In the feeble NFC, the Seahawks are a legitimate contender

Pen the tale of the wonky: What do the Seahawks have in common with the New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

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Two months ago, the story would’ve been that they’re five teams in transition or turmoil.

Now they’re the best five teams in the NFC, according to the standings.

Meanwhile, the six NFC teams that made the playoffs last season have a combined record of 18-21 as we enter Week 8, the midpoint of the season. So Halloween is the perfect NFC holiday because it’s difficult to discern whether pretenders are masked as contenders, or contenders are masked as pretenders, or if this whole freaky show will even matter once the New Orleans Saints get healthy.

What’s clear, however, is that the Seahawks picked a good year to return to the scrum. At 4-2, they visit the Oakland Raiders, their old AFC West rival, today and have a chance to stay ahead of the mediocrity swirling around them. Even if they lose, the conference and, especially, the NFC West division won’t be leaving them behind.

So a rebuilding season has become much grander. The Seahawks have an opening to make a playoff push over their next 10 games, and if they’re fortunate enough to make the postseason, it’s shaping up to be a free-for-all, unless the Saints return to form.

Former coach Tony Dungy touted the Seahawks as the NFC’s finest on NBC last week. Colleague Rodney Harrison responded to Dungy’s words as if they were an Aziz Ansari joke and laughed obnoxiously.

Really, you could laugh off any NFC team right now.

The preseason favorites are fading quickly. San Francisco was expected to conquer the NFC West, but the 49ers are 1-6 and fatally flawed. Dallas thought it was a contender, but at 1-5 and with Tony Romo out with a broken collarbone, the Cowboys are toast. Minnesota is 2-4, Brett Favre has a mangled ankle, and the Vikings are on their deathbed. Even Green Bay, a trendy Super Bowl pick (yours truly fell victim), is 4-3 and scuffling, but the Packers are still in good position to make a run.

The defending champion Saints are 4-3, and the acclaimed New Orleans offense, sputtering because of injuries to running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush, is averaging only one more point per game than the offensively unstable Seahawks.

This is why the Seahawks are only a half-game out of the top record in the NFC. They’re only a game back for the best record in the whole league, but don’t be fooled: Several AFC teams clearly have performed better thus far.

Everyone in town is wondering if it’s safe to trust the Seahawks. Are they legit? Well, in the context of this season, they are.

Any other year, you’d be overly concerned that they’re only 28th of 32 teams in total offense, averaging 294 yards per game. Even though the defense has been lauded, the Seahawks are just 19th in total defense, but that stat is skewed by a small sample size that’s still punishing them for the 518 yards they allowed to San Diego in a Week 3 victory. It’s more telling to note the Seahawks have the No. 2 run defense (only allowing 77.5 rushing yards per game) and rank fifth in points allowed (17.8).

The Seahawks aren’t a team you can define solely by numbers.

“I think our success so far is about the makeup of our guys,” cornerback Marcus Trufant said. “We have a lot of tough guys who care. We’re real competitive because that’s the standard coach (Pete) Carroll set the moment he got here. We may not always look great from play to play, but when you put it all together, we’re finding ways to win.”

Over the past two games, the Seahawks have stabilized and shown great improvement. If they fix their red-zone problems on offense, they’d be downright dangerous. They’ve beaten Chicago and Arizona by using an improved running game and a defense that keeps getting better. The Bears and Cardinals combined to convert only two of 24 third-down attempts.

The Seahawks won’t be considered legit until they fight through some type of misfortune. It could come over the next few weeks. They’re not good enough to roll through this season, so some turbulence is inevitable. At the same time, they’re not burdened with a schedule full of juggernauts. It wouldn’t be surprising if this team fell apart, but the notion gets more unlikely each week.

With this fast start, the stage is set for them to prosper all season. If they truly are a young team that will improve as the season progresses, maybe Dungy’s words won’t be so laughable in December.

“I think it’s all starting to come together,” Trufant said. “And we have a great upside.”

Their great upside versus the NFC’s obvious downside is an interesting thought. It’s up to the rest of the conference to show the Seahawks they aren’t as good as their early-season record. So far, the attempt at discouragement has been awfully feeble.