Russell Wilson and the Seahawks control their own postseason destiny

The Seattle Seahawks have the fate of the season within their own hands, which means to say — as this is 2019 — that it is in the hands of Russell Wilson.

It has been a slightly peculiar season for the Seahawks: second in their division, escapees from a number of close shaves, coming off a heavy loss to the Los Angeles Rams, yet still with the opportunity to be a high seed in the NFC within their grasp.

The days of catchy nicknames and branded success are no more. The vaunted Legion of Boom secondary and Marshawn Lynch’s Beast Mode charges are consigned to team history. If Seattle is going to conjure something special out of this year, it’s going to be primarily thanks to the mercurial talents of Wilson, perhaps the only meaningful challenger to Lamar Jackson’s grip on the MVP race.

Sunday’s visit to the Carolina Panthers (FOX, 1 p.m. ET) might as well be the start of the postseason for the Seahawks. Three victories to close out the regular season would ensure top spot in the NFC West, undoubtedly football’s toughest and most competitive division this season.

That’s because one of those final victories would need to be against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 17, which is already shaping up as an epic encounter between two teams with long history and little time for each other.

Wilson has been delivering since the start of the campaign. He’s tied for the second-most passing touchdowns (26) in the league against just five interceptions, has a 107.5 passer rating and has thrown for 3,422 yards. Now he knows it’s time to step things up even further.

“We’ve got a three-game push right here and are looking forward to that opportunity,” Wilson said on Thursday. “We’re ready to roll and are looking forward to finding ways to win, get into the playoffs, hopefully, and go a long way.

“We went on a five-game winning streak. Hopefully we can go on a five-, six-, seven-game win streak now. Each game has a history to itself; hopefully we can find a way to play great in this game, let that add up for the next one.”

This is a different Seattle team than the one that went all the way in 2013-14, back when Wilson was a second-year breakout star earning $526,217, partly because no one was sure at the end of his college career if he was more devoted to baseball or football.

There are some weeks when it looks like the Seattle defense is getting things together, but a Legion of Boom this is not, and the ghosts of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and company still hang over the secondary whenever things go wrong and fans remember what once was.

Wilson has led the team to an NFL-high five game-winning drives, including nailbiters against the likes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when he made all the difference. His throw to D.K. Metcalf to clinch victory in that game was lofted into an impossibly tight window and provided highlight reel fodder.

His late-game heroics have helped Seattle tilt possible defeats into victories enough times that they are 10-3 despite scoring only 20 more total points than they have conceded. And, if not for an overtime squeak past the 49ers on Nov. 11, San Francisco would be off over the horizon atop the NFC West.

No one, however, is sleeping on Seattle.

“They’re the biggest threat in the NFC,” 49ers legend Jerry Rice told ESPN. “Seattle is going to be hard to deal with because of Russell Wilson and the way this guy can assess what happens down the field. He can expand plays and he’s still got great vision downfield.”

Wilson is an eighth-year veteran now, but according to him he is not even halfway through his career. He once said he wished to play until the age of 43, then amended that to 45, perhaps after seeing Tom Brady’s prolonged productivity.

He spends large amounts of his own money on keeping himself in optimum shape, with a full-time team that includes a mental conditioning coach, a trainer, a physical therapist, a massage therapist, a yoga instructor and a chef.

The juggernaut-like traits of the Baltimore Ravens and Jackson’s continued brilliance have been significant in that it is the fleet-footed youngster who is overwhelming the MVP chatter, but while the Ravens QB’s record-breaking season seems to be literally running away with the award, Wilson will likely get a not-insignificant number of votes.

“Here is how great (Wilson) has been,” Nick Wright said on First Things First last month. “Whenever he makes a mistake, it is shocking to us.”

The Panthers have lost five straight and blown their own chances of reaching the playoffs, yet Seattle has no margin for error between now and the end of the season. Few are discussing them as a leading Super Bowl contender; there are far flashier campaigns out there, like those of the Ravens or 49ers.

FiveThirtyEight gives them a 36 percent chance of winning the division and a 4 percent shot at winning a championship. FOX Bet, meanwhile, gives them a punchers’ chance to win the West, at +165 to the Niners’ -225. The Seahawks have the sixth-best odds to win the Super Bowl this season, at +1300 — a far cry from the Ravens, at +235.

Yet the Seahawks can be as dangerous as any. Don’t sleep on Wilson’s smarts. And hey, if the Seahawks land up with home field advantage, the noise of CenturyLink Field doubles their postseason danger.

Wilson no longer has that epic defense or Lynch’s ferocious brawn beside him, but he’s more resilient than ever, and when he claims he likes his chances, you tend to believe him.

“Everything that we want is ahead of us,” he said.