Another winter of championship dreams inched closer to reality with Seattle’s playoff-clinching victory over the Browns.

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The Seahawks talked a lot Sunday about perseverance, about belief, about how their confidence never wavered when they were 2-4 and the entire outside world wondered if their run was over.

But safety Earl Thomas, who at times has a philosopher’s soul wrapped in an athlete’s body, summed it up best.

“History never lies,’’ he said with a shrug. “We’ve done it in the past. It feels good to have another opportunity to keep playing ball. And everything is out there still that we want.”

It’s all still out there for the Seahawks, improbably enough, another winter of championship dreams that inched closer to reality with Seattle’s playoff-clinching victory over the Browns.

SEAHAWKS 30, BROWNS 13

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All those previous areas of grave concern seem to be magically healing themselves. The defense that couldn’t hold fourth-quarter leads now is in lockdown mode once again. The offensive line that couldn’t protect is giving Russell Wilson all the time he needs.

And Wilson is playing at a level rarely seen in the annals of the NFL, bringing the Seahawks’ offense along with him. Suddenly, a team that was maligned, doubted and written off is heading back to the rarefied levels of the past two seasons.

“There are high, lofty expectations in our room,’’ cornerback Richard Sherman said. “We go out to win the pennant every year. It’s nice to make the playoffs, but our goals are much loftier than that.”

I asked a sampling of players around the locker room if their confidence ever dipped, even when they were 2-4, even when they blew a lead to Arizona to drop to 4-5. At that point, Seattle’s playoff odds were listed at under 30 percent by some analysts. The Seahawks haven’t lost since, a winning streak now at five games.

“You guys are in here, you see our group,’’ tight end Luke Willson responded. “We don’t have a confidence issue, that’s for sure.”

Added defensive end Cliff Avril: “You guys had doubts, not us. We never doubted ourselves. It’s a long season. Me being eight years in, I understand that. So many things can happen within 16 weeks. I’m not surprised at all.”

Only Doug Baldwin, whose connection with Wilson is bordering on the supernatural, acknowledged even the semblance of questions within the locker room.

“I don’t know if doubt is the right word, but there’s always a question — OK, we have it, but are we going to find it?” Baldwin said. “Are we going to actually do what we’re capable of? Fortunately enough, we were able to do that.”

Certainly, having two Super Bowl appearances in their bank helped keep the doubts at bay. But Thomas admitted that some attitude adjustment also was necessary when the Seahawks were mired in their deepest valley.

“I think those hard times made us kind of change,’’ Thomas said. “I’m excited everybody is connected right now, everybody’s clicking, everybody having fun, everybody’s heart’s in it. That’s why we’re getting the results we are.”

As happened last year during a midseason lull, the Seahawks have used adversity to bond together rather than get torn apart. That’s a tribute both to Pete Carroll’s team-building skill and the players’ willingness to buy in.

“I just feel that connection is so real,” Thomas said. “I think early on in the season, it was in bits and pieces of position groups, but everybody didn’t have it. Just to see everybody generate that has been powerful to see. Especially on the offensive side of the ball.”

Carroll was asked, naturally, what led to the Seahawks’ turnaround en route to their fourth consecutive playoff berth and fifth in his six seasons at the helm.

He spoke of that indefinable something that coalesced somewhere along the line, somewhere within the locker room, somewhere within each player. As always, Carroll managed to make the metaphysical seem tangible.

“We kept doing what we do, and believing that if we kept working really hard and kept believing in one another, we’d eventually find it,’’ he said. “And we have.

“It’s a marvelous chemistry that takes place on teams, and you can sit back and watch it happen and get frustrated and impatient. But we keep thinking that it’s going to happen, that something good is out there for us. We keep talking that way, and the hope is always alive.”

The hope, actually, is growing ever stronger as the Seahawks move closer to being what they were before. The scrutiny that once echoed — “locally, nationally, globally,” in Sherman’s words — is segueing back into familiar praise.

Internally, the Seahawks slowly are returning to the mindset that their fans know and love — confidence wrapped in swagger and driven by their latest slight, perceived or real. In this case, it’s the people who wrote them off when the early performance was sub-standard.

“You’re talking about a champion team,’’ Sherman said. “You’re talking about veterans. You’re talking about people who have seen the bottom and people who have seen the top.

“You underestimate the heart of a champion, you’re going to lose a lot of times. No matter what the record was, we understood who we were and what we were able to do. Unfortunately, we lost a few games, but we were never deterred.”

After all, history never lies. Even if it sometimes tries to deceive.

Playoff picture
After the victory Sunday, with two games to go, the Seahawks clinched a wild-card spot in the NFC. Six teams make the playoffs, with the four division winners seeded by record, followed by two wild-card teams. If the playoffs started today, Seattle would play at Washington.
Team W-L Playoff status
1. Carolina 14-0 NFC South
2. Arizona 11-2 NFC West
3. Green Bay 10-4 NFC North
4. Washington 7-7 NFC East
5. Seattle 9-5 Wild card
6. Minnesota 9-5 Wild card
7. Atlanta 7-7 Not in
8. Philadelphia 6-7 Not in
9. N.Y. Giants 6-8 Not in
Source: NFL.com