Russ

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson rolls out against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half on Sunday in Inglewood, Calif.

Indicative of the kind of player he is, and the kind of season it has been, quarterback Russell Wilson’s “slump” and the Seahawks’ skid began during a game in which he accounted for 472 total yards in leading the offense to 572 yards, the third-most in team history.

That was three-and-a-half weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals, an effort marred by three Wilson interceptions that were pivotal in a 37-34 overtime loss.

That kicked off a four-game stretch that included three Seattle losses and 10 Wilson turnovers, creating what feels like a must-win game for the Seahawks — and a must-play-better game by Wilson — against Arizona on Thursday night at CenturyLink Field.

In fact, this could be the most important game in Seattle’s season.

Seattle and Arizona are 6-3. With a win the Cardinals essentially would have a two-game NFC West lead on Seattle because they won the first meeting and would hold the tiebreaker.

But with a win — and with the 6-3 Rams having to play at Tampa Bay on Monday night — the Seahawks could be back in first place by the end of the NFL weekend.

How critical is the game?

According to the analytic website FiveThirtyEight.com, if Seattle beats Arizona it has a 55% chance to win the division. With a loss those odds drop to 14%.

A win and a Rams loss improves the odds to 60%.

But a Seahawks loss and a Rams win drops Seattle’s odds to win the division to 10%.

Further strengthening Seattle’s odds to win the division — which is the first step toward earning the No. 1 NFC seed and the postseason bye that comes with it — is the way the schedules play out.

The Arizona game is one of just two the Seahawks have left against teams that currently have winning records, the other against the Rams in the rematch Dec. 27 in Seattle.

The overall win-loss percentage of Seattle’s schedule is 37.7, the easiest slate in the NFL, with Seattle’s other games coming against the Jets (0-9), Giants (3-7), Washington (3-7), the Eagles (3-5-1) and 49ers (4-6).

Arizona, meanwhile, has two games left against the Rams and will face the Giants, Eagles, 49ers and Patriots, who are 4-5 but seem to have righted the ship.

The Rams have a similar slate, with the home-and-road games against Arizona, as well as games at Tampa Bay and Seattle, as well as the Jets, 49ers and Patriots.

That the Seahawks have lost three of their past four but are still in a favorable overall position for the postseason is one reason middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said there were no hanging heads in the locker room after Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the Rams.

“We’re sitting at six and three,” Wagner said. “It’s not like it’s three and six.”

The losses, though, exposed weaknesses the team overcame in a 5-0 start against a schedule that includes just one team that currently has a winning record (surprising Miami at 6-3).

Put another way, Seattle is 5-0 against teams with losing records, and 1-3 against winning teams.

But the theme of the short week — one time when maybe that is a good thing — is that there has been no loss of confidence.

The player on whom a revival rests the most, though, is Wilson, who has not lost three games in a row as a starting quarterback since he was a sophomore at North Carolina State in 2009.

Teammates said this week his demeanor was the same as always.

“His confidence is unshakable, and that’s something you admire as a teammate,” Wagner said. “It’s inspiring for sure.”

Coaches said their message this week to Wilson was to stop overthinking. They feel he has forced things at times and taken unnecessary risks.

“It always comes back as just doing what you’re really good at, and staying with that, and not trying to do anything more than that,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s an incredible player and competitor. And he knows that it’s just, ‘Let’s just get back out on the field again. Let’s get going again.’ So I’m really looking forward to his play this week.”

Wilson, though, will go again without starting center Ethan Pocic and likely without starting running back Chris Carson. The Seattle defense will have to handle Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray without either of its top two cornerbacks.

Murray is fast approaching superstar status in his second NFL season, leading Arizona to wins in four of its past five games. He has a 10-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in that span (he had a 20-to-12 ratio last season) and has rushed for six touchdowns. He has 61 or more yards rushing in each of his past four games.

Murray also has won two in a row against Wilson and the Seahawks, a fact undoubtedly not lost on Wilson.

Having to work with a backup center — Kyle Fuller, assuming his high-ankle sprain doesn’t prevent him from playing — will call for Wilson to be at his absolute best against an Arizona defense that blitzes on more than 40% of plays, third-most in the NFL.

“This is a challenging defense,” Carroll said. “He needs to be on it. And he knows that, and he’s prepared really well to get that done.”

Seattle’s hopes of winning the division may depend on it.

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.