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Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks in NFC driver's seat entering bye

The time had come to speak to his players about the task at hand, as Pete Carroll does virtually every Saturday night during the NFL season, but the Seattle Seahawks' relentlessly upbeat coach called an indulgent and understandable audible.

Descending a staircase at the team hotel to find the nearest television set, Carroll took a walk down memory lane: He watched the USC Trojans, a program he rebuilt into a national power before leaving amid a cloud of impending NCAA sanctions, recapture a bit of the old magic by closing out a thrilling upset of No. 4 Stanford.

"I loved it," Carroll said Sunday night, a couple of hours after the Seahawks had rolled to a 41-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field, improving their NFL-best record to 10-1. "Our meeting started late because I wanted to get to see that guy kick the winning field goal. I was just really excited for Coach (Ed Orgeron) and everyone else. It was awesome."

If ever a coach was going to be forgiven for a delay of game infraction, it was this one on this night. While SeahawksRichard Sherman and Doug Baldwin (who lost a bet to Carroll) might not have been thrilled with their alma mater's defeat, Carroll's enthusiasm sets the tone for the franchise, and his popularity among his players rivals that of Batkid among San Franciscans.

In his fourth season in Seattle, Carroll has assembled an NFL team of his dreams -- a chillingly efficient, potent, unflappable and well-rounded outfit that appears to be nowhere close to peaking. In dispatching the Vikings on Sunday, the Seahawks welcomed back three offensive line starters (center Max Unger and tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini) and rolled out, at long last, their prized offseason acquisition: electrifying playmaker Percy Harvin.

Harvin, acquired last March in a blockbuster trade with the Vikings, underwent hip surgery Aug. 1 and began the season on the physically unable to perform list before returning to practice last month. He only touched the ball twice in his debut, but that was enough to send a resounding message to the NFC's other Super Bowl contenders.

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First, Harvin, on a third-and-10 play in the second quarter, reached out with one arm and made a sublime, leaping catch of a Russell Wilson pass for a 17-yard gain, setting up a Marshawn Lynch touchdown. Later in the quarter, Harvin ripped off a 58-yard kickoff return, putting the Seahawks in position to take a 24-13 lead on Wilson's 19-yard touchdown pass to Baldwin.

Naturally, as he drove home with family members following the Seahawks' sixth consecutive victory, Carroll was preoccupied not with the excitement of the present or the promise of the future, but with the one that got away.

"We were kicking ourselves about that Indy game," Carroll said, referring to the Seahawks' 34-28 road defeat to the Colts on Oct. 6, a game in which Seattle squandered leads of 12-0 and 25-17. "We started off so great, but then we gave up a couple of deep balls and they blocked a field goal. It's a shame, because we had a real opportunity there."

Yet even for those of us who regarded the Seahawks as Super Bowl favorites going into the season, it's hard not to be impressed with where Carroll's team stands as it heads into its bye week.

Thanks to the best start in franchise history, Seattle has a 1½-game lead over the New Orleans Saints -- a team it will host in a Dec. 2 Monday night game -- in the race for the NFC's top playoff seed. That's especially significant given that the Seahawks, with 13 consecutive victories at CenturyLink (a stadium in which Wilson has never lost), might possess the league's most formidable home-field advantage, though the Saints arguably rank a close second.

And for all the drama in recent months between the Seahawks and their chief NFC West rivals, the San Francisco 49ers, the division race is practically over: With their loss to the Saints on Sunday, the Niners (6-4) dropped into a second-place tie with the Arizona Cardinals (6-4) and fell 3½ games behind Seattle, a team that has owned San Francisco in the past two meetings.

"The division thing is huge for us," Carroll said. "We hope we can close this thing out and roll from there."

A whole lot can happen between now and February, of course, but no one can accuse Carroll -- a master at convincing his players to treat each game as equally important -- of not playing the long game. The coach has, in the words of star cornerback Sherman, been "super conservative" with Harvin, finally succumbing to the receiver's extensive lobbying effort to get back on the field, but only on a limited basis. Last week, Harvin made it clear that he felt ready to return to game action for the first time since last Nov. 4, when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury that sidelined him for the Vikings' playoff run.

"Ohhhhhh yeah," Carroll said, laughing. "We had a really good game plan in terms of getting him healthy, but it's been really hard to be patient. He worked relentlessly to make it happen, and he looked great in practice, so we went for it."

Now Carroll's players will take a few days off before returning, he hopes, refreshed and ready for the stretch run. One of them, however, will have a little something hanging over his head, thanks to the outcome of Saturday night's clash at the L.A. Coliseum.

"Doug Baldwin owes me a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie at The Cheesecake Factory," Carroll said. "I want to hold off (on cashing in) as long as I can, so he can owe me a long time."

In the meantime, Carroll can savor his team's continued standing atop our query-driven food chain, while ailing counterpart John Fox can appreciate his Broncos' ascent to the No. 2 spot (on the strength of Sunday night's 27-17 victory over the Chiefs, who formerly occupied it) in absentia:

1) Seattle Seahawks: What gets Brandon Mebane more excited: forcing a quarterback hurry or having to wait just 10 more days for Thanksgiving dinner?

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the Denver Broncos' 27-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs from Week 11 on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

2) Denver Broncos: Is Peyton Manning the Eliot Nessof the NFL -- or is he just a legend with a gun?

3) New England Patriots: Who's a more dependable underdog: Bill Belichick or this pooch?

4) New Orleans Saints: Isn't it cool that Marques Colston, a seventh-round draft pick in 2006, is the Saints' all-time leading receiver -- and don't you get the feeling that Jimmy Graham is well on his way to surpassing him?

5) Kansas City Chiefs: In keeping with my Foreigner analogy from "Thursday Night Football", is it fair to say that Alex Smith was "Cold As Ice" -- and not in a good way -- Sunday night in Denver?

6) Carolina Panthers: When Cam Newton said of the team's postgame locker-room celebration in San Francisco last Sunday, "You would've thought doggone Jesus came back," was he just trying to get me to link to one of my favorite television skits of all time?

7) Indianapolis Colts: Does Trent Richardson merely need an offseason to adjust to his new surroundings or should the Colts already have buyer's remorse?

8) San Francisco 49ers: Instead of looking to Twitter slights for motivation, wouldn't it be simpler for Colin Kaepernick to sneak a few peeks at the stat sheet?

9) Cincinnati Bengals: After watching James Harrison barrel into the end zone on this (called-back) interception return Sunday, should Marvin Lewis consider using the veteran linebacker as a running back in short-yardage situations?

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the Chicago Bears' 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens from Week 11 on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. ET.

10) Chicago Bears:Does Brandon Marshall view the Bears as Jay-Z to the Lions' Kanye -- and does Kanye view his hometown team as the Dropout Bears?

11) Detroit Lions: If the Lions go into a tailspin after Sunday's setback in Pittsburgh, will Jim Schwartz's fake field goal become as infamous in Motown as Marty Mornhinweg's decision to take the wind in overtime?

12) Arizona Cardinals: When I begin a sentence with the words "Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards and two touchdowns without an interception," what are the odds the remaining three words will be "against the Jaguars"?

13) Philadelphia Eagles: When LeSean McCoy was a kid, was he the best "Capture the Flag" player at his school?

14) Green Bay Packers: If Scott Tolzien reminded Aaron Rodgers of "a young Matt (Flynn)" before Sunday's game, did Tolzien remind the injured star of a not-so-young Flynn while throwing three interceptions against the Giants?

15) Dallas Cowboys: If Dez Bryant watched Calvin Johnson's 163-yard second quarter against the Steelers on Sunday, did the receiver scream a slew of "positive" proclamations at his TV?

16) New York Jets: OK, so it's an *every-other-game* thing, and not an every-other-week thing -- got it?

17) Baltimore Ravens: Did the Hand of Roger cast another spell on the Ravens on Sunday -- and did it also guide the fan in a Terrell Suggs jersey onto the field during the weather delay?

18) New York Giants: When Jason Pierre-Paul intercepted that Tolzien pass and took it to the house in the fourth quarter Sunday, did former Rams star Jack Youngblood get an assist?

19) Cleveland Browns: After defensive coordinator Ray Horton named safety Tashaun Gipson his MVP, did Joe Haden givemy trademark pose (and make a statement with his play on Sunday)?

20) Miami Dolphins: Does the fact that Dion Jordan -- for whom the Dolphins traded up to draft third overall last April -- will remain a limited participant during his rookie season provide yet another reason for owner Stephen Ross to make general manager Jeff Ireland a non-participantcome late December?

21) St. Louis Rams: If this is the Rams' "Grit Year", how many Rams fans feel like Flo?

22) Pittsburgh Steelers: Given that a Steelers staffer pulled the plug on a Lions-owned boombox Sunday -- and that a certain maligned quarterback proceeded to light it up at Heinz Field -- should Ian Rapoport and I feel silenced, too?

23) San Diego Chargers: Who had less fun in his hometown: Corey Liuget on Sunday or Jonathan Martin on Saturday?

24) Buffalo Bills: What's more surprising: that Rex Ryan had the Jets blow off their Saturday night meeting to go to Dave & Busters or that there's a Dave & Busters in suburban Buffalo?

25) Oakland Raiders: Which McLovinis more*tight*?

27) Washington Redskins: When Robert Griffin III said after Sunday's loss that the Eagles "knew what was coming," how many of us foresaw a divorce between the young quarterback and his head coach?

28) Minnesota Vikings: Will Josh Freemanreallynot get another chance after his rushed, regrettable Vikings debut -- and if he doesn't, why in the world did Minnesota acquire him?

31) Atlanta Falcons: Does Mike Smith disdain math -- or, with the Falcons having scored a touchdown to cut the Bucs' lead from 32 to 26 late in the third quarter of Sunday's game, had he just stopped caring when he decided not to go for two?

32) Jacksonville Jaguars: After Jason Babin made this hair-raising tackle of Cardinals running back Andre Ellington on Sunday, how cool would it have been if this song had been blasted over the EverBank Field PA system?

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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