Ranking the Seahawks' potential NFC opponents based on matchups

Going into Week 17, the field in the NFC is set, but the only seed that's locked up is Washington at No. 4.

The Seattle Seahawks will go in as the fifth or sixth seed, meaning they'll need to win at least two games (most likely three) on the road to get back to the Super Bowl for the third consecutive year.

In the first round, it'll be a trip to either Washington, Green Bay or Minnesota.

While Pete Carroll will publicly say he doesn't care who the Seahawks play, there are obviously some teams that they match up better with than others. Below are my rankings, with number five being the most appealing matchup and number one being the toughest opponent.

5. Washington Redskins (8-7)

They've won three in a row and four of their last five. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been on fire since Week 10, completing 71.4 percent of his passes and averaging 9.25 yards per attempt while throwing 16 touchdowns against two interceptions. Washington has some firepower on offense with wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to go along with prolific tight end Jordan Reed. But they are one-dimensional, and the defense has been mediocre.

The Seahawks should be able to do damage offensively against Washington, and they would be the favorites in this game. If Seattle and Green Bay win this weekend, the Seahawks go to Washington in the first round.

4. Minnesota Vikings (10-5)

Since the Seahawks beat them in Week 13, the Vikings have lost by three to the Arizona Cardinals and crushed the Chicago Bears and New York Giants by a combined 53 points. But as we saw earlier this month, this is a good matchup for the Seahawks. Minnesota is not prolific through the air with just 40 pass plays of 20-plus yards all season (28th). It would be strength on strength with Adrian Peterson against a Seahawks defense that has limited opponents to 3.66 YPC.

In the Seahawks' 38-7 win, Russell Wilson carved the Vikings' defense up, going 21-of-27 for 274 yards and three touchdowns. But Minnesota was playing without some key players and is allowing just 19.27 points per game on the season.

If the Vikings beat the Packers Sunday night, the Seahawks go to Minnesota in the first round. They would be favorites on the road against the Vikings.

3. Green Bay Packers (10-5)

It feels like they've been one of the more disappointing teams in the league, yet the Packers have a chance to finish 11-5 and be crowned NFC North champs. Green Bay doesn't have a lot of firepower at the skill positions, and Aaron Rodgers has averaged just 6.69 YPA (31st). But in the Packers' win over the Seahawks in Week 2, he made some high degree-of-difficulty throws.

The Seahawks want to avoid quarterbacks who can do damage even when the coverage is good. The Packers might not look prolific on offense, but Rodgers stills falls into that category. Defensively, they have the fifth-highest sack rate in the NFL.

The Seahawks would certainly have a good shot of going into Lambeau and winning, but in my opinion the Packers are the least appealing of the potential first-round matchups.

2. Carolina Panthers (14-1)

Their record speaks for itself. The Seahawks held Cam Newton in check for three quarters back in Week 6, but he led the Panthers on three 80-yard scoring drives down the stretch. Newton has accounted for 41 touchdowns on the season -- 33 as a passer and eight as a runner.

Defensively, they've got a shutdown corner in Josh Norman and a tremendous linebacking crew that includes Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.

Winning in Carolina in the divisional round would be a tough task, but the Seahawks already showed this year that they can match up with the Panthers, despite the 27-23 loss.

1. Arizona Cardinals (13-2)

This is easily the toughest matchup for the Seahawks. Carson Palmer picked them apart for 363 yards in Arizona's Week 10 victory (39-32). Seattle has struggled to contain prolific passing attacks all season long, and the Cardinals have a lot of weapons.

During their five-game winning streak, the Seahawks performed well against the blitz, but Sunday's loss to the St. Louis Rams was a reminder that they can still be vulnerable to pressure-heavy schemes. That's exactly what the Cardinals are.

Arizona is the most well-rounded team in the NFC. The best-case scenario for the Seahawks is to not have to play the Cardinals until the NFC title game.