A team that for the last five-plus years has on any given Sunday been regarded as maybe the best in the NFL and a legitimate Super Bowl contender is suddenly fighting for its playoff life before the playoffs even arrive.

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Seahawks traveled to Dallas on Friday for a weekend trip into the unknown.

A team that for the last five-plus years has on any given Sunday been regarded as maybe the best in the NFL and a legitimate Super Bowl contender is suddenly fighting for its playoff life before the playoffs even arrive.

“It’s a different place for us,’’ said receiver Doug Baldwin of Seattle’s win-or-else position when it kicks off against the Cowboys Sunday at 1:25 p.m.

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The stakes Sunday are both stark and simple.

If Seattle beats the Cowboys, it stays alive for a sixth straight postseason berth, and if the Rams also lose at Tennessee, still in the hunt for the NFC West title.

But a Dallas win and Seattle’s season will effectively be over before Christmas.

Not only is there unusual uncertainty for the Seahawks at this point in the season, there also loom uncharacteristic questions about the team’s character following last Sunday’s 42-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in which Seattle gave up 244 yards rushing, its most since 2010, in a night capped by an odd public tiff between linebacker Bobby Wagner and free safety Earl Thomas.

A Bleacher Report story this week quoted an unnamed Rams player saying “I was stunned at how easy it was to push them around. It was like playing the (Cleveland) Browns.’’

The quote made its way through the Seahawks locker room and for a team of players who have long flourished on perceived slights, maybe it will serve as a rallying cry.

More important for the Seahawks will be the return of linebackers Wagner and K.J. Wright, the former hobbled last week against the Rams and the latter absent due to a concussion.

Carroll said Friday that he couldn’t “overstate’’ the importance of having the two players who have manned the middle of Seattle’s defense since 2012 back on the field together, especially going against a Dallas offense led by tailback Ezekiel Elliott, who is back after sitting out six games due to a suspension.

“They mean so much to us,’’ Carroll said of Wagner and Wright.

But the Seahawks won’t get back Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril. And there won’t be any additions to an offense that managed just 149 yards against the Rams.

“We’ve just got to play better,’’ said quarterback Russell Wilson. “We didn’t play very good and it’s really that simple.  There is a lot of people coming up with reasons and thoughts and ideas and everything else, but it comes down to making plays. And that starts with me and then goes down the line.”

If that sounds like a rather matter-of-fact answer, that’s how Carroll tried to treat the week.

“Whatever happened last week, we still have to win this week,’’ Carroll said. “It’s really the same scenario; every one of these games are must-have games and championship opportunities.’’

But players understand it’s not any other week.

Lose, and not only does the season end but then even harder questions begin about where things go from here, especially if the loss happens in a manner that only reinforces the idea that maybe this group’s window has closed for good — or at least, not without massive changes.

Sunday’s loss to the Rams engendered speculation from national media that the Seahawks could blow things up after the season, that maybe this could be the last season for the team as people have to come know it.

Defensive lineman Michael Bennett, one of the Seahawks whose Seattle future seems suddenly tenuous, admitted players know change could be coming.

“I think things are going to be different,’’ Bennett said. “That’s a part of the NFL. The NFL is a transitional sport and transitional teams. Every year, there’s a new transition and new guys and new coaches and new staffs. It’s about who can win and how fast they can win, and it’s about can we get a guy cheaper than the guy in front of him. This is bound to happen and everything has a shelf life, and us as players, we have shelf lives and our team together has a shelf life. I think eventually, there’s going to be greater players that come in and do what we can do. While we’re here, we want to go out and try to win as many games as we can and maximize our opportunities.’’

What might be their last one together comes Sunday.

Baldwin said depending on how it turns out it could also serve as the launching point for one of their greatest accomplishments.

“We are looking at it as some more adversity but personally, I look forward to it because I know adversity only introduces you to who you really are, and if we can get through this, then we can really build upon it for the long run,’’ Baldwin said.

If not, then Seattle faces the prospect of shortest season — and longest and maybe most transformational offseason — the team has had in years.