SEATTLE WAS handed the NFC West title before the season began. Defending NFC champs and all that. Maybe Arizona would make it interesting with all those big names on offense, but that notion fizzled pretty early. St. Louis? Nobody really took the Rams seriously. New coaches inheriting a 6--10 team, some distant memories of the Greatest Show on Turf, suspect defense. Nope, nothing to get really excited about.
Well, the Rams are sitting at 4--1, and if they beat the 3--1 Seahawks in St. Louis on Sunday, they'll be the team to catch in the division. Even so, I doubt that you'll hear any mention of them when the elite teams are discussed.
Their most impressive victory came in the opener, when they beat the Broncos by eight points, but the stories in the aftermath of the game started, "What's wrong with Jake Plummer?" Five Broncos turnovers were the angle. St. Louis merely happened to be the other team on the field.
The Rams lost at San Francisco in Week 2, then barely beat a pair of uninspiring foes, Arizona and Green Bay, thanks to two quarterbacks who fumbled the game away at the end (first Kurt Warner, then Brett Favre).
Does St. Louis have a chance against the Seahawks? Hell, yes, I think so, which of course might be cause for rejoicing in Seattle, because I haven't been wowing everyone with my selections. But here are some interesting things you ought to know about St. Louis: Marc Bulger is one of only two quarterbacks who have not thrown an interception this season (the Chiefs' Damon Huard is the other); Steven Jackson is tied for the NFL rushing lead; under new coordinator Jim Haslett the defense is a lot better than it used to be; and the Rams know how to play the Seahawks, having beaten them three straight times two seasons ago, counting the wild-card playoff.
With Shaun Alexander setting the tone with his running, the Hawks are capable of carving up an opponent, which was what they did to the Giants on Sept. 24. But with Alexander out with a broken bone in his foot, the Bears did the same thing to Seattle. Alexander is iffy for this game, and without him the Seahawks running attack doesn't scare anybody. Their multiple wideout offense opens them up to the rush. Chicago sacked Matt Hasselbeck five times. Seattle's game needs to regain its balance. I like the Rams in an upset here.
Quick picks on a weekend that doesn't offer many thrillers: Falcons to beat the Giants, who are still celebrating their great day against Washington. Panthers to upset Baltimore, which is coming off the tough Monday-nighter in Denver. The Eagles will put too much heat on New Orleans's O-line and will get the win. The Dolphins and the Jets have staged some classics in the Meadowlands, but I think this will be a rather workmanlike victory for the Jets. The Steelers finally will get back on track against Kansas City. And because I always offer a selection on the Monday nighter, I'll go way out on a limb and pick the Bears to beat Arizona.
Last week 3--3 Season 19--19
Dr. Z writes for the Web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/nfl.
STEVE LEVIN/WIREIMAGE.COM (BULGER)
Jackson (top) and Bulger (10) have the goods to clip the Seahawks' wings.
[see caption above]