America’s team – the Seahawks?

As Dave Niehaus once told it during another Seattle team’s improbable playoff run: “It … just … continues!”

The Seahawks were off Sunday, free to relish their epic dethroning of the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the wild-card round, and yet things still bounced their way. Thanks to the failure of Philadelphia kicker David Akers to convert two routine field goals against Green Bay, the Hawks were able to avoid a collision with the NFC’s top-seeded Falcons in Atlanta next weekend.

And while the world expects the Bears to take care of business against the Seahawks in Chicago, we know Pete Carroll’s team can win at Soldier Field because, well, that’s what it did on Oct. 17. The Hawks’ 23-20 victory might’ve been an upset, but it wasn’t a fluke. An early Bears touchdown was set up by a disputable pass-interference penalty, and a late Bears touchdown was scored on a punt return. Otherwise, it was your basic clock-cleaning.

The Seahawks were too giddy after advancing on Saturday to volunteer a preference about their next opponent, but I suspect, to a man, they’d rather face a No. 2 seed outside, on a slippery field, than line up against a No. 1 seed inside, on a fast track.

As for the Bears, they were so worried about a potential rematch with the Seahawks that head coach Lovie Smith and his staff spent last week preparing for the Saints.

More guarded than Fort Knox, Smith rarely says anything worthy of quotation marks, but last Wednesday, in a weak moment – maybe the boredom of the bye week got to him – he admitted his coaches were putting together a scouting report on New Orleans.

A blatant case of overlooking the Seahawks, to be sure, and something a coach could use as fuel for motivation. Except Carroll doesn’t play that rinky-dink game of searching for slights to fire up his players.

The fact nobody qualified to be called an informed observer anticipated a 7-9 team advancing to the conference semifinals doesn’t affect Carroll one way or the other. It doesn’t anger him, doesn’t amuse him, doesn’t even interest him.

“That just doesn’t fit in the way we talk,” he said Saturday. “If we used that kind of motivational vehicle, then what would we use next week, and what would we use the week after that? Then you’re talking about this coach, or this player, or the matchup, or the 10-year history. I don’t want any of that.

“It’s really important for us to understand that we’re the ones we’re dealing with. We have to control what we do.”

Carroll’s commitment to ignoring the external reactions – millions of Americans scoffing at how his team secured a playoff berth with a losing record, for instance – figures to be challenged in a different way this week.

I’ve got no way of proving this, but I suspect the Seahawks are becoming a sort of trendy playoff contender appreciated by neutral fans.

It’s as if the Hawks are the Pabst Blue Ribbon of the NFL: Devoid of pretenses, exceptional at nothing, they’re so removed from the realm of cool that they’re cool.

Super Bowl aspirants typically win no fewer than 10 regular-season games. They boast six or seven Pro Bowl selections, and at least one consensus All-Pro.

The Seahawks?

Without a Pro Bowl selection, much less an All-Pro, they’re the hottest team in the conference, survivors of a loser-out game against St. Louis that found them grinding out the clock, then a playoff game against New Orleans that found them scoring four touchdowns and a field goal in a span of five possessions.

And they still haven’t reached .500. The only way the Seahawks can finish better than .500 is to win the Super Bowl.

Mentioning “Super Bowl” and “Seahawks” in the same sentence obligates me to type the words “stranger things have happened,” but, really, has anything as strange as the 2010 Seattle Seahawks going to the Super Bowl ever happened?

Then again, the notion of Marshawn Lynch authoring a highlight play for the ages – Lynch’s 67-yard touchdown run against the Saints will live longer than any of us who saw it – is pretty strange, too.

Before Saturday, Lynch had no national profile, but 24 hours after he broke free from six tacklers and stiff-armed a seventh, Michael Strahan was mimicking Lynch’s moves on the Fox postgame show Sunday.

“The Seahawks caught lightning in a bottle,” said fellow studio analyst Terry Bradshaw, assuring viewers that the more competitive NFC semifinal will be the Packers and Falcons in Atlanta.

If anything Bradshaw said aroused the Seahawks, it will surprise their coach.

“It didn’t matter … what was said outside, and all of the story lines, and all of that. They just did not buy it,” Carroll said of his players’ ability to ignore cynics who gave them no chance of beating the Saints. “Where that came from? If I knew that, we’d have something special here.”

Uh, Pete? You’ve got something special here: A flawed team that won once in November and once in December, yet is 2-0 in January elimination games.

Fans are watching with a fascination that is beginning to demand admiration. America loves winners, but even more, it loves losers who grasp the belief that it’s never too late to change their ways.