The Seahawks need two results to take place Sunday if they are going to make the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. They only have a say in one of those results, however, so as much as Seattle is dependent on a Carolina Panthers win in Atlanta in order to make the postseason, players know there's no sense worrying about that game, especially since the result in that NFC South showdown won't mean a thing to them if they don't take care of their own business when they host the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.
"There's always stuff that can distract you and there's always stuff out there," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "This happens to be this scenario. It's hugely important to focus on what's at hand, that's for sure. So it's not anything different than what it normally is. We're trying to win every game and every one of them counts and it's a big deal, and we do everything we can to play for that. This is going to be no different, so we've prepared for this all along and we'll see what happens at the end."
Sunday's game in some ways feels familiar for the Seahawks—a Week 17 game with playoff implications is the norm for Seattle. But it's also unique, because unlike in past seasons when the Seahawks controlled their own fate, be it in the division or for a bye or for a playoff berth, they aren't totally in control this time around. Even with a win that would improve their record to 10-6, the Seahawks still need Atlanta to lose in order make the postseason thanks to the Falcons' win in Seattle earlier this season that gives them the head-to-head tiebreaker.
"It's definitely weird, but the only thing we can control is how we play on Sunday, and Arizona's a great team," tight end Luke Willson said. "It is weird, that feeling, but you've really got to put in the back of your head, because we'll have our hands full with Arizona and we've got to take care of business."
Yet even if things are a bit different this week, a team that has not lost a Week 17 game since 2011 expects to be on its game again this weekend.
"I think for the most part once we're in the game, we'll be pretty focused on what's going on," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "Obviously, I think at halftime, guys will be interested to see what's going on, what's happening. That's a natural part of it but I'm pretty confident in the guys in the locker room, the coaching staff and everybody else will be focused on this game."
Baldwin acknowledged that it's a little strange being in this position of needing help from another team to make the playoffs, but said, "For some reason I enjoy it, so I'm looking forward to whatever happens on Sunday."
Asked why he would enjoy that scenario, Baldwin pointed to the way the Seahawks have handed adversity this season and in the past.
"Your backs are against the wall, there's really no other option," he said. "You have to lay it out on the line. There's a lot that you can control but there's a lot that you don't control, so to me it's just a beautiful example of life, of adversity that life throws at you, and again it introduces you to who you really are, so I'm looking forward to that."
If the Seahawks do take care of business on their end and get the help they need from Carolina, they would earn a postseason berth for the sixth straight time, a first in franchise history. Having won the division in 2010 and being alive for a playoff berth until a Week 16 loss in 2011, the Seahawks have played only one game, their 2011 season finale, eliminated from playoff contention since Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over in 2010.
And with a 10th win this season, the Seahawks could join some very elite company regardless of what happens in Atlanta. Winning Sunday would mean the Seahawks have won 10 or more games in six straight seasons, something accomplished by only six franchises in NFL history, many of them during what would be considered the league's top dynasties. The Patriots have an ongoing streak of 15 seasons with 10 or more wins, the Cowboys did it three different times between the late 60s and mid 90s, the 49ers enjoyed a 16-season streak of 10-plus wins, the Colts had nine straight in the 2000s, and the Dolphins and Rams both accomplished the feat in the 1970s.
Since 2012, the Seahawks have not just won 10 or more every year, they've also advanced to at least the Divisional Round of the postseason each time. Russell Wilson is the only quarterback in NFL history to help lead his team to winning record as a starter in each of his first six seasons, and while he sees that as more of a team accomplishment than an individual achievement, it is something he is proud of.
"I think it's a testament to the hard work and a testament to everything that you put into everything that you do; from the offseason to during the season, and to the constant thought process that you put into each game and each day in and the preparation that you put into it," Wilson said. "At the end of the day, when my career is over a long time from now hopefully, all I want to be able to look at is the winning part, and that's the thing that really matters to me more than anything else. I wake up every morning to win; I don't worry about anything else in the sense of stats or anything else. I'm sure there's guys who may have better stats, I don't know, but at the end of the day, all I know is that I want to win every time I step out on the field."
Of course a win Sunday and a Falcons victory would put the Seahawks on a less celebrated list: 10-win teams to not make the postseason. That's a group that most recently includes the 2015 New York Jets, the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles, the 2013 Cardinals, the 2012 Chicago Bears, the 2010 New York Giants, and the 2008 Patriots, who missed the postseason with 11 wins. But again, the Seahawks know they can't worry about what happens in Atlanta Sunday, not when they have a tough game against a division rival standing between them and a potential playoff berth.
"Of course, we know what the case is," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "We know that we need a little help, and that's very unfortunate, but like always, we definitely have to focus on ourselves. No matter what, we're going to go out there and play hard and play to the best of our abilities. We won't know before the game, but we're still going to go out there and play our best and get the job done no matter what."
Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Cardinals as the two teams ready to face off during the final week of regular season at CenturyLink Field.