Taking care of business

SEATTLE _ The Seattle Seahawks’ locker room may well clear out sooner than usual today, regardless of what happens in the game against the Baltimore Ravens. The Seahawks will still have some work to do.

Just as important as the Ravens game is the nationally-televised night contest pitting the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins. That game could well determine the Seahawks’ first-round playoff opponent.

“I’ll more than likely be watching the game,” Seahawks wide receiver Deion Branch said. “But as far as who wins or loses, that doesn’t really matter to us. We just have to take care of our own business. We can’t worry about Washington and Minnesota right now.”

The Seahawks (9-5) are already in the playoffs and will host a first-round game either Jan. 5 or Jan. 6. They currently own the No. 3 seed and can drop no lower than No. 4 in the NFC, which would happen if Tampa Bay (also 9-5) wins one more game than Seattle in the final two weeks.

While coach Mike Holmgren is hoping to wrap up the No. 3 seed with back-to-back victories to close out the regular season, the Seahawks’ playoff destiny isn’t exactly dripping in drama.

And so part of the intrigue today — and next weekend, for that matter — involves not the Seahawks but the Seahawks’ first-round opponent.

The candidates are the New York Giants (9-5), Minnesota (8-6), Washington (7-7) and New Orleans (7-7). The Giants need one more win to clinch a playoff spot, while the Panthers would need about a dozen games to go their way over the final two weeks to have any shot of getting in.

The Giants are currently the top wild-card team, which would mean they would face the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. But they’ve been floundering as of late, and Minnesota is suddenly nipping at their heels.

The Vikings can clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight, but only if the Saints lose to Philadelphia this afternoon. If the Saints and Redskins win, New Orleans would have the tiebreaker among the three 8-7 teams because of a superior record in games against NFC teams.

Based on matchups, the Seahawks might be better off facing the Giants in the first round. New York has gone 2-2 over the past four games, and has lost to Seattle in each of the past two seasons.

Minnesota might be the worst possible matchup, as the Vikings are on a five-game winning streak and have manhandled Seattle in two of the teams’ three meetings since 2003.

The only true advantages to having the No. 3 seed over the No. 4 seed are that the higher seed gets to face the lower-seeded home team in the divisional round and that the higher seed would host the NFC Championship game if neither of the top two seeds make it that far.

Other than that, there’s little incentive for the Seahawks in the final two games.

And yet, Holmgren is adamant that he will not rest any starters.

“We’re going to play,” he said last week. “We want the three seed. That would mean that we finished strong and the record was better. That’s what we’re shooting for.

“And who we play (in the postseason) is who we play. That’s totally out of our control.”

What is in the Seahawks’ control is how they finish the regular season. Games against the struggling Ravens (4-10) and Atlanta Falcons (3-11) look easy on paper but could pose problems if Seattle doesn’t stay focused.

“In football, many, many, many games are decided on just which team has a little edge,” Holmgren said. “Which team is emotionally up, and which team is a little bit flat. A lot of games are decided that way.

“Very few teams are talented enough to play the game and win without playing with something to play for and emotion. That’s why it’s important for us to come out and play well and play hard. They’ll play hard.”

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