Let’s call these remaining three games the pre-postseason.
All that remains for the Seattle Seahawks is to play the bitter dregs of the NFC West, which should serve as a greased chute into the playoffs.
It starts with Thursday Night Football opponent Los Angeles Rams at CenturyLink Field, and continues at home against Arizona and then on the road at sad-sack San Francisco on the final Sunday of the season.
If all goes to form, these games will be significant, but no more than moderately contentious.
It’s a time to not only win big, but to get well, to mend their bones and their psyches, to rebuild their confidence and find ways to work around their shortcomings.
In those ways, it will be a little like the preseason, except they’re heading into the postseason.
Win them all, and the Seahawks get to 11 wins and very likely the No. 2 seed that would earn them a first-round bye and then a home game.
But lose any of them, and they’ll deserve whatever playoff fate awaits.
The Rams, Cardinals and 49ers have 10 combined wins among them. The Rams have lost eight of their last nine. Arizona has lost four of six since they tied the Seahawks on Oct. 23. And the Niners have lost 12 straight and still have time to challenge Cleveland for the honor of the worst team in the NFL.
Take care of business in these three games and all the Seahawks need to worry about is Detroit losing at least once in a rugged path to the finish line — at New York Giants, at Dallas and home against Green Bay.
Little seems predictable in this curious season for the Seahawks, with a 2-4-1 record on the road and sporadic offensive impotence that has been shocking.
Some has been due to injuries, Russell Wilson’s particularly. But also due to bad-to-middling offensive line play, on-and-off pass pressure, and an inability to sustain consistency.
These three games, though, can get them well. And if that leads to a first-round bye, they’ll be rested for a final push, too.
Here’s what can get accomplished facing three moribund opponents:
▪ Get Wilson back in sync. Two of his past three games have been among his worst — worse, even, than when he was dealing with injuries in the early part of the season.
He needs to revert to getting rid of the ball quickly. Snap, read, release. It will help him stay healthy and keep the offense moving with an aggressive tempo.
Maybe he’s been trying to do too much, and ended up forcing the ball.
It’s time to take what’s there, and save the scrambling to buy second-chances for possible dire stretches late in games.
▪ Keep polishing the running game. The offensive line is better at run blocking than pass protection. Repetitive feeding the ball to back Thomas Rawls is the path to the playoffs, now that he’s healthy.
In the past four weeks, the Seahawks have averaged 164 yards rushing a game, which would lead the NFL if they’d been on this pace all season.
A refocused running game will take pressure off Wilson, will push defenders back on their heels and eventually reduce the effectiveness of opponents’ pass rush.
Win, win, win.
▪ After being among the most effective pass rushers most of the season, the Seahawks have one lone sack in the past three games. And only five in the past five games.
Correspondingly, the opponents’ passer rating that was 76.2 through the first six games, has risen to 83.4 now.
Michael Bennett has missed time with knee surgery, and Cliff Avril, who had carried the weight of the rush in Bennett’s absence, has had one sack in the past five games.
Maybe a few blowouts could get these guys some rest for a postseason push.
Surely, there’s room for fine-tuning of the schematic approach, too, as teams seem well-prepared for whatever rush the Seahawks have been throwing at them.
▪ Get their minds right. The Seahawks have looked really good only three times this season, against San Francisco, New England and Carolina.
The win at New England, particularly, proved they still have the ability to be among the league’s elite.
But the last two road losses have left them answering questions about their readiness and competitiveness.
Other than the names on their backs and the colors of their jerseys, they seemed well short of the Seahawks teams of recent seasons.
Three straight wins would rebuild their confidence and slingshot them into the playoffs.
Struggle in these, though, and doubts will remain.