For a couple of weeks -- I'd say those consecutive wins over the Eagles and Niners by a combined score of 83-3 to begin this month probably did it for most people -- the Seahawks have been widely regarded as the best team in the NFC. I'm not so sure about that anymore. No, Seattle's the best team in the NFL. Right now. At this moment. The Seahawks are better than the Colts, who aren't the invincible team they seemed to be three weeks ago. They're better than the Bengals, Broncos, Patriots and Steelers. Right now. At this moment. Better than the Bears and the five NFC teams still fighting for playoff berths. Yup. Seahawks. Best team in football.
To quote Sade, I never thought I'd see the day.
For weeks, we all looked forward to the Christmas Eve matchup between the Seahawks and the long-unbeaten Colts. For a number of reasons, both on and off the field, the game turned out to be meaningless for the Colts. Indianapolis had everything wrapped up, and with so many key players banged up, the Colts played most of the game with backups and lost 28-13. Not much of a "possible Super Bowl preview."
Or was it?
A lot of people are inclined to give the Colts a pass for the Seattle loss, considering: whatever emotional effect the death of coach Tony Dungy's son had on the team; that Marvin Harrison didn't make the trip; Peyton Manning played a quarter; Dwight Freeney was only out there for a few plays; and Cato June, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders and Corey Simon sat out altogether. The body of work and a little thing called home-field advantage certainly support Indy's status as the favorite to win the Super Bowl. Yet the Colts have plenty of cause for concern.
Foremost in everyone's mind is the well-being of their coach and his family. The Colts don't know when Dungy will return from leave. On the field, depending which Indianapolis players sit and for how long, the Cardinals could go to Indy and saddle the Colts with their third straight loss. Not the way you want to go into your hard-earned bye week. And any team the Colts face in the divisional round is going to be a difficult matchup. We all know about the Colts' history with the Patriots. The Bengals can shoot it out with them. The Jaguars always give the Colts trouble. And the Steelers are dominant again. It wasn't all that long ago that the Colts' playing in Super Bowl XL on Feb. 6 in Detroit looked like a sure thing. Not anymore. Right now, at this moment, the Steelers are playing the best ball in the AFC.
Two weeks ago, when the Colts were still unbeaten, Manning was standing at his locker talking about how fortunate the team had been not to have sustained any major injuries, particularly on offense. We had no idea, Peyton was saying, what a luxury it is to have the same players not only playing together every week but practicing together every day. And now, at the worst time, the Colts are beat up. Manning is hobbling. Indianapolis is without its right tackle, Ryan Diem. Meanwhile, other teams -- such as the Patriots -- are getting healthy at the right time.
Should the Colts survive their conference to reach the Super Bowl and see Seattle -- which has home-field advantage in the NFC and whose only real threat is the Bears' defense -- the Seahawks can give Indianapolis a run, perhaps even beat the Colts again. The Seahawks have the formula to do it. I know I'm probably getting a little ahead of myself here, but I'm pretty sure Seattle will win the two games it has to to get to Detroit.
Obviously, it starts with Shaun Alexander, the likely league MVP. What he has done this year -- more than 1,800 yards, 26 of 27 touchdowns on the ground -- is amazing when you consider that he's getting Jamal Lewis treatment, circa 2003. What that means is he's going up against loaded fronts and still getting it done. The Seahawks are committed to the run. It allows them to control the clock and, therefore, the game. The thing about Mike Holmgren is, as a play caller, he won't let an eight-man front bully him into abandoning the run. He has faith in his offensive line, and it hasn't let him down.
The Seahawks' offensive line is the best in football. Left tackle Walter Jones is the standard at his position. The guy next to him, Steve Hutchinson, is a Pro Bowler. Together, they're nasty. Seattle has an experienced (in his 12th year) center in Robbie Tobeck, and Chris Gray and Sean Locklear form a solid guard-tackle duo on the right side. Here's why having a really good, veteran offensive line is key against the Colts: A lot of offenses have had the look of a punt team, in that opponents often have kept two tight ends in to protect against Freeney and Mathis. The Seahawks don't have to do that, allowing them to send more receivers into the pattern and attack the Colts' Cover 2. And one of fullback Mack Strong's strengths (pun intended) is pass protection.
I had a coach tell me the other day that, at least from his perspective, the banner afternoon Osi Umenyiora supposedly had at Jones' expense a couple of weeks ago was overblown. Jones should be able to handle Freeney. A guy who has been getting a lot of attention (help, chipping) this year is Titans end Kyle Vanden Bosch, he of the 12½ sacks but no Pro Bowl selection. Two weeks ago in a win over Tennessee, Locklear handled him one-on-one.
And then there's the Pro Bowl quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck. He has been outta sight these past three games, with ratings over 127.3 in each. He has had one pass picked off in his last four games, two in his last six.
Check this out: A few nights ago, a defensive coordinator I really respect -- one who has concocted game plans for facing Seattle this year -- called Hasselbeck "a poor man's Tom Brady." "If Brady is 10, then Hasselbeck is an 8 or a 9 right now," the coordinator said. Tripped me out, too. The coordinator said Hasselbeck always goes where he's supposed to with the ball and just isn't making mistakes.
Hasselbeck is 30 years old, and this is his fifth year as Holmgren's guy in Seattle. He really has come of age this year. None of his receivers is super, but all of them are solid. Seattle has a pair of good tight ends in Jerramy Stevens and Itula Mili. And Hasselbeck finds all of them, spreads the ball around a lot like Brady. We've seen Hasselbeck make bad plays in the playoffs before. I see him having a big postseason.
On defense, Seattle can pressure the quarterback with four guys; 33 of the Seahawks' 47 sacks this year have come from defensive linemen. Being able to commit seven or eight defenders to coverage is key when trying to slow down the Colts. And the Seahawks are good against the run (sixth). They have injuries now, too. Their top corners -- Andre Dyson, Kelly Herndon and Marcus Trufant -- are hurt but should be OK for the playoffs.
Maybe it's because they're the Seahawks or because they have a history of failure (no playoff wins since 1984) or because their 13 wins equal the combined victory total of the other three teams in the NFC West, but I keep coming across football folk who don't believe in Seattle. I'm not one of them. They're the most complete team in football, with no glaring weaknesses other than the level of their competition. As good as Chicago's defense is, it would be an upset if the Seahawks don't emerge from the NFC.
Should Seattle meet the Colts again, it'll be interesting, for sure. If I had to make a prediction today, I'd pick the better team to win it all.
Right now, that team is the Seahawks.
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.