The Seattle Seahawks need to find another gear for the start of the postseason.
Pete Carroll's team limped across the regular-season finish line in one of the league's worst divisions, losing to the Packers and Cardinals while playing far too close to the Rams and 49ers over the last four games of the year.
There are reasons for concern in Cascadia, but there are also legitimate reasons to believe that the late-season dip isn't a forbearer of things to come in the postseason.
The Seattle Seahawks absolutely can make it to Super Bowl LI in Houston and win it.
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The Seahawks have incredible depth
Injuries to safety Earl Thomas and wide receiver Tyler Lockett hit the Seahawks hard. That's understandable: Thomas is one of the best players in the NFL and Lockett was a game-changer on both offense and special teams.
But every team deals with injuries, and while the Seahawks' luck was terrible, few teams in the NFL are better equipped to handle the loss than the Seahawks, who have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL.
It seems that every year the Seahawks find another star or two or three — perhaps the playoffs are the time to find that star.
Steven Terrell (23) struggled after being thrust into the starting lineup following Thomas' injury but had a strong game in Week 17. While it would be foolish to think that Terrell could come close to replacing Thomas, it's not so ridiculous to think that Terrell, who has been Thomas' understudy for three years, can be a competent part of the Seahawks' secondary, which is still among the best in the NFL, even without Thomas.
Lockett's injury is a massive opportunity for Paul Richardson, the Seahawks' second-round pick in 2014, who hasn't found many windows to make an impact to this point in his career. But he saw a sharp increase in snaps in Weeks 16 and 17 — with his speed and a soft secondary to start against in Detroit, he could be the breakout star of this postseason.
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Defense matters more this year
Even without Thomas, the Seahawks' defense should be feared this postseason. No defense in the NFL boasts as many elite players at such important positions.
On the front line, Michael Bennett was one of the NFL's best linemen against the run without sacrificing his pass-rushing impact (what's new?), and Frank Clark is developing into a second edition of MB.
No team in the NFL boasted two better linebackers than Seattle's this season — Bobby Wagner (54) has a strong case to win Defensive Player of the Year and K.J. Wright was exceptional again in 2016.
And Kam Chancellor, the NFL's best safety, is still in the lineup, and Richard Sherman, while not at his ultra-elite level of 2012, is still one of the best corners in the NFL.
This Seattle defense can match up against any team in the NFL and win. The Seahawks are also an experienced unit that knows the level of physicality escalates in the playoffs and will thrive in that environment.
The Giants might have the best defense in the NFL, but the Seahawks aren't far off that pace. In a postseason in which defense seems to be an afterthought and the majority of teams are pinning their hopes to offensive success, don't overlook the old axiom: Defense wins championships.
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Russell Wilson is ballin'
The Seahawks don't have a reliable running back, or an in-form secondary wide receiver to play alongside the exceptional Doug Baldwin, or an offensive line that's worth a damn, but they have Wilson and that counts for a lot.
The stats don't tell the full story — Wilson never has been better because the Seahawks around him never have been worse.
He's doing more with less and Seattle's offense is still more than capable of winning the Super Bowl.
You don't have to go that far back in the season to remember when the Seahawks beat the Patriots in Foxboro. (Since then, the 'Hawks have lost Thomas, but the Pats have lost Gronk — let's call that a wash.)
Wilson's ability to make plays, even in the face of near-constant danger, is the stuff that legends are made of, and in the playoffs, he really can expand the legend.
The other NFC playoff contenders, save for the Giants, aren't going to strike a serious fear into the Seahawks either — the pass rushes of the Cowboys, Falcons (in close games), Packers, and Lions are not going to upend the Seahawks' game plan.
And so long as Wilson can get some time — any time, really — the Seahawks are going to be successful.