Coming off a dominating 23-0 shutout of the New York Giants, the Seattle Seahawks seem to have everything going their way. They clinched their spot in the playoffs three weeks ago with their win over the New Orleans Saints, and will also almost certainly wrap up home-field advantage in the playoffs at some point before the regular season ends.
Despite everything looking positive for the Seahawks, there are still unanswered questions about this team. They've looked completely dominant at times, while looking vulnerable at others. It is still unclear exactly how good this team can be.
With all of that in mind, here are five questions that the Seahawks must answer before the playoffs begin:
Only 3.2, 2.8, 3.6 and 2.9. Those are running back Marshawn Lynch's yards per carry over Seattle's past four games, according to NFL.com. It is an alarming trend, especially when compared to his season average of 4.2 yards per carry. No matter how you look at it, Seattle is struggling to run the football right now.
Lynch and the running game are Seattle's offensive identity. When the running game is working, Seattle's offense becomes extremely tough to stop. If the Seahawks are going to live up to their Super Bowl potential in the playoffs, they need to use these last two regular-season games to get this problem fixed.
The No. 2 and No. 3 players on Seattle's depth chart at cornerback are currently out. Walter Thurmond will be back in Week 17 after serving his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Brandon Browner could be back as early as this week if his groin injury is healed enough to play, and if he gets a favorable result on his suspension appeal.
The problem for Seattle, and it is a great problem to have, is that the backups who have been replacing Browner and Thurmond have both been playing extremely well. Byron Maxwell has arguably played better in these past three games than Browner has played at any point this season. Jeremy Lane has also played well and is a more physical presence than Thurmond.
The Seahawks will likely have four players whose performance on the field should demand playing time. Deciding who plays and who gets stuck on the sidelines won't be an easy decision.
In the Wild Card Round of the 2012 playoffs, the Seahawks lost a defensive player at a position where the team's depth was already paper-thin. Chris Clemons tore his ACL, and Seattle lost its pass rush. Without Clemson the following week, the Seahawks and had no answer to the Atlanta Falcons passing the attack. That loss ended Seattle's playoff run.
This year's team is deeper than that 2012 team was, but there are still irreplaceable players whom the Seahawks cannot afford to lose to injury. If the Seahawks are able to clinch the top seed in the NFC this week with a win over Arizona, there will be a lot of pressure to rest players like quarterback Russell Wilson and free safety Earl Thomas in Week 17.
As is true for any Super Bowl contender, the Seahawks will need their stars healthy if they are going to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
The Seahawks made a huge investment in wide receiver Percy Harvin. On top of trading away three draft picks to acquire him, they also signed him to a lucrative new contract. So far, that investment has returned just one catch and one long kick return.
Harvin injured his hip in a summer workout and later had major surgery to repair a torn labrum. He rushed back, and after playing sparingly against the Vikings in Week 11, he hasn't played or practiced at all.
The Seahawks clearly don't need Harvin to win in the playoffs, but that doesn't mean that they couldn't use him. When healthy, Harvin is a dynamic playmaker and one of the best players in the NFL at his position. Harvin's presence would make Seattle's offense even more dangerous than it already is.
The Seahawks need just one more win, or one San Francisco loss, to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Combine that with the fact that they haven't lost at home since 2011, and it becomes unlikely that the Seahawks won't be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.
The oddsmakers agree. According to Vegas Insider, the Seahawks are currently the favorite to win the NFC, with the odds currently at 3-2. They're also the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Seattle is listed at 9-5, just ahead of Denver at 13-5, to be holding a parade in mid-February.
Vegas isn't the only ones who believe in Seattle. Football Outsiders used its mathematical models to simulate the remaining season and playoffs 50,000 times, and the Seahawks won the NFC 42.6 percent of the time. That's more than double the percent of Carolina, which was second on the list. Seattle also won the big game 25.7 percent of the time, which is significantly more than any other team.
While none of this guarantees anything for the Seahawks, it clearly means that the expectation is that they will win the Super Bowl. Anything less would be a disappointment.