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Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson
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Seahawks face an old nemesis that might now be an actual rival

The Rams have always been a pill for Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson. Now, they might actually be good. (AP)

The Rams have been Seattle’s nemesis for years.

On Sunday, we’ll see if they’re ready to be the Seahawks’ rival in what very well might turn out to be the most pivotal game in the NFC West this season.

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OK. It might be premature for such a bold proclamation. It is only Week 5, but Sunday’s game at the L.A. Coliseum has all the makings of one of those crossroads moments when the aspiring contender tests his chin against the reigning heavyweight and we find out whether the reigning champ still has the stomach for a 16-week fight.

A Rams victory would give the Los Angeles a two-game lead in the division in addition to a head-to-head victory over Seattle. More than that, it would validate a 3-1 start in which the Rams have scored more points than anyone in the league.

A Seahawks win would put a notoriously slow-starting Seattle tied atop of the division in spite of one of their notoriously slow starts in a September that will go down as one of the most forgettable months of the Pete Carroll era.

The Rams have a new coach, one of the best running backs in the league and a quarterback who doesn’t seem nearly so clueless now that he’s in his second year. They also haven’t posted a winning record in 14 years and were 3-1 just a year ago before winning just one more game the rest of the season and leaving everyone wondering just what it was they saw in quarterback Jared Goff.

But make no mistake, even when the Rams have been bad, they’ve been an absolute pill for the Seahawks and that has been especially true when the Seahawks are on the road.

In Carroll’s time as head coach, the Seahawks are 2-5 on the road against the Rams, Seattle having been held to 14 points or fewer in four of those games. The Rams have scored touchdowns on a fake field-goal attempt (2012), cinched a victory with a fake punt (2014) and even ran a fake punt return in which the Rams’ blockers drew the Seahawks to the wrong side of the field and opened a pathway for the touchdown (2014 again).

After the Rams moved to Los Angeles last year, Seattle didn’t fare any better. The Seahawks lost 9-3 last year in a Week 2 game whose only redeeming aspect was that Russell Wilson proved definitively that he is better playing on one leg than Charlie Whitehurst was while playing on two.

And now? Now there’s the distinct possibility that the Rams might actually be good. They beat Dallas on the road last week. They are 3-1 under coach Sean McVay, running back Todd Gurley is the stud-hoss running back everyone expected him to be coming out of Georgia and Goff has the second-best quarterback rating in the league behind only Tom Brady.

So while it’s early, this certainly looks like the game that will decide the direction of the entire division.

The Seahawks win if … the run the ball effectively. I know what you’re thinking: fat chance. The Seahawks have been struggling to run the ball effectively for more than a year now, and they just lost their starting running back Chris Carson to a knee injury, which leaves Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy competing to shoulder the load. Not only that, but the Rams defensive line has tended to manhandle Seattle up front. However, the Rams are giving up 151.5 yards rushing per game, third-most in the league. They’re also allowing 4.9 yards per carry, which is the fourth most. Running the ball effectively is Seattle’s best bet to slow the Rams’ pass rush.

The Rams win if … Jared Goff doesn’t turn the ball over. Seriously, it might be that simple. The guy was picked off seven times compared to just five touchdown passes last season when he looked as bad as a quarterback picked No. 1 overall has ever looked. So far this season: He has thrown seven touchdown passes, been picked off once and is completing two-thirds of his pass attempts. If he stays that composed even against this Seattle defense, the Seahawks are going to have a real hard time overcoming that.

Prediction: Seahawks 22, Rams 17