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Rost: Undefeated Seahawks’ path to the top has never looked easier, which only adds pressure

The Seahawks may be in the best shape of the NFC's remaining undefeated teams. (Getty)

The Seahawks knew heading into the season that this wasn’t going to be easy.

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Yes, they have one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the league, and yes, he’s stringing together an MVP season. But there were departures on the offensive and defensive lines to deal with and a major hole at pass rush – and it was always going to be tough overcoming those deficiencies in a stacked NFC West.

It’s incredibly early to take power rankings too seriously, and I’d hardly start to count out any team in the NFC West. But in an interesting twist, three weeks into the season, the Seahawks (along with the undefeated Packers) are standing alone amid a jumble of AFC contenders, and fans are left wondering where the rest of the NFC has gone.

The defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, a favorite to win the division, have suffered injuries to key starters, most notably a season-ending ACL tear for defensive end Nick Bosa. They’ve managed to keep a 2-1 record and saw the return of tight end George Kittle (knee) this week, but for now Seattle retains a one-game lead in the standings. The same is true for the Rams – who are second in the league in rushing even without Todd Gurley – and Cardinals. Both are nipping at Seattle’s heels but remain behind for now.

Meanwhile, the Saints are off to a 1-2 start after a disappointing loss to the Raiders. The Bears are 3-0 but recently benched their starting quarterback. The Atlanta and Minnesota defenses have allowed nearly as many yards as Seattle, while Detroit and Dallas aren’t too far behind. The Seahawks will also face Washington and the Giants, two of the conference’s worst teams.

Suddenly, Seattle’s path to the top of the NFC has never looked easier.

Before you get ahead of yourself, though, this is an important time to pause for a dose of reality: injured stars on several teams aren’t going to be out for long, and the Seahawks – while looking very much like one of the league’s top offenses – will still need to make the most of their early lead on the rest of the conference. That means that in a season with slow starts for competitors and just one bye week (reserved only for the top seed), a Week 4 win over the Miami Dolphins just became a lot more important than it would have been in years’ past.

Here are a couple keys to the game for the Seahawks:

A chance to right the ship on defense

My colleague Danny O’Neil has explained this point perfectly, but I’ll do my best to summarize it: You won’t get credit for winning a game against a struggling team, but you’ll certainly get railed for losing.

The Seahawks have a chance to improve on their defensive performance over the past three weeks when they face Miami this Sunday. Will a handful of sacks or interceptions move the needle on an outsider’s perspective of the Seahawks’ defense? Maybe not. But it couldn’t be more important to the players in this program.

They certainly have a good chance to make an improvement. The Dolphins aren’t nearly as pass happy as the Falcons or Cowboys. Miami’s offense is averaging 23 points per game (compared to Seattle’s 37) and 324 total yards of offense. They’ll be headed up by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had a stellar performance in a Week 3 win over Jacksonville but who also has three interceptions to just four passing touchdowns.

There’s a chance Seattle will be without safety Jamal Adams (groin), cornerback Quinton Dunbar (knee), and linebacker Jordyn Brooks (knee). But if there’s a silver lining, it’s that all three players who will be replacing them have starting experience.

Go ahead and cook

Running back Chris Carson is a key part of Seattle’s offense and a strong run game is a powerful part of any dynamic offense. But with Carson nursing a knee injury and several Dolphins defensive backs suffering nagging injuries of their own, Week 4 could bring another reason to let Russell Wilson take a few deep shots.

Follow Stacy Rost on Twitter.

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