KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) -The Seattle Seahawks are in a familiar position: atop the NFC West entering the final month of the season.
``Every season's different. Every team's different. But here we are again,'' Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said Monday.
Despite injuries and inconsistency, Seattle is at least two games ahead of everyone else in the division with four games remaining in the regular season for the third consecutive year.
After a 28-24 win at Philadelphia on Sunday, the Seahawks (8-4) enter this weekend's home game against second-place Arizona (6-6) with a chance to clinch a fourth consecutive division title.
Seattle currently controls the conference's third seed in the playoffs, behind Dallas (11-1) and Green Bay (10-2). That would mean a home playoff game and the Seahawks potentially avoiding the conference's top seed in the second round. Tampa Bay, the NFC South leader, is also 8-4 but lost the season opener at Seattle.
``This year's been a little tougher. Not to say that we can't reach our goals, but we've had to fight for stuff,'' said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who has played through a strained side, bruised ribs and strained quadriceps over the last month to lead Seattle's surge. ``We've had injuries. We've had to overcome some (challenges) ... we gave two games away.
``Fortunately for us we're still in the hunt.''
More than that, they are the hunted - again. And the iffy Cardinals, who beat Seattle in Week 2 in one of those games that Hasselbeck was referring, are the only team in range of toppling the Seahawks.
Two seasons ago, Seattle entered December with a five-game lead and rolled to three more wins to hike its franchise-record streak of victories to 11. After they clinched home-field advantage for the playoffs, the Seahawks rested many starters and lost a meaningless game at Green Bay before romping through the playoffs to their first Super Bowl.
Last December, they were also 8-4 and up two games in the division. But Seattle promptly lost three straight with careless play. That would have been lethal had second-place San Francisco not flip-flopped with alternating losses and wins in December to give the Seahawks the West title at 9-7, barely good enough for the NFC's fourth seed.
Seattle won a home playoff game only because Dallas' Tony Romo dropped the snap of a short, game-winning field goal try. Top-seeded Chicago then ended the Seahawks' season in overtime during the second round.
This week, coach Mike Holmgren will go back to his roots as a high school history teacher. He'll remind his players of how to - and how not to - finish the job.
``I'm going to mention it, oh, yeah,'' Holmgren said. ``I want to remind them of what we did when we had a similar situation last year. We really didn't handle that situation very well and I remember some of the reasons why.
``I don't think that's negative reinforcement. I think it's part of learning. Then I will say my peace and that will be it ... I trust this year we will handle it better than we did last year.''
Holmgren's trust is warranted.
Arizona is the only team remaining on the schedule that doesn't have a losing record. Then come trips to Carolina (5-7) and Atlanta (3-9), sandwiched around a home game against Baltimore on Dec. 23.
Plus, after months of absences, Seattle is getting healthier. Shaun Alexander returned Sunday from missing three games with a sprained knee and is sharing the running game with slashing Maurice Morris, though Alexander will wear a cast over his broken left wrist for the rest of the season.
Hasselbeck is feeling better than he has in a month. Left tackle Walter Jones missed a few plays of the win at Philadelphia after Holmgren said the Pro Bowler ``tweaked'' his left knee, but trainers told the coach that Jones is OK and will play against Arizona.
Center Chris Spencer, who missed much of the win over the Eagles with a strained side, may miss practice Wednesday but should start Sunday. The only regular contributor out is rookie kick returner Josh Wilson, who could be gone for two weeks with a pulled right quadriceps muscle.
``We're pretty healthy, generally speaking, compared to the rest of the league,'' Holmgren said.

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