PHOENIX -- Early November is usually too soon for talk of must-win games, but for the Seattle Seahawks to maintain any shot at claiming one of the NFC's top two seeds and the perks that come with it, that's the situation they're facing.
Taking care of business against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night at University of Phoenix Stadium is pretty much a must.
The Seahawks' disappointing loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday dropped them to 5-3 and just outside of what would be the sixth and final playoff spot if the regular season ended today.
They're looking up at the Philadelphia Eagles (8-1), who have a two-win lead for for the top spot, followed by, in order: the New Orleans Saints (6-2), Minnesota Vikings (6-2), Los Angeles Rams (6-2), Carolina Panthers (6-3) and Dallas Cowboys (5-3). Dallas owns the tiebreaker over Seattle by virtue of a better conference record.
On one hand, there's only one win separating Seattle from the No. 2 spot, but consider the position the Rams are in. A Seattle loss on Thursday, plus a Rams win at home Sunday over the Houston Texans -- who are 12-point underdogs and playing a backup quarterback -- would give Los Angeles a two-game lead over the Seahawks in the NFC West standings with seven games to play.
That would by no means be an insurmountable lead, especially with a head-to-head game remaining at CenturyLink Field on Dec. 3, but it wouldn't be easy, either. The Rams are showing no signs of slowing down after hanging 51 points in a victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.
If the Rams win the division, the Seahawks could only hope for a wild card, which would put them on the road in the playoffs.
How important would it be for Seattle to claim one of the top two seeds?
The Seahawks have made the playoffs six times in Pete Carroll's seven seasons in Seattle. The two times they went to the Super Bowl -- 2013 and 2014 -- it was as the No. 1 seed, which meant a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Seattle was anywhere between the third and sixth seeds in those other four playoff appearances and never advanced past the divisional round.
Under Carroll, Seattle is 2-4 in road playoff games and 6-0 at home. The Seahawks have won 10 straight playoff games at CenturyLink Field since their last loss there in January 2005. During the regular season, their 37 home wins since 2012 are tied with the New England Patriots for the most in that span.
You get the picture: Home-field advantage would be a pretty big deal for the Seahawks come playoff time.
There's plenty to like about the Seahawks' chances Thursday night against Arizona (4-4), despite all their warts that were on display Sunday.
They're facing a backup quarterback in Drew Stanton. They bottled up Adrian Peterson in their past two meetings -- holding him to just over 2 yards per carry -- and he will have had had only three days off to rest his 32-year-old body after carrying the ball a career-high 37 times Sunday. The Seahawks also seem to save their best performances for prime time. Under Carroll, they're an NFL-best 20-3-1 in prime-time games -- including 6-1 on Thursday night -- while outscoring their opponents 627-316.
It's a game the Seahawks should win, and if they want to have any shot at the easiest path back to their third Super Bowl in five seasons, it's one they really can't afford to lose.