The Seahawks are about to play the Rams in Seattle in the final game of the season for the third time in Pete Carroll's four years as Hawks coach. Every game has carried meaning, and this one is no different.
In 2010, the game was for the NFC Worst title. Back then, the division had no winning teams and was the laughingstock of the NFL (even worse than this year's NFC North and East).
The Rams came to Seattle at 7-8, and the Hawks entered the game at 6-9 and playing without injured starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. (San Francisco ended up 6-10 after beating Arizona in the finale; the Cardinals finished 5-11.)
Just like this year's Green Bay-Chicago game and Philadelphia-Dallas game, only the winner of St. Louis-Seattle would advance to the playoffs -- and the ridicule that came with being the first losing team to make the playoffs in a 16-game season.
The Seahawks got that honor as Charlie Whitehurst threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams, Olindo Mare kicked three field goals and the Seattle defense shut down rookie quarterback Sam Bradford in a 16-6 win that sent the Seahawks to a wild-card home game against the New Orleans Saints.
Then, amid all of the complaints about a 7-9 team getting into the playoffs over two 10-6 teams (the Giants and Tampa Bay) and hosting an 11-5 team (the Saints) that had won the Super Bowl the previous season, the Hawks shut up the critics with an earth-shaking upset.
After continuing the franchise rebuild in 2011 and missing the playoffs with another 7-9 record, the Hawks came into Week 16 of the 2012 season with a 10-5 record and hopes of overtaking San Francisco (10-4-1) for the division title. The Hawks were facing a 7-7-1 Rams team that had taken big strides in coach Jeff Fisher's first year and was hoping to finish above .500 for the first time since 2003.
The Hawks won 20-13 in a hard-hitting game in which Russell Wilson was sacked six times and hit a few more, but the pain and suffering did not net Wilson and his club the division title because the 49ers beat Arizona.
If the 49ers had lost, the Hawks would have claimed the second seed in the NFC and hosted Green Bay in the divisional playoffs, rather than going to Atlanta. And the Hawks might be trying for consecutive Super Bowl victories right now.
But after winning in Washington, the Hawks fell short in Atlanta, learning a valuable lesson about home-field advantage.
Now, after losing two of their past three games, here they are, facing the Rams in the season finale in Seattle yet again -- with home field on the line.
If the Hawks win, they will have a first-round bye and play at home until they lose or advance to the Super Bowl in New York.
If the Hawks lose, they can still claim home field if the 49ers lose at Arizona. But if the Niners win, they will claim the division and a first-round bye and the Hawks will end up traveling to Chicago, Green Bay or Dallas for a wild-card game.
"It’s a big ballgame," Carroll said this week. "Obviously it’s a championship game for us … and everybody is pumped up about it. These guys understand what’s at stake …
"The fact that there’s something at stake, legitimately, is good for us and we’ll try to make the most of it," he said. "Everybody would’ve liked to have gotten there earlier, but I don’t know if that would’ve been what’s best for us. So we’ll find out as we go through this and see how this thing prepares us for what’s coming up in the playoffs.”
The Seahawks had their worst offensive game of the season in St. Louis, where they somehow managed to salvage a 14-9 win in a Monday night game Oct. 28. The Hawks are coming off their first home loss since 2011, and their offense appears to be just as vulnerable as it was when they played the Rams in St. Louis.
"The Rams have just continued to improve," Carroll said of a team that has won four of its last six -- the only losses to the same two division foes that have beaten Seattle the last three weeks -- and is aiming for its first .500 finish since 2006.
"Defensively they have been on fire lately," Carroll added. "The pass rush is as tough as you could want to go against, their run defense is on it, they’re committed to the running and the hard-nosed style that Jeff (Fisher) stands for, and it just makes for a fantastic matchup. We’ve always had tough games with these guys, and they’ve been tough on everybody in the division, and nothing should be different about this one."