The Seahawks know they are playoff bound for a fifth straight season having already clinched an NFC West title, but depending on what happens on Sunday throughout the conference, Seattle could end up finishing as high as the No. 2 seed, which would come with a first-round bye, and as low as the No. 4 seed. And depending on how things shake out Sunday, Seattle could host one of four different teams should they end up playing in the Wild Card round the next weekend.
For now, however, none of that matters to the Seahawks. This week, like every week, the Seahawks' only focus is on Sunday's opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, then after Sunday's games are over, they'll look at what is next.
"We don't do anything any differently than that ever," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Every game is a huge test to get there, match up, get right, play well, and try to build on that. It really doesn't adjust no matter what's going on… I don't care about (what is happening in other games), I really don't. I'll get in the locker room and there will be plenty of time to figure that out, or somebody will throw it on the board, I don't care. We have to go play football the way we want to play and take care of our business. It isn't really about the other stuff. That just comes to you when the time is right."
If the Seahawks win Sunday, they still need help to earn the No. 2 see and a bye, as Atlanta would hold that position if it can beat New Orleans at home. The Seahawks can finish no worse than the No. 3 seed if they win Sunday, while with a loss, they would be the No. 4 seed and host the New York Giants. If Seattle were to be the No. 3 seed, they could end up hosting Washington, Green Bay or Detroit depending on what happens Sunday. Those are scenarios that the media and plenty of fans know well by now, but to players and coaches, they're hypotheticals that can't be considered with one game left in the regular season.
"You've got to put it out of your mind," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "Of course you know there are different scenarios, you've got family talking to you about it, but at the end of the day, we've got to be focused on the San Francisco 49ers. If we look past them, they're good enough to beat us and mess up everything. We've got to stay focused on the task at hand, and that's winning this game and then let the chips fall where they may."
Of course even if the Seahawks know they can only control what happens in Santa Clara on Sunday afternoon, that doesn't mean they wouldn't love to get the No. 2 seed and a bye if things were to work out that way. A bye not only means another chance to get healthier before the playoffs, but it also means having to win one fewer game to advance to the Super Bowl.
"It's valuable," Carroll said of a bye. "Numbers show that it's valuable. That doesn't mean you can't do a lot of damage in the playoffs without it, but it is valuable. The numbers really support that."
As Carroll notes, history shows the value of a first-round bye. Since the league expanded its playoff format to include 12 teams in 1990, 18 of 26 Super Bowl winners have been either a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed, and the past three Super Bowls have featured the No. 1 seeds from both conferences. Seattle's own history shows that as well, with the Seahawks' three Super Bowl appearances all coming in years they were the NFC's top seed. Dallas has already locked up the top seed, so that's out of the equation, but if the Saints can help out, the Seahawks still could get that bye. And yes, players would certainly appreciate a chance to rest a bit before beginning a playoff run, but they also know plenty of teams have emerged from the Wild Card round and eventually won a championship, including the New York Giants (twice), Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers in the past 10 years.
"A bye week is always cool because you can take a little work off your body, but at the same time, you have to deal with the cards that you are dealt," defensive end Michael Bennett said. "If you're dealt with a game that you have to play in the first week, you have to go out and win that game. You can't really make any excuses. I think sometimes teams and everybody look at where they should be at instead of looking at the moment and living in the now. If the now is that we play on Saturday, that's what it is and you have to go out there and play and be ready to win that game. A lot of teams that were Wild Card teams end up winning the Super Bowl, the (2007) Giants, the (2010) Green Bay Packers. Whatever opportunity you get on Sunday, whether you're home or away, you get the opportunity to win and that's what you have to do."
Linebacker Bobby Wagner agrees that a chance to rest up next weekend would be great, but also notes that if a team is really worthy of a Super Bowl appearance, it should have the mettle to withstand an extra game.
"We're prepared for anything," Wagner said. "It's the end of the year you have four or five more games left if you make it to the Super Bowl. If you can't push through these last couple weeks, then you don't deserve to be here."