An actual championship opportunity looms

Posted Dec 4, 2013

The Seahawks have approached each of their first 12 games as if it was a championship opportunity. Because of that, they find themselves with an opportunity to win the NFC West on Sunday with a win over the 49ers.

Every week this season has been a championship opportunity of the Seahawks.

We know this because each week coach Pete Carroll, quarterback Russell Wilson and All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas, among others, have reminded us of the team’s approach that has led them to a best-in-the-NFL 11-1 record and an already clinched playoff spot.

But this week really is a championship opportunity, because the Seahawks will win the NFC West title if they can beat the 49ers in San Francisco. So consider it a mantra with a method.

“Funny you should bring that up,” Carroll cracked Wednesday when the scenario was presented. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us. Every week brings really the kind of mentality that we’ve been practicing for championship games. And here we are.

“So it kicks us right into the same mode we’ve been in, which is what’s comfortable for us. We’re going to try to put together a great week. That’s starts with today. And then just take it one day at a time to get ready for a great ball game.”

The fact that the Seahawks are operating on a short week because of their Monday night romp over the New Orleans Saints is somewhat counterbalanced by a couple of facts. First, the 49ers are a very-familiar opponent. And also, the Seahawks already have won a Thursday night game against the Cardinals in Arizona after playing on Sunday, and a Sunday game at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after playing a Monday night game against the Rams in St. Louis.

So there’s kind of a been-there, done-that feel to this one – one multiple levels.

“You just keep speaking it, and obviously this week we get to capitalize on actually making it happen and locking everything up like we really want to,” Thomas said. “It’s just a great opportunity in front of us.”

The Seahawks did win the NFC West title in 2010, the first season for Carroll and Thomas. But it was with a 7-9 record. The past two seasons, the 49ers have been division champions and last season made it all the way to the Super Bowl, while relegating the 11-5 Seahawks to wild-card status.

So what better way to slap an exclamation point on something the team has been building toward all season than to win the division on the home field of the two-time defending champions – and on their final visit to Candlestick Park, as the 49ers will move into Levi’s Stadium next season.

“It would mean a lot,” Thomas said. “Just because of the simple fact that it’s the next game on our schedule, and obviously it’s a division opponent and you definitely want to dominate them because there’s a certain rivalry.”

And that’s also the exact reason the 49ers don’t want the Seahawks claiming the division title on their turf.

“We’ve talked about it the last couple of weeks that every game we play from here on out is important,” Patrick Willis, the Pro Bowl linebacker for the 8-4 49ers, said Wednesday during a conference-call interview. “It’s important to where we go to get into the playoffs and that’s what we’re trying to do is just be able to get into the playoffs. And once we get in, then I feel like anything can happen.”

The Seahawks clinched a playoff spot with their win over the Saints on Monday Night. A win over the rival 49ers would give them the division title and a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

They have reached this point, this early in the season, because of the approach they’ve had all season.

“It just carries over,” Thomas said. “Now that it’s actually here it’s nothing new, because we’ve been preparing for this every other game this season. So it’s the same thing. It’s the next game up, the same preparation, what got you to that win Monday night, the dominate performance.

“It’s the same thing you do this week.”

So for all of you who have rolled your eyes as week after week the players and their coach have extolled the virtues of taking each week as a championship opportunity, keep an eye on how that has helped the Seahawks reach this point.

“The whole purpose of talking that way is for opportunities likes this,” Carroll said.

Which this week is a championship opportunity that actually includes one.