Don’t get carried away, Seahawk fans.
That routine 26-6 wild-card victory over the totally helpless Detroit Lions kept Seattle technically still in the Super Bowl hunt – but there are plenty of reasons to fear that the Hawks are further from that goal than they’ve been in several years.
No one in his right mind would argue with Richard Sherman face-to-face, but since I’m hidden here and the perpetually angry, all-world cornerback is about 300 miles and a hideous blizzard away, I’ll go out on a limb and take a shot.
“This felt like old times,” Sherman said after the Lions game. “This felt great.”
Sorry, Richard, it might have seemed like old times because the Lions – who somehow have gone from dangerous to pathetic in the course of half a season – looked like they couldn’t score against tall grass.
Any comparison to the fearsome Seattle defense of recent seasons, however, was a total illusion.
In any case, the Seahawks now are left to face the NFC’s big boys, and nothing they’ve done this year suggests they’re up to the task.
Let us count the ways, shall we?
FIRST: The victory over Detroit was essentially meaningless.
The Lions were awful, having contrived to blow the NFL North title by losing their last three games, then putting up the meekest possible resistance in Seattle.
The Seahawks, as weird and unpredictable as they’ve been the past several weeks, have now won 10 consecutive playoff games at home.
The dispirited Lions arrived in town already beaten and played like it.
It’s also worth noting that the Hawks were lucky to win by as much as they did: Paul Richardson was guilty of a face-mask violation that wasn’t called on his amazing TD catch and Doug Baldwin ran the wrong route on the way to his one-handed TD grab.
That kind of nonsense goes your way against the Lions, but it won’t happen again.
SECOND: The roaring, energizing “12th Man” is now out of the picture — at least for a week and possibly for this season.
To reach the Super Bowl (and a potential rematch with Tom Brady’s Pats), the Seahawks now must win twice on the road, assuming Dallas beats Green Bay.
The trek starts in Atlanta, against gunslinger Matt Ryan and the high-flying Falcons.
On the plus side, Atlanta has a history of collapsing like a house of cards in the postseason, but this appears to be a more physical, more talented — and gutsier — Falcon bunch.
Then, if the Hawks somehow confound the oddsmakers and upset Atlanta, they would earn a trip to Dallas or earn another crack at Green Bay.
The Cowboys (13-3) have been the NFC’s most consistent team and are the No. 1 seed following spectacular seasons from a pair of rookies — quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliot.
Of course, the other option would be a home game against Green Bay, which has won seven straight and may well turn over the Cowboys.
The Seahawks still have nightmares about the 38-10 thrashing they received from Aaron Rodgers and his mates a month ago. Even in Seattle, A-Rod and the Pack would be frightening opponents if they’re coming off a win in Dallas.
A trip to Atlanta, then either Dallas on the road or Green Bay at home.
THIRD: There is a sound reason why wild-card teams so rarely reach the Super Bowl.
The obvious answer is that they’re simply not as good as teams that finished with better records, but it’s also worth noting that pro football is a bruising sport (even against the Lions).
That extra game takes a toll.
The Seahawks will be a bit battered heading to Atlanta, where the well-rested Falcons have had two weeks to bone up on exploiting the absence of injured free safety Earl Thomas.
The obvious conclusion here is that, despite Sherman’s bravado — and Russell Wilson’s penchant for miracles — Seattle now enters a gauntlet littered with better teams.
If they survive it, I will gladly bow in Sherman’s general direction.
Steve Cameron is a special assignment reporter for The Press who has covered sports at all levels for more than three decades. Email Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.