Sunday Night Football Preview: Which Team Has the Edge in This NFC West Battle?
The Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams face off on Sunday Night Football in an NFC West showdown that could swing the playoff outlooks for the whole division. The Seahawks (10-2) are fighting to beat out the San Francisco 49ers (10-2) for the division crown, while the Rams (7-5) are battling for their playoff lives in a competitive NFC Wild Card race.
The betting public loves the Seahawks in this one, with 87% of the bets and 86% of the money pouring in on Seattle (+1.0) to cover, per our oddsFire tool. Bettors are also hammering the Seahawks moneyline, with 81% of the bets and 74% of the money backing Seattle (-102). Finally, the over has been a popular play, with 83% of the bets and 78% of the money siding with a point total over 47.5.
In a matchup of two teams that know each other well, the betting public is taking strong stances across the board. Do our projections see the Seahawks winning in a high-scoring game as well?
Passing Game Preview
The Seahawks enter Week 14 with the fifth-ranked passing offense in the league, producing 0.22 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, with Russell Wilson playing at an MVP level. Despite running the ball at the league's fourth-highest rate (Seattle has a 1.11 pass-to-run ratio), this passing game is among the best in the league, with Wilson making impossible plays to keep drives alive.
Wilson has come back to earth a bit the last three weeks, posting three straight negative Passing NEP per drop back performances, ranging from -0.44 to -0.01. Those matchups were against a tough slate of defenses, however, with clashes against the top-ranked San Francisco 49ers, the improving Philadelphia Eagles, and the stout Minnesota Vikings. Wilson has thrown three of his four interceptions across the last three weeks and has been sacked 13 times over the past three games, so the Rams will hope to keep Wilson under wraps for the fourth consecutive week.
It may not be a coincidence that Wilson has struggled over the last three weeks, as that timeframe matches up with the injury suffered by star receiver Tyler Lockett. Lockett exited Week 10 with a shin injury, and while he has been on the field for his typical number of snaps the last two games, his production has disappeared. With Lockett making one catch for 38 yards on five targets over the last two weeks combined, Wilson is missing his primary receiving threat. Week 12 was a matchup against the Eagles in bad weather, and Lockett was reportedly battling the flu last week despite ultimately suiting up, so we may be able to explain this nose-dive in production after all.
Lockett is the clear star of this passing game with 0.91 Reception NEP per target on a team-high 81 targets, so Seattle needs to get him back on track. While rookie receiver D.K. Metcalf has certainly flashed at times and has a bright future, his 0.56 Reception NEP per target is a far cry from Lockett's efficiency, and D.K. is likely not ready to be the team's number-one receiver. While Jacob Hollister has been a breakout tight end for fantasy purposes, his 0.35 Reception NEP per target isn't close to the production the Seahawks were getting from Will Dissly (0.98 Reception NEP per target) before his injury. Receivers Josh Gordon, David Moore, Jaron Brown, and Malik Turner have all mixed in at below 40% of the snaps behind Lockett and Metcalf, and they have all been relatively efficient options. But with the emphasis on the running game, these secondary wideouts are up-and-down weekly options.
The Rams' passing defense ranks 16th in the league, allowing 0.08 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back in 2019. It's a relatively healthy defense that just shut down the Arizona Cardinals last week, though they will certainly face a stiffer test in this one. Outside of getting lit up by Lamar Jackson in Week 12, this Rams defense has been tough on opposing quarterbacks. The last starting quarterback to post a positive Passing NEP per drop back against this Rams defense, outside of Jackson, was Andy Dalton in Week 8 with 0.01 Passing NEP per drop back.
Wilson did light up this defense for four passing touchdowns on 23 attempts back in Week 5, but that was before the Rams traded for defensive back Jalen Ramsey, and this unit has been on a roll ever since. It will be interesting to see how much the Seahawks test this unit, as the Rams' defensive strength is in their run defense.
The offensive struggles of the Rams have been well documented, and LA comes into Week 14 with the 14th-ranked passing offense at 0.13 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. Jared Goff decimated the 31st-ranked Cardinals pass defense last week, throwing for 424 yards and two touchdowns.
When facing defenses ranked 29th or worse by our metrics, Goff has posted 0.52 Passing NEP per drop back in three games, getting sacked only once and throwing six touchdowns to no interceptions. Against the rest of the league, Goff has recorded 0.04 Passing NEP per drop back over 10 games, getting sacked 18 times to go with a 9-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio. While Goff has feasted on bad defenses, he did have success against this Seattle D in Week 5, throwing for 395 yards on 49 attempts.
The receiving corps is led by Cooper Kupp and his 0.79 Reception NEP per target on 110 targets. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods come in second and third on the team with 0.69 and 0.65 Reception NEP per target, respectively, though Cooks' production has come on just 51 targets. The top-three receivers remain the clear primary options in the passing game, with tight end Tyler Higbee more or less filling in for the injured Gerald Everett as the fourth option.
The passing game overall is being hampered by the disappearance of the running backs as receiving weapons as the group has accounted for only 27 receptions on the year, the bulk of that coming from Todd Gurley and his lackluster 0.14 Reception NEP per target on 22 catches. The offense may continue to struggle against good defenses until Gurley is incorporated back into the passing game.
Seattle possesses the 11th-ranked pass defense, allowing 0.06 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back leading into Sunday night. This unit has begun to come on as of late, holding Jimmy Garoppolo, Carson Wentz, and Kirk Cousins under 300 yards passing in each of the last three weeks despite 46, 45, and 38 passing attempts, respectively. With four interceptions and eight sacks over the last three games, this looks like an improving unit. The Seahawks will be without linebacker Mychal Kendricks due to injury, though they should have Jadeveon Clowney on the field. With the struggles of the Rams' rushing offense, this will be a matchup LA desperately needs to win.
Rushing Game Preview
Seattle boasts the league's 11th-best running game, per our numbers, with 0.04 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry this season. Rashaad Penny has recently seen an uptick in usage and may be benefiting from fresh legs at this point in the season. His 0.15 Rushing NEP per carry on 65 attempts surpasses Chris Carson's mark of -0.05, though Penny's efficiency would no doubt suffer if he had as many carries (231) as Carson does.
Since the Week 11 bye, Penny has 203 yards on 29 carries as a more explosive complement to Carson, and Penny even chipped in four catches for 33 yards last week. With a two-headed backfield that may take some of the weight off of Carson's shoulders, this may be a running game trending upward.
The Rams have a strong run defense, and they will need every bit of it this week. Los Angeles ranks as the sixth-best run defense, allowing -0.06 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry in 2019. Outside of their disaster of a performance against the Ravens in Week 12, the game log of opposing running backs going up against this Rams defense is littered with inefficient performances. Carson got them for 118 rushing yards back in Week 5, but it took him 27 carries to get there. The Seahawks will no doubt test this unit early and often, and the results of this matchup could swing the outcome of the game.
Offensively, the Rams have been very poor in the running game this year, with the 26th-ranked rushing offense. Their -0.05 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry is a big reason for the struggles of the offense, and there doesn't look to be a whole lot of reason for optimism. Gurley, Malcolm Brown, and Darrell Henderson all have produced negative Rushing NEP per carry on the season, so a backfield shakeup doesn't look like an answer. And Gurley leads the trio in both Rushing NEP per carry (-0.02) and Rushing Success Rate (49%), so he looks likely to continue to top the backfield in usage. Overall, this doesn't look like a unit that will swing many games, especially if they continue to be underutilized in the passing game.
The Seahawks' run defense ranks 14th in the league, giving up -0.01 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry. Seattle has allowed just one 100-yard rusher on the season, and they held Gurley to fewer than 50 yards rushing in Week 5. With a struggling Rams ground attack, this looks like a matchup that the Seahawks can win, forcing the game onto the shoulders of Goff.
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