The Bears are the class of the conference. The Cowboys are the favorite of the month. The Saints are the Cinderella, while the Panthers, no matter how shaky they look from week to week, never should be overlooked.
But hold on. The champ isn't dead yet.
Of course, it appears the football gods have tried to kill the Seahawks' chances of repeating as NFC champion. The Hawks still don't have all their ducks in a row, but Monday night against Green Bay (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) will be the first time they've had reigning MVP Shaun Alexander and Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the backfield together since a Week 3 win over the Giants.
Honestly, having your quarterback and running back sidelined at the same time -- especially when they are the quality of Hasselbeck and Alexander -- is more than enough to derail a season. But Seattle's usually high-powered offense also has had to operate at different times without center Robbie Tobeck, guard Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack, tackle Sean Locklear, wideout Bobby Engram and tight end Jerramy Stevens. Losing Steve Hutchinson to free agency? That is so last offseason.
And yet coach Mike Holmgren's men remain not just in contention but atop the NFC West, although that might be as much a reflection of the state of the division as the Seahawks' resolve. Seattle, thanks to St. Louis' last-second win over upstart San Francisco on Sunday, even has an opportunity to open up a two-game lead in the division and remain tied for the second-best record in the NFC. And even if they aren't able to make it back to the Super Bowl, the Seahawks still have a shot to make at least recent history and become the first Super Bowl runner-up since the 2000 Tennessee Titans to make the playoffs the following season.
Everything finally came together for the Seahawks last season. They won 11 straight at one point, had the NFC's best record and enjoyed home-field advantage for their two playoff games. But this season has been tougher. Holmgren deserves Coach of the Year consideration for keeping his team together when everything easily could have fallen apart. Herm Edwards' Chiefs are the other contender to have lost a Pro Bowl quarterback to injury, but at least Kansas City had Larry Johnson to lean on.
The Seahawks have been treading water the past month with Seneca Wallace at quarterback and Maurice Morris at running back, scoring home victories over Oakland and St. Louis that somewhat offset narrow road losses to Kansas City and San Francisco. The Seahawks' getting healthy could be bad news for the rest of the conference. Alexander returned last week from his foot injury, and Seattle gets Hasselbeck back Monday night after a knee injury cost him the past four games.
But Holmgren and the Hawks know that simply getting their key players back won't start them on a run at the right time.
"We've been inconsistent," Holmgren told the Seattle-area media last week. "I think I know how they're capable of playing, and I get frustrated and angry when they don't do certain things. And I don't think I'm being unrealistic.
"We just have to regain our swagger a little bit and get down to being fundamentally sound, smart," Holmgren added.
Alexander has scored only twice this year after setting the league mark with 28 touchdowns last season, and he is averaging a paltry 2.7 yards per carry in the four games he has played. Hasselbeck already has seven interceptions in six games after throwing just nine all of last season. Seattle is ranked 25th in total offense.
The Seahawks' defense hasn't been that much better -- 19th through 11 weeks. Seattle's problem in a nutshell has been too many big plays in the passing game and difficulty defending the run.
"We have to all play better," Hasselbeck said. "We have to pay attention to detail a little bit more. We have to be a little bit more serious in practice, until we start playing better at least. Take your playbook home, don't leave it in your locker. Those kinds of things. Until we get going, until we get clicking and running and showing that we know what we're doing."
It's intriguing what the Seahawks might be able to do, given the state of the conference, if and when they get healthy. It sure seems like the Cowboys won't lose again, but a first-round bye for Seattle still is a very real possibility (although the Seahawks do have three conference losses). It's one of those years in the NFC when it looks like an 11-5 record will get you a first-round bye. Perhaps Seattle can do down the stretch what Pittsburgh did at the end of last season: peak at precisely the right time.
Seattle has been snakebitten the first three months. The Seahawks are getting healthier, and if they get on a roll, they could be a dangerous dark horse in the postseason.
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com