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Updated Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 12:01 AM

Seahawks can beat the best — now they need to take care of the other teams

By Danny O'Neil
Seattle Times staff reporter

RENTON — Nine NFL teams have eight wins or more.

The Seahawks have beaten three of them. The Houston Texans, who are 11-1, are the only other team in the league that can make that statement.

Of course, the Seahawks are also one of only four teams that have yet to win a game in their division.

That paradox helps explain the inconsistency that is this Seahawks team, which came back to beat the Patriots, yet lost to the Lions and Dolphins.

"I hate the thought that we would fluctuate our performance," coach Pete Carroll said. "We work really hard to not let that happen."

Those week-to-week differences have been attributed to Seattle's difficulty in playing on the road, but that only partly explains Seattle's apparent bipolar tendencies.

The Seahawks have played better teams at home, like the Cowboys, Packers and the Patriots. Seattle is 4-1 against teams that have entered the game with a winning record.

"If you were in a playoff run, that kind of information is going to help your confidence," Carroll said, "help your expectations."

The problem is that Seattle hasn't been able to sustain that level of success against opponents with worse records. Four of the Seahawks' five losses have come to teams who currently have a losing record.

Are the Seahawks playing up to (or down to) the competition?

"I don't think we get up and down for the teams we play," linebacker Leroy Hill said. "Or at least we shouldn't."

Of course they shouldn't, but have they?

"One could come to that conclusion," fullback Michael Robinson said, "and we need to take that next step as a team.

"The good teams, we need to try to make 'em look normal. The teams that aren't as good as some of those elite teams? We need to make them look bad."

That's part of what makes Sunday's game against Arizona so intriguing. Seattle is facing a Cardinals team that has lost eight in a row after starting the season 4-0. Arizona is bringing back John Skelton as its starting quarterback, and — make all the jokes you want about the Cardinals offense — but the Arizona defense has allowed the seventh-fewest points in the league.

Assuming a particular team will win is foolish in the NFL, but it's no overstatement to say this is the kind of game Seattle must almost certainly win if it's going to make the playoffs. Losing at home to the last-place team in the NFC West would undo a great deal of what Seattle accomplished on the road at Chicago.

The Seahawks don't need to raise their level of play against the best teams so much as they have to find a way to sustain their performance against losing teams.

"When we're a good football team on a really high note and people know it, it will be because we don't do that," Carroll said. "We will play at a high level week-in and week-out, regardless of the circumstances and the matchup, the weather or whatever. We're working for that."

Notes

• CB Marcus Trufant will miss a second consecutive game with a hamstring injury while linebacker Leroy Hill is questionable with the sore ankle that kept him out last week. Malcolm Smith played well in Hill's absence last week.

• DE Red Bryant returned to practice Friday and is expected to play Sunday despite a sore foot.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @dannyoneil

Sunday

Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks, 1:25 p.m., Ch. 13


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