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Seahawks have to run if they want to soar to the playoffs

RB Chris Carson should figure in heavily in the Seahawks' game plan Sunday vs. Kansas City. (AP)

The Seahawks are a throwback offense, the Chiefs prefer to throw it around.

Seattle wants to run the ball first, second, and occasionally third. Kansas City runs the ball … occasionally.

3 players to watch in Seahawks’ Sunday night matchup vs Chiefs

Styles make fights in boxing, but in the NFL, a contrast in styles is what adds intrigue to Sunday night’s game. Throw in the Chiefs’ precarious spot atop the AFC and the very real possibility that Seattle will be able to clinch a playoff berth with a victory and you’ve got what might be the most anticipated Seahawks’ game of the season.

But you’ll have to forgive coach Pete Carroll if he chuckled when asked if this is a good time to be playing the Chiefs.

“I don’t know if there’s a good time,” coach Pete Carroll said. “But this is the time, so we’re going to try to make the best of it.”

Let’s get the logistics out of the way. The Seahawks can clinch a playoff spot with a victory over the Chiefs provided that either Washington (7-7) loses to Tennessee on Saturday or Minnesota (7-6-1) loses at Detroit on Sunday. If Seattle loses to the Chiefs, the Seahawks can still clinch a playoff berth by beating Arizona next week regardless of what happens anywhere else.

The Chiefs’ scenario is even more straightforward. If Kansas City (11-3) wins at Seattle and beats Oakland next week, the Chiefs are the NFC West winners and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. If the Chiefs lose either game, they risk not only losing that top spot in the conference and the first-round bye that comes with it, but they could start the playoffs on the road as a wild-card entry given that San Diego is also 11-3 — though the Chargers will lose a head-to-head tiebreaker if they finish with the same record as the Chiefs.

It’s not just the stakes that make Sunday’s game so compelling, though. It’s the styles. The best rushing team in the league against the best passing offense. Old-fashioned vs. newfangled.

No one is throwing the ball better than Kansas City this season. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the league in passing yardage and has thrown 45 touchdown passes.

It used to be that this was the kind of offense that the Seahawks defense would work on for three hours or so, collapsing, crumpling and otherwise breaking it down before placing it in the recycling bin. It’s what happened to the New Orleans Saints on a Monday night game in 2013. And to the Denver Broncos, not only in the Super Bowl later that season, but the following year in Week 3.

The Seahawks had a swagger then. They hit like they talked: big. And for four successive seasons that defense allowed the fewest points in the league.

This defense is retooled. Of all the defensive players on Seattle’s active roster, linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are the only ones left from Seattle’s Super Bowl teams. In their place is a younger group that is finding its way and has been – by and large – fairly average this season. Not only that, but safety Bradley McDougald spent most of this week out of town getting treatment on his injured knee and is a question mark for this game.

But Seattle’s best bet at keeping Kansas City’s offense in check doesn’t come down to its defense. To slow the Chiefs down to a walk, Seattle has to run. Repeatedly. While no one is throwing the ball better than Kansas City, no one runs the ball more often than Seattle. Not only that, but no team allows more yards per rush than the Chiefs.

And it’s that contrast in styles that makes this game so interesting and will also decide it: Seattle 34, Kansas City 30.

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