NFC West lead is in Seahawks’ sights

Logo -- At PhiladelphiaBy the time the Seahawks host the Vikings on Monday night, they will know whether they are playing for first place in the NFC West and a spot among the conference’s top two.

And there’s a very good chance they will be — since the 49ers go to Baltimore in Week 13 to face MVP favorite Lamar Jackson and the juggernaut Ravens, who just blew out the Rams on Monday night.

If the 49ers lose and the Hawks can get enough offense to handle the surging Vikings, Seattle would move up to the second seed (or even top seed, if the Saints lose in Atlanta).

Even though they have yet to play a complete game this season, the Seahawks have as good a chance as any team of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl — because all of the teams are flawed.

Just imagine what might happen if the offense gets back on track and the defense gets healthy again. The past two games, Russell Wilson and company have struggled to score. The defense scored or set up all three touchdowns against the 49ers, and the offense did almost nothing against Philadelphia, beyond two big plays (a 33-yard pass to Malik Turner and a 58-yard run by Rashaad Penny).

Wilson played poorly for just the second time all season — overthrowing an easy short TD pass to Jacob Hollister, tossing an interception and taking several unnecessary sacks. He hit just 13 of 25 passes, with D.K. Metcalf again failing to haul in some very catchable balls (including a long TD).

Granted, the last two opponents were strong on defense, especially up front. But it won’t get much easier for Wilson & Co., who face Minnesota’s excellent defense on Monday night, followed by the Rams and Panthers. Arizona should offer an easier matchup, but then the Niners will challenge Seattle again. So most of the final five games will be about as tough as the past two.

Wilson has had easily his best NFL season, but he needs to step it up over the final month against these tough defenses if the Hawks are going to have a shot at a first-round bye.

On the other side of the coin, the defense has had big consecutive games against offenses that had offensive line issues and quarterbacks who could not stand the pressure. In the past two wins, the defense has eight sacks, 19 QB hits and eight takeaways. (The 17 points in Philly were the second least Pete Carroll has ever seen from his team when the defense forced five turnovers, but the Hawks are 9-0 in those games now.)

The Vikings, who have won six of seven, should offer a bigger challenge Monday (Kirk Cousins is on a roll). And jitterbug QB Kyler Murray and Arizona figure to offer a stiffer test than they did in the first meeting (Seattle’s only blowout win of the season).

The Rams were just demolished by the Ravens on Monday night and seem to be going the opposite direction of the Hawks. Carolina scored 31 in a loss to New Orleans, but the Hawks almost always win in Charlotte. And the Hawks know how to beat the Niners, especially in Seattle.

If the Hawks get back Jadeveon Clowney and don’t lose Jarran Reed (ankle) for long, they should be able to make it tough on all five of those final teams and make a strong push for one of the top two seeds. And they could take control of one Monday night.

NOTES & OBSERVATIONS

The Hawks improved to 6-2 after byes with Wilson, including four straight road wins, and are 6-0 on the road for the first time. A win at L.A. or Carolina would set the franchise record for away wins.

A big part of the defense’s success the past two games has been the savvy of K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner. Just as they knew what Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers were doing in Week 10, Wright (who had 12 tackles) said they knew what Wentz and the Eagles were doing, too. “We were just on it.”

Quandre Diggs has forced two turnovers in two games and has been lauded by Carroll and Bradley McDougald for his veteran savvy. Carroll said, “I think he’s raised the bar a little bit for the position in terms of experience, awareness and understanding, as well as communication and intensity. It comes from being a really good pro. … We’re thrilled to have him.” Seems a no-brainer that the Hawks will hold onto him for the next two years of his contract.

If/when Clowney and Reed get back, the Hawks could have waves of pass rushers — finally. Shaquem Griffin and Ziggy Ansah both had nice games against the Eagles. Carroll said Ansah, who had 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble, has finally regained weight and strength and should continue to get better.

Metcalf continues to have trouble bringing in passes that are not put right on him. Almost all contested balls or stretch catches are incompletions for him — as reflected in his poor 54 percent catch rate (Tyler Lockett, meanwhile, is No. 2 among NFL receivers at 80.8 percent). Metcalf has been an obvious upgrade over David Moore, but he has a long way to go.

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