RENTON — Given the low expectations greeting the Seahawks this season, it can be argued that no game in 2022 is make or break.

But if you’re riding with the thought that the Seahawks aren’t in full rebuild mode and can make a postseason run — coach Pete Carroll certainly is — then Sunday’s 1:25 p.m. game against the Atlanta Falcons at Lumen Field looks as must-win as any on the schedule.

That’s in part because observers from the start have viewed this game as one of the most winnable on the Seahawks’ schedule.

When it was released in May and betting odds were set on every game, the visit by Atlanta was one of only four in which the Seahawks were favored. It had the largest spread in their favor at three points (the other three in which they were favored are home games against the Giants, Carolina and Jets).

That three-point line was down to one Friday on VegasInsider.com — and down to even at BetUS.com — with many bettors apparently more impressed by how Atlanta has played in its 0-2 start than Seattle has in going 1-1. With NFL observers already questioning the Seahawks, it’s fair to wonder how often they’d be favored again this season if they can’t beat the Falcons at home.

Also making this a pivotal game is the Seahawks’ schedule.

After the Atlanta game, the Seahawks will play in Seattle just twice until Nov. 27 — Oct. 16 against the Cardinals and Oct. 30 against the Giants.

Advertising

After Sunday, the Seahawks’ next two games, three of the next four and four of the next six are on the road — all games in which they figure to be an underdog — with the seventh game in that stretch a neutral-site affair against Tampa Bay in Germany.

Also, the next two games — seemingly winnable when the schedule was released — at Detroit and New Orleans don’t appear any easier, especially against a Lions team that has shown one of the NFL’s better rushing attacks.

The expansion to a 17-game season and seven-team playoff field make historical precedents less meaningful, but the numbers show there is a huge difference in a team’s chances to make the playoffs at 2-1 or 1-2. According to NFL research from a year ago, a team starting 2-1 has a 55% chance to make the playoffs. A team starting 1-2 has a 32% chance.

So yes, the Seahawks must put up a better effort than they did a week ago at San Francisco, when they fell behind 20-0 during a mistake-filled first half and never got back in the game, losing 27-7.

It’s that latter point — simply appearing more competitive and competent — that is Carroll’s main aim this week.

“Man, this is an important week for us getting back home and getting our act together,” Carroll said. “We didn’t do what we wanted to do last week.”

Advertising

More specifically, they wanted to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense.

The Seahawks were held to 36 yards on just 12 carries by the 49ers, the sixth-lowest total in the Carroll era. They allowed 189 yards on 45 carries, the 17th-most in the Carroll era.

The Seahawks will be challenged in both areas against the Falcons, whose statistics look better than their record. The Falcons are seventh in the NFL in rushing at 145.5 yards per game in two games (against the Saints and Rams) and 15th in run defense at 108 per game.

The Seahawks are last in the NFL in rushing at 56 yards per game and 25th in run defense at 146 yards allowed.

“We need a balanced attack,” running back Rashaad Penny said after the 49ers game, when he was held to 15 yards on six carries. “We’ve got one of the best duos at receiver [Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf], and I feel like we’ve got a really great running-back room. We’ve just got to trust it more, make the running game marry up to the passing game.”

As for defending the run, players spoke all week of better discipline — making tackles and reading plays correctly and being in the right spots.

Advertising

“These first two games we’ve seen what we need to do, and that’s stop the run,” said veteran defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson, who is likely to start with Shelby Harris out. “We need to use this game as a statement game to get back on track.”

Carroll also said the Seahawks must not “hold back” quarterback Geno Smith. On Friday he clarified that didn’t mean a big change in philosophy but that his statement meant his faith in Smith has only increased, even if the Seahawks have gone six quarters without an offensive score.

“What I’m really saying is that my confidence in him has just grown,” Carroll said. “… Whenever the opportunities come [we can] count on him to do stuff. There’s no hesitation.”

On Friday Carroll spoke at length about his faith that the team’s young players are making progress and added that, “We’re gonna get there. We care too much, they are too smart, they care for one another, so that means they feel responsible. So we’re gonna get there. It’s just, don’t want to wait very long. We’ve got to go.”

And there may be no better week to get going than this one.