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More than division title, top seed at stake for Seahawks


With a strong finish, Seattle’s defense could eventually be remembered as one of the best of its generation. (AP)

By Danny O’Neil

The Seahawks stand at the brink of greatness.

That describes not only this team’s playoff positioning, but the status of its defense.

Seattle’s legitimacy is no longer a question. Not at 12-2. The Seahawks need a win Sunday against Arizona to clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. There is a matter of legacy, though, and that goes to more than just the question of whether the Seahawks will win this city’s first Super Bowl, but to how this team will be remembered.

There’s a chance this could be one of the league’s truly great defenses not just this year, but this generation. A unit that gets mentioned along with the 2002 Buccaneers or the 2000 Ravens as a true benchmark.

They’re not there. At least not yet, but the Seahawks have held two of the past three opponents to fewer than 200 yards of total offense and last week, they kept the Giants from crossing midfield until midway through the fourth quarter.

Now, Seattle faces a Cardinals team that gave up seven sacks in the last meeting, a game that was played down in Arizona. This time, the Seahawks’ pass rush is sure to be hopped up on the decibels of CenturyLink Field.

The biggest question for Seattle’s offense on Sunday will be whether it can run the ball effectively against an Arizona team that has allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league. For Seattle’s defense, however, the question is just how dominant it can be coming off its first shutout of the season.

“I still don’t think we’re playing our best ball,” said linebacker Bruce Irvin.

The Seahawks have allowed 205 points, fewest in the league. This is after allowing a league-low 245 points last season, a franchise record for a 16-game season.

That fact came with an asterisk a year ago as the Seahawks gave up a fourth-quarter lead in three of their five losses. But Seattle had also faced some of the league’s most prolific quarterbacks that year, from Dallas’ Tony Romo to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers to New England’s Tom Brady.

This season, it wasn’t until December that Seattle faced a quarterback who’d won a Super Bowl, but what Seattle did first to New Orleans’ Drew Brees and last week to the Giants’ Eli Manning provided some evidence of just how good this defense is.

And as well as Seattle has played, don’t try and tell cornerback Richard Sherman the Seahawks have peaked.

“Perfection is what you strive for,” he said. “You shoot for the moon, land on a star. You always want to be perfect. Nobody’s perfect, but you can always strive for excellence.”

That’s the reason that it’s so hard to imagine Seattle losing not just against Arizona but at home, and if the Seahawks win one of their next two games, they won’t have to play on the road again unless they reach the Super Bowl.

That reality changes the stakes this weekend. Not only are the Seahawks facing an Arizona team that has won six of its last seven games, but a win will complete every item on Seattle’s regular-season to-do list.

The Seahawks have not faced a must-win game all season, and they’ll have to beat Arizona to avoid facing that possibility in their regular-season finale against St. Louis.

So the Seahawks enter this weekend on the brink of wrapping up the division and making a statement about just where this defense stands compared not only to the rest of the league, but the rest of this decade.

“You’ve got to look back and see how you played instead of trying to call it right now,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We’re playing good football. I would like to see the running game stay intact like it has, and if we can stay on the deep end like we have, we have a chance to make it hard on our opponents, that’s for sure.”