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Bobby Wagner returns to Seattle as Rams & Seahawks battle in season finale | Week 18 Game Preview

The NFL didn't waste any time sending Russell Wilson back to Seattle to face his former team. That Broncos-Seahawks matchup was featured on Monday Night Football in Week 1.

All the way at the back end of the schedule, with far less fanfare, is a homecoming that should land differently in Week 18.

Bobby Wagner will go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Seahawk. Over the course of a decade in the Pacific Northwest, he did it all – won a title, consistently led the league in tackles, earned All-Pro honors, defeated all but two of the NFL's opposing franchises (Chargers and Titans).

He'll get a standing ovation from the 12s at Lumen Field this Sunday after he makes his way out of the visiting locker room.

Starting every game in his first season with the Rams at age 32, Wagner has authored a special chapter in his hometown of Los Angeles – the wins just haven't been there.

His best performance came against the Seahawks in Week 13, with an interception and two sacks, nearly willing his shorthanded roster to victory. The Rams took the lead in that contest with three minutes to play, only to watch Geno Smith and D.K. Metcalf walk out of SoFi Stadium victorious.

Now, Wagner has a second chance. And with it, the opportunity to eliminate the franchise that drafted him, but also moved on from him this spring.

More Than a Feeling

Wagner played his feelings remarkably close to the vest the first time the Rams and the Seahawks linked up.

This time around – perhaps because we saw back in December how much it really does mean to him – he chose to be a bit more transparent.

"When you're playing your family member that know your deepest, darkest secrets and know exactly what to say to you to make you feel a certain type of way and also you're playing the organization that you feel gave up on you… it was warranted to be honest," Wagner told the media this week.

"And then again, I'm playing against people I know how to push their buttons too, so I know exactly what to say to them to make them mad and I did that."

Flashback to a Favor

I find it interesting that the Seahawks did the Rams a solid a year ago by beating the Cardinals in the regular season finale, thereby allowing Los Angeles to back into an NFC West title despite squandering a 17-0 lead in an overtime loss to San Francisco.

Whatever the opposite of repaying a favor is? That's what the Rams are up to in Seattle this weekend.

Lights, Cam, Action

Among the silver linings to this post-bye swoon, the resurgence of Cam Akers and the Rams running game has to top the list.

The nearly-traded-or-released running back will be in search of his fourth straight 100-yard performance to close out the season.

The Seahawks have proven to be one of the most porous run defenses in the league, and that was before they lost their leading tackler and middle linebacker Jordyn Brooks (Wagner's replacement, by the way) to an ACL injury last week.

For what it's worth, Akers needs 90 scrimmage yards and one score to surpass Cooper Kupp for the Rams lead in those categories. Kupp sat the final 8 games after an ankle injury sustained in Week 10.

Sean McVay told us this week that "there (are) no limitations in his game," referencing how Akers is making winning plays taking handoffs, catching check-downs, and in pass protection.

The Rams choice to play under center with Baker Mayfield, utilize two tight ends, and run downhill between the tackles has clearly played into the strengths of their lead back.

Iron Men

Here's the short list of Rams who are in position to make their 17th start of the season on Sunday (not including specialists): Bobby Wagner, Rob Havenstein, Tyler Higbee, Jalen Ramsey, Nick Scott, and Leonard Floyd.

Wagner and Ramsey have already given Los Angeles more than 1,000 defensive snaps.

Within a position group that has been decimated throughout the 2022 campaign, Havenstein in particular warrants commendation. He leads the offense in snaps played by a wide margin, as one of 14 different players who started along the line this year.

"He certainly has earned that 'C' on his chest this year," McVay said of his 30-year-old captain.

Is This Farewell?

This will be the last time this particular group of players and coaches are together. And while that's true of every team, it feels different this year because they know it's over after Week 18.

According to Spotrac, here's the Rams 2023 free agent class.

Unrestricted: Baker Mayfield, Nick Scott, Troy Hill, Matt Gay, Taylor Rapp, Ty Nsekhe, Riley Dixon Brandon Powell, Matt Skura, Malcolm Brown, David Long Jr., Matthew Orzech, Greg Gaines, A'Shawn Robinson, Grant Haley, David Edwards.

Restricted/Exclusive Rights: Travin Howard, Jake Gervase, Marquise Copeland, Michael Hoecht, Bryce Perkins, John Wolford, Shaun Jolly, Christian Rozeboom.

Some of those names will be back in Los Angeles.

Others who are under contract will not be. That's the nature of the NFL, and this figures to be an offseason of change for an organization that went from lifting the Lombardi Trophy to a losing mark.

Those decisions and that conversation are for another day.

In this space, I just wanted to offer gratitude to those who've contributed their time and talent to the organization. You were easy to root for while you were Rams, and we'll look forward to cheering on the remainder of your careers and lives.

Mayfield's Future

As for the waiver-wire addition at quarterback, I asked McVay on Monday how much Mayfield's next step will be influenced by this five-game sample – parachuting in as he did, behind a patchwork offensive line, with targets he'd never worked with and were hardly atop the Rams depth chart in September.

"If this hasn't elevated people's opinions and thoughts of him, I'm not sure what he could've done to change whatever the perception is," the Rams head coach said. "I just know I think very highly of him, and I've loved working with him."

A thriller against the Raiders was followed by a faltering in Green Bay. After a flawless performance against the Broncos, the Rams couldn't keep up with the Chargers.

Hopefully you're picking up on a pattern and it's one Mayfield can complete in Seattle.

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