/FOX Deportes at 4:40 p.m. ET on Saturday as well as stream live on the NFL App and Yahoo Sports app.

The Backstory

No matchup from this weekend involves two teams more familiar with one another. This is Round 9 between Sean McVay and Pete Carroll, but the first in the playoffs. The 34-year-old offensive wunderkind has had the upper hand over the 69-year-old defensive guru in the regular season (5-3). But the Seahawks won the last showdown and are at home because of it.

They're also responsible for the uncertainty surrounding Jared Goff, who's trending toward playing less than two weeks removed from breaking and dislocating his throwing thumb on the helmet of a Seattle defender. The chess match between McVay and Carroll usually warrants top billing between the NFC West foes. But it's the respective work of Rams DC Brandon Staley and Seahawks OC Brian Schottenheimer that's been most intriguing this year.

L.A. boasts the league's top-ranked scoring defense, while Seattle let Russell Wilson cook more than he ever has before. Still, it was the turnaround of the Seahawks' defense that's most responsible for a 6-1 finish. The Rams split their final six games, which was a direct reflection of their inconsistent offense.

Under Pressure

Jared Goff, quarterback, Los Angeles Rams: This might feel unfair. Goff isn't even certain to start -- he's officially listed as questionable -- on this Super Wild Card Weekend. But he'll be judged regardless. His immediate success, which corresponded with the Rams', under McVay quieted anyone who deemed the former No. 1 pick a bust after a rough rookie season. Moreover, his play over 2017-18 convinced a burgeoning fan base its team was a perennial contender as its QB was becoming elite. He's been anything but since, and thus is now seen as the primary reason the Rams aren't either. If he struggles Saturday and they lose, the talk of L.A.'s offseason might center on if they can move on from Goff and his contract. If he doesn't play, but the Rams win, backup John Wolford will be celebrated for whatever he contributes. If the Rams lose without Goff, his general ineffectiveness will be used to sum up their 2020 campaign. Goff therefore really needs L.A. to earn a win this weekend, and he needs to be involved in it just as much.

Pete Carroll, head coach, Seattle Seahawks: As one of just three coaches to win a national championship and Super Bowl, Carroll's place in football lore is secure. Given his age and the Seahawks' limited playoff success in recent years, however, it's fair to wonder if he can take them back to the mountaintop. There seems to be a bit of angst among the 12s that was never there before. (Speaking of which, Saturday won't be the same without them in the house.) Perhaps that's what happens when your team goes to back-to-back Super Bowls and then fails to reach a conference championship game for five years. Carroll deserves a lot of credit for keeping the Seahawks competitive as the roster evolved from a historic defense paired with a young QB on his rookie deal to one built around a potential future Hall of Fame QB making top dollar paired with mostly interchangeable parts elsewhere. Seattle has made the playoffs nine times in Carroll's 11 seasons. It's by far the most significant era of the franchise. But another early playoff exit during Wilson's prime might leave some questioning how much longer he should continue.

Matchup to watch

Rams DL Aaron Donald vs. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson: While it's doubtful Wilson will earn that first MVP vote, he still had one of his better seasons. The same can be said about Donald, who might walk away with his third Defensive Player of the Year award instead. Both had stretches where they were as dominant as ever. Two of Donald's more notable games came against the Seahawks. In the first meeting, he went without a tackle but his presence was indispensable as the Rams sacked Wilson six times and intercepted him twice. Donald filled up the stat sheet a bit more against Seattle two weeks ago, but Wilson overcame a slow start with a pair of TDs in the second half en route to victory. The Seahawks will undoubtedly double-team Donald at times, after he finished second in the league with 13.5 sacks and Wilson was sacked more than all but two QBs (47 times). The beauty of this face-off is how often an extra guy blocking Donald, or rushing Wilson, still isn't enough.

Final thought

Expect this game to be close. Both their 2020 bouts were choppy and decided late, with the defenses deserving the bulk of the credit. That's how most of their battles play out. Only the two 2018 meetings saw each team crack 30 points in the same game. It would be a surprise if either squad approached that figure this weekend. After airing it out for the first half of the season, the Seahawks reverted to a balanced offense in the aftermath of an uncharacteristic amount of turnovers from their QB and their mid-November defeat to the Rams. They've been winning more since, but they've been scoring considerably less. The Rams aren't as predictable, namely because of the quarterback situation. Even if Goff plays, he'll be fighting through pain, and the cold weather will be less than ideal for his tender thumb. Add to that how much he was struggling before the injury. Wolford showed he's mobile in his NFL debut last week, but he'll need to be more than that against a Seahawks defense allowing just 16 points over its last eight games if he plays. If Wilson takes care of the football, it's hard to see how Seattle doesn't advance.

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