The Seahawks' impressive win over the New Orleans Saints on Monday essentially locked up home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs -- but only if they win two more games.
They would love to start it off in San Francisco on Sunday.
It's a chance for the Seahawks to deliver one last statement to the 49ers, to seal their division dominance in a game with a lot of meaning.
Some people think this game is more important for the 49ers, who at 8-4 are fighting for a wild-card spot and might need three more wins to get it. But the Seahawks have a lot riding on it as well.
They can clinch the NFC West against the defending division champ in San Francisco, where the Hawks have not won since 2008. They can secure a first-round bye against their biggest rival. They can win their final game at Candlestick in the city where Pete Carroll grew up. And they can put an exclamation point on the statement: "We're better than the 49ers!"
"This is a tremendous opportunity for us," Carroll said this week. "Every week brings really the kind of mentality that we’ve been practicing for championship games, and here we are. So it kicks us right in the same mode that we’ve been in, which is what’s comfortable for us.”
The Seahawks have dominated the 49ers recently, winning the past two games in Seattle by a combined score of 71-16. They have lost four straight in San Francisco, but the Hawks are not even the same team that lost 13-6 on a Thursday night in October 2012.
In the 21 games since then, Russell Wilson has turned into a bona fide star and the team has continued to grow around him.
The Hawks go to San Francisco this time on the same kind of roll they were on last December, when they finished with five straight wins by an aggregate score of 193-60 -- including a 42-13 win over the Niners.
The Seahawks finally hit their stride in Atlanta three weeks ago, and they have outscored the Falcons, Vikings and Saints 108-37.
Carroll hopes the Hawks will keep it going as they did last season.
“I’m making a big deal about the fact that it’s the fourth quarter of the season and we want to finish right and do well with it," he said. "I think we’ve been up and down this year with our execution and not been as sharp as we’d like to be throughout, and we’re hoping that this is going to be the high time for us.
"Since that middle point last year, we’ve been very similar," he added. "Our numbers are similar, the kind of statistics that we’re playing with have really been very similar and our performances have been similar."
Carroll views the final four games -- at San Francisco and the New York Giants and home against Arizona and St. Louis -- as a time to hit stride and keep it going.
"This whole December opportunity is right at hand now and this is something that we take great pride in," he said. "And if we get through this successfully, then you've got the next finish, which is coming up with the playoff season. So it’s a big deal for us right now. But … we don’t want to peak too early. So we’re trying to get it going right now.”