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NFC playoff picture: Seahawks are back from the abyss

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The Seattle Seahawks might not be the dominant force they were during back-to-back Super Bowl runs in 2013 and 2014, but NFC contenders could live to regret missing the opportunity to bury the defending conference champions.

For the first time this season, the Seahawks will head into a week of action in playoff position, the product of a win over the Steelers coupled with the latest loss by the fast-fading Falcons. Seattle will have a challenge in holding onto that spot in Week 13. They hit the road to face the 8-3 Vikings in a game that could tell us if the Seahawks can still hit the accelerator when the stakes get higher.

If the Seahawks can knock off the Vikings, watch out. The next three weeks will feature matchups against the Ravens, Browns and Rams (combined record of 10-23) followed by a Week 17 date against a Cardinals team that could conceivably be resting starters.

The Seahawks aren't the same team this year. Their defense -- especially their vaunted secondary -- hasn't been as strong and the absence of Marshawn Lynch will be felt, regardless of early positive returns on Thomas Rawls. But will you really be stunned if Seattle was 11-5 when the dust clears on Jan. 3?

Didn't think so.

Don't stop believin'

Hope doesn't waft into Ford Field too often, so when it does we take notice. Thanksgiving's pasting of the Eagles was the best version of the Lions team many expected to see back in August. The defense was sturdy, Matthew Stafford was slinging it around like it was his 5,000-yard season, and Calvin Johnson dominated like the Megatron we remember.

Still, when you start 1-7 you leave yourself very little margin for error for a Cinderella run. We'll just say the schedule ahead is manageable for Detroit if they find a way to get past the stumbling Packers on Thursday. After Green Bay, Detroit visits St. Louis and New Orleans, hosts the 49ers, then travel to Soldier Field to get the Bears again. After the Packers, the Lions don't play another winning team. Dream, Motor City, dream!

Speaking of the Packers ...

Don't look now, but the Packers are in real danger if they can't find a way to get past the Lions. Green Bay is fortunate to face a Matt Cassel-led Cowboys team in Week 14, but they end the season at Raiders (5-6), at Cardinals (9-2) and home to Vikings (8-3). There isn't a gimme to be had there, especially with the way this team has played for more than a month.

NFC Least

      Give Washington's football team credit: Not many predicted they'd enter December on top of the NFC East. Yes, that says more about the wretched state of the division, but Jay Gruden kept the Redskins above water in bleak times. Now they have a real shot at this. Giants players acknowledged they overlooked the Redskins ahead of Sunday's loss, and now New York has a coin flip game against the Jets. The stakes will be high in the Meadowlands for both Gotham's teams.

Falcons free fall

Remember when the Falcons were 5-0 and Dan Quinn was being hailed as the man who could do what Mike Smith and his Tevas could not? Six games and five losses later, the Falcons' record pretty much matches what they are: A middle-of-the-road team that feels destined for 8-8. That won't be enough.

Huge matchup ahead alert ...

We try not to get ahead of ourselves in this exercise, but how can we not notice the Vikings and Cardinals on tap for Week 14? That game could decide which team gets the second bye.

Hi Panthers

We didn't forget about you. You're 11-0. With a favorable schedule ahead, you remain the heavy favorite to claim the NFC's top seed. Congratulations on your envious position in life.

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