Seattle Seahawks Closer than you think?

If a couple close games had gone their way, the Hawks might be playing for a division title Sunday

Face it, there’s no way to dress up this season to make the Seahawks look like anything but a struggling team near the bottom of the NFL food chain.

This had so much downward momentum from the start – with the early injuries to Marcus Tubbs, Chris Gray, Matt Hasselbeck and all the receivers – that they seemed out of the running by the time the calendar flipped to October.

So this column is only an exercise is far-fetched hypotheticals, and a diversion from the critiques this season has justly earned only because we feel the demands of the holiday spirit of kindness and forbearance.

But I wonder how the season might have played out differently for the Seahawks if they had somehow been able to see into the future and realize it would take only eight wins to claim the NFC West Division title.

There was no way to know, when Arizona defeated them at Qwest Field on Nov. 16 to improve to 7-3 (with a five-game lead over Seattle), that the Cardinals would head into the final week with only eight wins.

The Hawks wrap up the Mike Holmgren era Sunday in Glendale, Ariz., against the Cardinals. Stunningly, this could have been for something.

If Seattle can win over a Cardinals team that already has a playoff berth locked up, the Seahawks finish with five wins and a three-game winning streak.

You may then ask, how far away were they from scrounging together the three more wins it would have taken to make this meaningful?

Actually, there were five they were in position to have won.

In the second game of the season, facing San Francisco at home, they lost 33-30 in overtime after taking a 30-27 lead in the fourth quarter. Hasselbeck threw a pair of interceptions, and although the defense sacked J.T. O’Sullivan eight times, it should have nailed him a half-dozen times more.

The root of this narrow loss? Injuries to the receivers, as most of the game Hasselbeck was throwing to Courtney Taylor, Michael Bumpus and Billy McMullen.

From that point, they stumbled around into November. But if they’d beaten the Niners that day, they’d have been 3-5 as they headed into Miami for Game 9.

They lost to the Dolphins 21-19 behind five false-start penalties and at least as many dropped passes, including a simple slant-in to Koren Robinson that easily could have supplied the winning points.

That win, on the East Coast, could have had the Hawks somewhat energized at 4-5 coming home for games against Washington and Arizona.

They lost those two by a combined nine points, and in both of them, a banged-up Hasselbeck threw interceptions in the final moments.

Two games later, they fell 24-21 to New England when Hasselbeck’s backup, Seneca Wallace, was sacked and fumbled on the Hawks’ final drive.

To win two of those three close home games would not have been an unreasonable expectation. Added to the last two they’ve won, it would have left them 8-7 and heading to Arizona on Sunday to play for their fifth straight division title.

Asked Wednesday to consider how close the division might have been, Holmgren said it’s something he talked to the team about at roughly Week 6.

“We were really struggling and Arizona was off to a good start,” he said. “I said, look, if we could get on a little run here, we might be able to catch them. You don’t know how a team is going to respond the last four or five games.”

He credited his team for playing hard all season. And it did. But there’s a difference between playing hard and really selling out the way players do when they know a title or playoff berth is on the line. Maybe an early win or two could have changed the season’s complexion – even with all the injuries.

In fairness, Arizona may have throttled back since running up a big lead and never would have slumped like this if the race were still on.

The situation, though, is a reminder Holmgren said he will offer to the team.

“I’m sure, in the locker room, they’ve thought of (the what-ifs),” he said. “It’s been a screwy year like that around the league, and it’s a good lesson.”