The Seattle Seahawks might not have to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to have a chance to win the NFC West. The Buccaneers, though, will need a victory over the Seahawks to remain in the hunt for their first playoff berth in three years.
Tampa Bay will try to keep those faint postseason hopes alive by beating Seattle for the third time in as many seasons Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
If not for a meek NFC West, Seattle probably wouldn’t have any shot at its fifth division title in seven years, but the Seahawks (6-8) remain in contention with all four teams under .500.
Seattle might not need to finish with a winning record to take that crown, if St. Louis beats San Francisco earlier Sunday. The Seahawks would then face the Rams at home in the season finale Jan. 2 and would win the division title with a victory in that game, should San Francisco finish with 10 losses.
If the 49ers beat St. Louis, the game against Tampa Bay becomes vitally important to Seattle’s postseason chances. San Francisco currently holds the best record in divisional games - the NFL’s second tiebreaker - at 3-1.
No matter the scenario, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll would probably like to see a better performance from his team, especially on defense. The Seahawks have given up a combined 74 points in consecutive defeats and an average of 32.0 while dropping six of eight.
They allowed 17.8 points per game during their 4-2 start to this season.
“Under the circumstances, we’re fortunate to be where we are,” Carroll said. “We haven’t played as well we needed to play, but the opportunity (to win a division title) is there. We need to maximize this chance. We’ve got to play well.
“(What St. Louis does) isn’t going to be a factor. We’ve going to go play and try to win the game. We can’t afford to do anything but that now.”
Despite quarterback Matt Hasselbeck(notes) struggles, Carroll said he’s sticking with the veteran, who has 10 interceptions in the last four games, over Charlie Whitehurst(notes). Hasselbeck threw for a season-low 71 yards in last week’s 34-18 home loss to Atlanta and was booed off the field after being pulled in the third quarter.
Whitehurst threw for 83 yards and scored on a 1-yard plunge in the fourth quarter.
The Buccaneers’ latest defeat, 23-20 in overtime to visiting Detroit last week, might have hurt the worst because it came while the three teams in front of them in the wild-card race also lost.
A defense that had lost five starters to injury in recent weeks couldn’t help Tampa Bay (8-6) hold on to a three-point lead with 1:36 remaining. The Lions, who had previously lost an NFL-worst 26 consecutive road games, got the tying field goal as time expired in regulation then drove for a 34-yarder in the extra period.
The loss kept the Bucs behind New Orleans (10-4), the New York Giants (9-5) and Green Bay (8-6) in the wild-card race. They’ll need to win out and hope for some well-timed losses.
“We still have an opportunity, which is great,” coach Raheem Morris said. “My message to the team is for us the playoffs start this week.”
Another strong performance from LeGarrette Blount(notes) might help. The rookie from Oregon had 110 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Lions and has compiled 747 yards and five TDs over his last nine games.
“Blount will run right through tackles. He’ll make you look like you’re not even trying,” said Carroll, who faced him at USC. “He’s a really good football player.”
The Buccaneers ran for 134 yards in last season’s 24-7 win in Seattle, and Freeman had both of his touchdown passes and a two-point conversion run during a pivotal third quarter.
Hasselbeck, meanwhile, tied a career high with four interceptions while suffering his first loss in four starts against Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers earned their first home win over the Seahawks in five tries on Oct. 19, 2008. The teams are meeting for the fifth consecutive season.
Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant(notes) should return in this game after leaving last week’s loss with back spasms. Defensive tackle Junior Siavii(notes), though, has been placed on injured reserve because of a serious stinger.
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