Everything is falling into place for the Seattle Seahawks, and they've now set themselves up for a deep run into the playoffs. They're as healthy as they've been since Week 1 of the season and have been dominating teams the past few weeks, including Monday's blowout 34-7 victory of the New Orleans Saints.
With Monday's win, Seattle was the first team in the NFL this season to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Now, the Seahawks will set their sights higher as they work on making their path to the Super Bowl as smooth as they can.
With those goals now in focus, the Seahawks' path to each is clear:
The NFC West Crown
The Seahawks currently have a three-game lead on the second-place San Francisco 49ers with just four games to play. All Seattle has to do is win next week on the road in San Francisco and the Seahawks will clinch the division and secure a home game in the playoffs.
If the Seahawks lose next week, things get a little more interesting in the division. Seattle would also essentially lose the tiebreaker to the 49ers as well. The only scenario they could end up in a tie with the 49ers would involve the Seahawks losing at least one other divisional games prior to the end of the season, so the 49ers would have the better record inside the NFC West.
So if the Seahawks were to lose to the 49ers next week, then Seattle's "magic number" of Seahawks' wins or 49er losses over the final three weeks of the season would still sit at two.
The Seahawks cannot clinch a first-round bye without first clinching the NFC West. The Seahawks have a four-game lead on the No. 3 seed with four games remaining. The wins required to wrap up the division will automatically eliminate the possibility that the Seahawks could drop enough to miss out on a bye the first week of the playoffs.
This means that if the Seahawks win the NFC West, they will automatically qualify for the first-round bye.
The Seahawks currently hold a two-game lead over both the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers, which are the only other teams that could take the No. 1 seed away from the Seahawks. Seattle also holds the tiebreakers over each of those teams due to head-to-head wins of both of them.
This provides the Seahawks with a de-facto three-game lead with four games remaining, since other teams must be a full game better than the Seahawks to claim the No. 1 seed away from them.
Seattle's "magic number" to claim the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs currently stands at two. The wins needed to claim the NFC West will account for at least one of those wins.
The Panthers and Saints also play each other twice over the next three weeks. These games will either eliminate one of the those teams from the equation because of two losses, or it will extend Seattle's lead lead over both by one game
Putting It All Together
By winning 11 out of their first 12 games of the season, the Seahawks have set themselves up with a fairly clear path for a run deep into the playoffs. The Seahawks can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with just two wins in their final four games.
The importance of playing those playoff games at home was apparent on Monday night against the Saints. The 12th Man provided a considerable advantage for the Seahawks in that game, and there's no reason to believe that it won't be the same in the playoffs.
The Seahawks have now won their past 14 games at CenturyLink Field, which is the longest home winning streak in the NFL. The last time the Seahawks lost a home game was back in the 2011 season.
With the Seahawks finally getting healthy and hitting their stride as a dominant team, clinching home-field advantage would set up the Seahawks for a run deep into the playoffs.