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O’Neil: A Seahawks loss would conclude ‘death spiral’ after 10-2 start

The Seahawks open the postseason on the road in Philadelphia. (Getty)

The setup is similar to last year, the Seahawks going on the road in the first week of the playoffs to play at the NFC East champion.

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The stakes are significantly different, however.

Making the playoffs last year constituted a surprise for so many after an offseason of attrition. Richard Sherman was released. Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril retired. Michael Bennett was traded. A wild card playoff berth was more than many people expected for Seattle, so while there was disappointment when the Seahawks lost at Dallas in that first week, there was also the feeling that Seattle was already on the upswing.

If the Seahawks don’t make it out of the first round this year, it will feel like they’re treading water. Actually, it would feel worse than that because it would mean that after a 10-2 start, Seattle lost four of the final five games it played and that’s not progress, it’s a death spiral.

Yes, Seattle has suffered a rash of injuries. Duane Brown is out at left tackle. Jadeveon Clowney isn’t practicing as it’s everything he can do just to be available for the game. Travis Homer was the No. 4 running back when the season began; he’s now the starter, and Marshawn Lynch went from not playing in more than 12 months to getting 11 carries last Sunday.

But Philadelphia is just as banged up. Right tackle Lane Johnson has been limited in practice this week because of an ankle injury. Tight end Zach Ertz missed last week’s game with a rib injury, and Philadelphia didn’t have a single wide receiver amass more than 500 yards during the regular season.

The Eagles have won their past four games, though, while Seattle has gone 1-3. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. At least that’s what Pete Carroll likes to say and I don’t think it’s the way Seattle started last week’s regular-season finale against San Francisco that is indicative of what will happen Sunday, but the way the Seahawks offense finished it. Or at least the way they finished it up until that delay-of-game penalty with 22 seconds left because right up until that point, Seattle’s offense had been buzzing through one of the league’s better defense.

Quarterback Russell Wilson completed his first nine passes of the second half, and Seattle scored a touchdown on each of its first three possessions after halftime. They came a couple feet away from going four-for-four on touchdown drives in the second half, ending what had been six consecutive quarters of excruciating futility.

Seattle got comfortable with George Fant at left tackle in place of Brown while Homer and Lynch were running the ball, and while that wasn’t enough to win the game and claim the home playoff game that came with it, I think it does put Seattle on track for a victory over the Eagles and a potential rematch with the 49ers in the divisional playoffs.

If not, the Seahawks will be one-and-done for a second consecutive season, and this time, it will have come in a year in which their franchise quarterback had the best regular season of his career. And if that’s not enough to get Seattle more than a cup of coffee in the postseason, it will be an unmitigated disappointment to what was such a promising season just one month ago.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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