Dave Boling: Seahawks in control of NFC down stretch

Seattle’s earned front-runner status for home-field advantage by winning despite injuries; help on way

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comNovember 12, 2013 

For those filling in their calendars through January, note that the Seahawks will be playing at home in the divisional round of the playoffs either Jan. 11 or 12.

The bye into the division round is their reward for winning the NFC West Division title, which the Seahawks now have in the bag well before Thanksgiving.

Go ahead and say it: Oh, wait, Mr. Columnist, aren’t you being too hasty? So much can happen before then. That’s why you have to play them one week at a time.

Baloney.

The Seahawks have earned this competitive cushion, battling to wins despite injuries and inconsistencies, and moving to 9-1 with a JV offensive line and getting nary a single snap out of perhaps their most gifted offensive player, Percy Harvin.

With six games left, Harvin is on the verge of a return, this week or soon thereafter, along with Pro Bowl linemen Russell Okung and Max Unger and regular starting tackle Breno Giacomini.

Harvin has been activated, but his play date remains TBD. The injured linemen are expected to practice Wednesday with the goal of playing against Minnesota on Sunday.

So, here’s the brutal bottom line for opponents: The Seahawks are 9-1 and will receive an infusion of three Pro Bowl offensive studs.

This is like a top BCS college team having a handful of All-Americans transfer in at midseason.

And four of the games left on the docket are at home, where they rarely lose.

The last time they lost at home, Christmas Eve 2011, Russell Wilson was preparing for the Rose Bowl with Wisconsin.

So let’s put it this way: If the Seahawks don’t end up winning the division with the lead they’ve built, it will constitute a major letdown.

I think I’m being conservative, not yet assuring home field throughout; I’ll do that in a couple of weeks if they beat New Orleans at CenturyLink again.

Adding rosiness to the Seahawks’ outlook is that the conference has slipped while they’ve avoided the pratfall.

San Francisco, at 6-3, is two games behind Seattle in the loss column. And the Seahawks have a game in hand and also a head-to-head win over them in September.

Of the Niners’ six remaining games, four are on the road, including at New Orleans (7-2), the team with the second-best record in the NFC.

Asked about his team’s enviable position, coach Pete Carroll on Monday conceded: “It’s a very upbeat feeling around the locker room right now.”

Although the front-line fill-ins improved in Sunday’s win over Atlanta, they’re still not Okung, Unger and Giacomini.

“There’s a chance all three of those guys could play for us (Sunday),” Carroll said. “The potential of Percy coming back just adds to that.”

Wilson, then, will not only have one of the league’s most dynamic receivers available to him, but he also should have enough protection to be able to get the ball to him.

Since the team soldiered to nine wins with the backups in action, the Hawks now enjoy the luxury of depth among their subs.

“We’ve come a long way with our (backup) guys,” Carroll said. “They can play … that adds to the depth and options and opportunities to keep guys fresh and, hopefully, be strong during the finish of this season.”

Yes, teams with big leads sometimes spit the bit, or maybe aren’t at their peak come playoff time.

But it’s very easy to suspect that the Seahawks already have been through the worst of it, and found ways to win nonetheless, and are now merely trending toward their potential.

It’s downhill now.

Carroll can’t take that approach, of course.

“It’s a time when the push is really on,” he said. “It’s a very intense time during the season for all the clubs to try to put it together to get situated well here at the end.”

Other teams, though, aren’t 9-1 with guys such as Harvin about to come off the shelf for a seasonal unveiling.

“To have that kind of boost is big for us,” he said.

And it’s bad for everybody else.

THE RACE TO THE TOP OF THE NFC

With six games to play, the Seahawks are the NFC’s top team and have a good shot at securing the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. A look at the division leaders’ remaining schedules:

NFC NORTH

Detroit (6-3)

Record of remaining opponents: 23-41

Sunday at Pittsburgh (3-6)

Nov. 24 vs. Tampa Bay (1-8)

Nov. 28 vs. Green Bay (5-4)

Dec. 8 at Philadelphia (5-5)

Dec. 16 vs. Baltimore (4-5)

Dec. 22 vs. N.Y. Giants (3-6)

Dec. 29 at Minnesota (2-7)

NFC SOUTH

New Orleans (7-2)

Record of remaining opponents: 34-31

Sunday vs. San Francisco (6-3)

Nov. 21 at Atlanta (2-7)

Dec. 2 at Seattle (9-1)

Dec. 8 vs. Carolina (6-3)

Dec. 15 at St. Louis (4-6)

Dec. 22 at Carolina (6-3)

Dec. 29 vs. Tampa Bay (1-8)

NFC EAST

Dallas (5-5)

Record of remaining opponents: 24-31

Nov. 24 at N.Y. Giants (3-6)

Nov. 28 vs. Oakland (3-6)

Dec. 9 at Chicago (5-4)

Dec. 15 vs. Green Bay (5-4)

Dec. 22 at Washington (3-6)

Dec. 29 vs. Philadelphia (5-5)

Philadelphia (5-5)

Record of remaining opponents: 26-29

Sunday vs. Washington (3-6)

Dec. 1 vs. Arizona (5-4)

Dec. 9 vs. Detroit (6-3)

Dec. 15 at Minnesota (2-7)

Dec. 22 vs. Chicago (5-4)

Dec. 29 at Dallas (5-5)

NFC WEST

Seattle (9-1)

Record of remaining opponents: 27-28

Sunday vs. Minnesota (2-7)

Dec. 2 vs. New Orleans (7-2)

Dec. 8 at San Francisco (6-3)

Dec. 15 at N.Y. Giants (3-6)

Dec. 22 vs. Arizona (5-4)

Dec. 29 vs. St. Louis (4-6)

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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