Countdown to kickoff

Greetings from a chilly Qwest Field, where the Seahawks and Rams are preparing for their nationally televised game that is not only their regular-season finale but the 256th – and final – regular-season game in the NFL for 2010 season.

The winner tonight captures the NFC West title and will host the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the first round of the playoffs next weekend. That has been the national storyline for this matchup all week, whether a .500 team (the 8-8 Rams, if they win) or the first team to win its division with a losing record (the 7-9 Seahawks, should they prevail) should host an 11-win team – or be in the playoffs at all.

Live with it, rest of the football world. Embrace it, Seahawks Nation.

This is why you play the games – for the opportunity to win your division, and get the first-round home postseason game that goes with it.

The storyline in Seattle the past few days, however, has been whether QB Matt Hasselbeck will be able to play after straining muscles in his left hip and buttock last Sunday while scoring on a 1-yard run in Tampa. Backup Charlie Whitehurst took all the snaps in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but he and Hasselbeck split the reps in Friday’s walk-thru of a practice and Hasselbeck also participated in Saturday’s walk-thru.

The determining factor with Hasselbeck will be how he looks during his pre-game workout. As coach Pete Carroll put it, “We’ve just got to see if he can run and play.”

Carroll can’t lose with the way he has handled the QB situation this week. If Hasselbeck can indeed go, it will give the team and their 12th Man crowd an emotional boost in a game where the Seahawks can use any and every edge available. If Hasselbeck can’t so, Whitehurst has prepared all week to start his second NFL game.

You can follow this week-long QB-or-not-QB saga here:

Another nagging question: Will it matter who starts at quarterback for the Seahawks?

After wasting a 4-2 start by dropping seven of their past nine games, the Seahawks are not a one-issue team. They also must be concerned with being able to stop Steven Jackson, St. Louis’ battering-Ram of a Pro Bowl back; and generating pressure on QB Sam Bradford, who is having the most-productive rookie season in the NFL since some guy named Peyton Manning in 1998. They also need to find a way to generate a running game, and do with what will be their 10th starting group on the offensive line this season; and protect whichever QB plays against a Rams defense that comes in with 43 sacks.

If the Seahawks are going to survive to play another week, they will need something special.

Like another big kickoff return from Leon Washington, who leads the league with three scoring returns.

Like the sixth interception of the season by free safety Earl Thomas, who shares the franchise rookie record with Michael Boulware.

Like a fumble-forcing sack from either Chris Clemons, who has a career-high 10½ sacks; or Raheem Brock, who has 6½ in fewer snaps and whose father – former Seahawks kickoff returner Zach Dixon – will be in attendance tonight.

Like another blocked field goal by Craig Terrill, who already has tied Joe Nash’s club records for blocks in a season (three) and a career (eight).

Like another double-digit reception performance by Williams, who has been limited to 10 catches in the past five games because of foot and ankle injuries after catching 41 in the previous six.

Like Hasselbeck climbing on the metaphorical white horse – or Hawk, if you will – and rescuing the Seahawks one more time.

Like the 12th Man coaxing one more playoff-worthy effort from a team that hasn’t looked like a playoff-worthy unit the past two months.

As former Rams running back Marshall Faulk put it on the NFL Network, “Their 12th Man is unbelievable, but the other 11 are suspect.”

The Seahawks have this one last chance to right all their wrongs, and make a little more history while doing it.

We’ll be back later with an update on Hasselbeck, as well as the inactive players for both teams …

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