Notebook: Seahawks Squandering Chances?

The Seahawks lost a golden opportunity to get a leg up on the competition in a muddied NFC playoff race. Seattle's upset loss in San Francisco left the Seahawks tied with four other 6-4 teams in the conference. And thanks to tiebreaking procedures, the Seahawks are third in the conference even though they own a head-to-head victory over the second-seeded Giants.

Chicago is running away with the conference at 9-1. The Bears will almost certainly prevail in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. That's hugely important given that the home-field edge helped propel Seattle to its first Super Bowl last season.

Without the home-field advantage, Seattle probably wouldn't have made it to Detroit. And given the inconsistencies of the current Seattle team, the Seahawks can't be expected to win road playoff games. That means Seattle could be looking at a one-and-done scenario this January unless the Seahawks can regain their old form.

The Giants appear to be in free-fall mode themselves. But their 6-4 record trumps Seattle's record because the league breaks three-way ties on conference record, not head-to-head results. Seattle defeated the Giants, 42-30, early in the season.

Of the five teams at 6-4, three are leading their divisions. Those teams -- Seattle, Carolina and the Giants -- are currently candidates for the second, third and fourth seeds. The Giants win that three-way tiebreaker on conference record. Seattle then beats out Carolina for the third seed based on the same criteria.

That leaves New Orleans and Dallas fighting for the wild-card spots. The Saints prevail in that tiebreaker. The top six, in order, are the Bears, Giants, Seahawks, Panthers, Saints and Cowboys. Much will change over the season's final six weeks. The question in Seattle, it appears, is how much the Seahawks will change, too.

"The consistency that maybe we had last year hasn't been there this year," coach Mike Holmgren said. "But we still have time. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We still have time to fix this."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Matt Hasselbeck expects to start against the Packers on Monday night, his first game back from a sprained knee. The team won't make a final determination until Hasselbeck practices this week. Hasselbeck tossed four touchdown passes with no interceptions in his final six quarters before the injury.

--RB Shaun Alexander's left foot held up fine in his first game back from injury. He was a little tentative in the early going, but he warmed up a little in the second half. Seattle didn't have the ball long enough for Alexander to get into a true rhythm. Blocking breakdowns also hurt his efficiency.

--RB Maurice Morris has gone back to the backup role he played before Shaun Alexander's injury. The team may or may not pay lip service to getting him the ball more, but Alexander is the man as long as he's healthy.

--TE Jerramy Stevens appears doomed to a disappointing season. He dropped a third-and-9 pass and lost a fumble during Seattle's 20-14 loss at San Francisco. Stevens missed the early part of the season with knee problems. He has six games to make a case for getting a raise in free agency come March. So far, it's not happening for him.

--WR Bobby Engram could return from a thyroid condition this week. He is undergoing blood tests to measure his progress. The Seahawks have good depth at receiver, but Engram's absence has hurt some. He's a leader on the team and a threat on third down. He had 18 catches with no drops before the thyroid condition took over.

--WR Deion Branch is coming off his first 100-yard receiving game as a Seahawk. He had a 38-yard touchdown grab against the 49ers. Branch was open for a long gain over the middle in the final minutes of the game, but QB Seneca Wallace missed him.

--WR D.J. Hackett has 20 receptions while filling in for WR Bobby Engram, who could return from a thyroid condition this week. Hackett's role would diminish if Engram comes back and produces.

--LB Julian Peterson has gone two consecutive games without a sack for the first time this season. The 49ers ran the ball so well last week that Seattle didn't get much chance to crank up its pass rush.

--SS Jordan Babineaux missed badly on a few attempts at open-field tackles on 49ers RB Frank Gore. Seattle wants Babineaux in the lineup for his skills defending the pass. The team is in trouble if opposing running backs have time to reach full speed after running through the front seven.

--CB Marcus Trufant is coming off his best game of the season. He was the last line of defense on some of 49ers RB Frank Gore's long runs. Trufant prevented long runs from becoming touchdown runs.


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