It is likely that three road wins stand between the Seahawks and a return trip to the Super Bowl. It is likely that Seattle, in addition to beating Philadelphia on Sunday, will have to take down two 13-win teams to reach that goal as well.

People will say that, in order to defy these ultra-thin odds, quarterback Russell Wilson will have to play the best postseason football of his career — and they may be right. But what this will ultimately come down to is whether the Seahawks defense will actually show up.

That hasn’t been the case for most of the year. When Seattle won 10 of its first 12 games and surged to first place in the division, it did so in spite of its disastrous D.

(Illustration by The Sporting Press / Special to The Seattle Times)
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To see the Seahawks’ locker room after that 40-34 win over Tampa Bay in Week 9 was to see a snapshot of the season. The thrill of victory was undetectable on the defensive players’ faces after another dismal performance.

Wilson playing at an MVP level at that point wasn’t a luxury for Seattle — it was a necessity. Anything less would have relegated the Seahawks to the middle of Mediocreville.

Players recognized that — particularly the veterans.

What needs to be shored up? linebacker K.J. Wright was asked after that Tampa Bay game.

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“It’s across the board,” he said. “It’s all 11 guys.”

And for a stretch, those words seemed to resonate with the players on that side of the ball. The next week against San Francisco, the Seahawks forced three turnovers and got two stops in overtime in a 27-24 win. In their next game, they forced five turnovers in a 17-9 victory over Philadelphia, holding the Eagles to their lowest point total of the season. Seattle then forced two more turnovers in a 37-30 win over the Vikings, who scored on a Wilson interception, and suddenly looked like one of the more potent defenses in the league.

A month and a half later, though, the Seahawks are losers of three of their past four and have allowed at least 24 points every game.

So is there any reason to be optimistic? Actually, yes.

The two biggest X-factors for Seattle’s defense this year have been defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and defensive back Quandre Diggs. And since the acquisition of Diggs after Week 9, there has been only one game in which both players were on the field and the Seahawks lost.

That came in Week 13 against the Rams, which was the most lackadaisical Seattle has looked on either side of the ball this season. But with that in the past and the defense close to full health? This team might surprise some people.

From first-team All Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner to Wright, to Diggs to Clowney to cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers — not to mention safety Bradley McDougald and defensive tackle Jarran Reed — Seattle has gotten big games from someone in every phase of its defense. And its plus-12 turnover margin — good for third best in the NFL — is a major reason the Seahawks are in the playoffs.

But this is also a team that is 26th in total defense and 22nd in points allowed — and one that is almost a month and a half removed from being dominant defensively. That needs to change if this team is going to do anything significant in the playoffs.

Players such as Wilson and Marshawn Lynch will always be revered in Seattle. They were instrumental in bringing this city its only Lombardi Trophy, and their drinks here will always be free.

But that Super Bowl team, just like the one that went back the next year, was built on defense. That side of the ball is what Seahawks coach Pete Carroll built his reputation on, and is where the Seahawks’ playoff fate will be decided.