Seahawks in playoff contention despite offseason remake

The Seahawks' run game -- featuring Chris Carson -- has been resurgent this season. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks finished the first half of the season with a 4-4 record. Here’s a look at how they have fared and what’s ahead:

First-half rewind: Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Chargers put a dent in all the optimism that had built up after the Seahawks rebounded from an 0-2 start to win four of five. That turnaround was sparked by a resurgent running game, efficient play from Russell Wilson and a defense that has been more than competent despite all the firepower it's lost. The Seahawks have been within one score in all four of their losses, and three of them have come against teams (Rams, Bears and Chargers) that are a combined 19-6. They've looked entirely capable of making a run at a wild-card berth, but a .500 record at the midpoint is on par with preseason expectations for the Seahawks after such a significant re-tooling of their roster. Grade: Average

What has to happen for your team to make the playoffs? The Seahawks turned things around in the first half by playing exactly the way Pete Carroll prefers -- running the ball, taking care of it and taking it away. During their stretch of four wins in five games, they averaged 161 rushing yards while committing only one turnover and forcing 11. That's a winning formula they need to rediscover over the second half of the season. They were able to run the ball against the Chargers, but Wilson threw a pick-six and the Seahawks finished without a takeaway for the first time this season. They were also penalized 10 times for 83 yards. Penalties have long been a problem for Carroll's Seahawks teams, but this one doesn't have the margin for error that some of its more talented predecessors did.

MVP: Frank Clark has an argument for All-Pro with 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception. He's having a career year as he plays out the final season of his rookie contract. But Wilson has been the MVP. Yes, he's actually carrying less of the offense on his shoulders than previously, including last season, when he was in the conversation for league MVP up until the final month. But he's throwing the ball just as well, if not better, even if he's not throwing it nearly as often. Despite being on pace for his fewest passing attempts since 2013, he could top his previous best in touchdowns, 34. And his 108.6 passer rating is better than he's posted in all but one of his first six seasons.

Biggest surprise: First-round pick Rashaad Penny has been a non-factor. He wasn't necessarily expected to beat out Chris Carson for the starting job, but it's been surprising that Penny (42 carries for 146 yards) hasn't earned more opportunities. He's been third on the depth chart behind Carson and Mike Davis, and he didn't get an offensive snap in two of the past four games. Honorable mention for biggest surprise goes to the offensive line, which is thriving under new coach Mike Solari; that group has paved the way for the third-ranked rushing attack and has finally shored up the pass-protection issues that plagued so many of Tom Cable's units.

Hurdle to overcome: A brutal November stretch that started Sunday against the Chargers. It continues with the rematch with the Rams in L.A., followed by a Thursday night game at home against the Green Bay Packers and a cross-country trip to play at the Carolina Panthers. Those next three opponents entered Week 10 with a combined record of 17-7-1. All three have Pro Bowl quarterbacks and the Packers may have the best one in football in Aaron Rodgers. Winning two of three would set the Seahawks up nicely heading into December, but the Green Bay game may be the only one Seattle is favored in.