Since a postseason berth is in hand, the topic of Seahawks seeding and possible wild-card round opponents has heated up as they head into the final week of the regular season at Arizona on Sunday.
I’d suggest that it matters less where the Seahawks go, than how the Seahawks go.
If running back Marshawn Lynch can return with healed abdominals and beastly spirit, and the team plays with the efficiency it has much of the second half of this season, the Seahawks have the talent to beat anybody in the conference.
If they wilt at the line of scrimmage and trip over themselves as they did Sunday in a loss against the St. Louis Rams, they can lose to any team in the playoffs.
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The options for the 9-6 Seahawks are Green Bay (10-5) and Minnesota (10-5), division rivals fighting for the NFC North title Sunday. Or Washington (8-7), the NFC East champ and the No. 4 seed.
In short, if the Vikings beat Green Bay, the Hawks will go to Minnesota no matter what happens in their game with the Cardinals.
It gets trickier if the Packers win: In that case, a Hawks win sends them to Washington. If the Hawks lose, they go to Green Bay.
All options are on the road. But none seems insurmountable.
And since the order of the top two seeds — Carolina (14-1) and Arizona (13-2) — remains in doubt, the parameters for the Seahawks if they get past the first round remain speculative, too.
But fans like to root for scenarios that they feel will benefit their team.
What, then, should fans want out of the finale at Arizona? While you’re tempted to leap to the answer — a win — I’d argue that the No. 1 thing is to get out of there healthy, win or lose.
It’s uncertain if Lynch will be back from his abdominal surgery, and even if he is back, how functional he’ll be.
It would be ideal that the team could see him in at least limited action so they have a better idea how much they could rely on him when they start putting together the game plan for first-round playoff game.
But if he’s at all in doubt, skipping the Cardinals game would represent understandable caution.
The other huge concern has to be quarterback Russell Wilson, who has taken 24 hits in the past two games, against Cleveland and St. Louis. The Cardinals traditionally pressure Wilson well.
Coach Pete Carroll joked that Wilson may be able to avoid the most damaging hits by having a little “ninja” in him. Still, if he gets dinged, chances for a lengthy postseason run take a nose dive.
As for first-round opponents, Washington initially seems the softest opener as champs of a feeble division.
It could be a tricky matchup for the Hawks, though. Washington is on a three-game winning streak (Bears, Bills, Eagles). Quarterback Kirk Cousins is having a good season, particularly at home, where his 117.0 passer rating is a product of having thrown 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
As Carroll alluded to in his Monday press conference, the Hawks have some recent history with Green Bay and Minnesota, having played each in the regular season. Prepping for Washington, then, could be a little more complicated.
Playing the Packers in January is like a bad movie the Seahawks have seen before.
The Seahawks were there in Week 2 this season and lost 27-17, but that seems like ancient history.
In September, the Packers were a presumptive conference powerhouse and the Hawks were without Kam Chancellor and still trying to get a raw offensive line to congeal.
Since then, the Packers went on a streak of losing four times in a five-game stretch. And then on Sunday, they absorbed a 38-8 beating by Arizona.
Still, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers remains Aaron Rodgers, and that makes Green Bay dangerous.
That leaves the Vikings, who seem to be the best first-round matchup for the Seahawks.
It’s not just that the Seahawks beat them on the road as recently as Dec. 6, it’s that they beat them so thoroughly and convincingly, 38-7.
That was a thumping that sticks in the mind of the team that loses.
Yes, it would be on the road and perhaps in the teeth of polar vortex weather, but it looks like a pairing that gives the Seahawks the best chance to advance.