By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — In their past three games, the Seahawks have proven to be dominant at home, dominant in a foreign country, good enough to come back against a good defense on the road.
On Sunday night, however, the Seahawks could not win at 30,000 feet.
Helpless to do anything but cheer and hope as they watched on tiny, seat-back TV screens, the Seahawks suffered a loss on their way back from Toronto. San Francisco did the near impossible, winning a December game in New England. That result all but killed the Seahawks’ hopes of winning the NFC West, and took a tiny bit of luster of this weekend’s primetime showdown between division rivals.
Had the 49ers lost to the Patriots, the Seahawks would be playing host to San Francisco on Sunday night with a chance to take over the division lead. Instead, the Seahawks’ NFC West hopes hinge on getting help from Arizona, which may be about the worst team to turn to for help these days.
Even if the Seahawks knock off the 49ers to hand San Francisco its fourth loss, then win their season finale against St. Louis to finish with an 11-5 record, they’d most likely still end up second to the 49ers. Unless, of course, San Francisco somehow ends it season by losing at home to the same Arizona squad that lost 58-0 in Seattle not long ago.
Yes, the NFL has taught us time and time again that no outcome is impossible, but, well, it is John Skelton and or Ryan Lindley leading an Arizona offense on the road against one of the league’s best defenses.
So no, the Seahawks probably aren’t going to win their division, and yeah, that makes Sunday’s game just a touch less compelling. (But really, as long as Seattle vs. San Francisco is Carroll vs. Harbaugh, it will always be plenty compelling).
What Sunday night’s result in New England didn’t do is limit what the Seahawks can do this year. Just because the Seahawks aren’t going to win their division doesn’t mean Seahawks fans can’t still dream big.
This is a team, after all, that is hitting its stride at the right time, and momentum has often proven to be more important than seeding in the NFL playoffs. After starting the year as a team hoping to win with defense and a running game, the Seahawks are suddenly dangerous on offense. One of the lowest scoring teams in the league early on, the Seahawks now rank 11th in scoring at 25 points per game, a scoring average they haven’t bettered since 2005. Buoyed by back-to-back blowouts, Seattle now has a plus-131 point differential this season, a total that trails just New England, San Francisco and Denver.
And even if the Seahawks can’t take over first place on Sunday, they can with one more victory clinch a playoff berth as well as their first 10-win season since 2007. But as much as the Seahawks have done to change people’s opinions of them while winning five of their past six, nobody is patting themselves on the back just yet.
“We ain’t done nothing yet,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “When that happens, it happens. Every one of these games are championship matchups. Every one of them makes the statement that you’re still in it and you get it. We just have to go play this football game, and play it really, really well.
“If (clinching a playoff berth) is the result, then that’s OK. We have another game after that one, too. There’s still a lot of work to be done here, and I don’t think it’s a factor; it shouldn’t be. We have to go win a football game regardless whether there was something hanging out there or not.”
Nobody in the Seahawks’ locker room is giving up on the chance of winning the division. Stranger things have happened than a Week 17 upset. So, even if the in-flight entertainment was a letdown on Sunday night, dealing a big blow to their chances at a division title, that won’t change anything for the team this week.
“No, not really because there are two games to play,” Carroll said. “… It’s a big division finish for us, and we’ll see how it goes. All we can do is really focus on this game right here. We’ll have no trouble focusing. We’re a great team and coming home and all that, it’ll be exciting to get ready.”
And here’s the thing. Even if/when the 49ers take care of the division, there is no reason for the Seahawks to feel any less optimistic about their playoff chances — assuming for a moment that a team that is 6-0 at home this season doesn’t lose its last two games at CenturyLink field. Because as nice as a bye can be for a team with injuries, or as important as home games are in the NFL, recent history tells us that playoff success is often based more on getting hot at the right time than it is on seeding.
Four of the past five NFC champions have been No. 4 seeds or worse, including last year’s 9-7 New York Giants, who won three of four down the stretch to make the playoffs at 9-7, then won on the road at top-seeded Green Bay and second-seeded San Francisco to advance to the Super Bowl, which they won over the AFC’s top team, New England. The Packers won the Super Bowl the year before as a No. 6 seed, and the 2007 Giants won a title as a Wild Card as well.
Would a first-place clash in primetime have been a lot of fun this weekend? You bet. But even if a division title is far fetched at this point, other goals — bigger goals — are still very much in reach for a young team that seems to be getting better with each passing week.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.