Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks are looking to reach the Super Bowl for a third straight year. Getty

With the 2016 divisional playoffs set to get underway this weekend, the Seattle Seahawks are right where most experts predicted them to be when the season began. Pete Carroll’s squad is one of eight remaining teams in the postseason and among the favorites to win Super Bowl 50. But it hasn’t been an easy road for the back-to-back NFC champions, who didn’t look like they would be in this position just a few months ago.

After nearly winning two straight Super Bowls, the Seahawks returned their core of players for the 2015 season and were considered among the best teams in football. Prior to Week 1, Seattle had the NFL’s second-best Super Bowl odds at 13/2, trailing only the Packers. However, a slow start to the season changed that.

The Seahawks lost four of their first six games, putting their playoff hopes in doubt. Seattle’s defense, which had been the biggest key to their success, failed them in the first two months of the season. Blowing fourth-quarter leads to the Rams, Packers, Bengals and Panthers, the Seahawks dug themselves into a deep hole.

After falling to 2-3 following their loss in Cincinnati, the Seahawks saw their betting odds drop to 14/1, ranking them sixth in the NFC. Seattle rebounded in the middle of the regular season with wins against losing teams like the 49ers and Cowboys, but a home loss to the Cardinals seemed to be the biggest sign that this just wasn’t Seattle’s season.

Heading into Week 13, the Seahawks were 6-5 and already out of the race to win the NFC West. The best the team could hope for was a wild-card spot and the chance to win multiple playoff games on the road, stripping Seattle of home-field advantage, which had been such a factor in their previous postseason runs.

But Seattle turned it on after their loss to Arizona, and they enter Saturday’s game against the Panthers as the NFC’s hottest team. They’ve won seven of their last eight games, beating four playoff teams and winning largely in dominant fashion. Five of those wins have come by at least 16 points.

Russell Wilson ended the regular season playing better than anyone, throwing 24 touchdowns and one interception with the No.1 overall passer rating. No defense in the NFL allowed fewer points than Seattle, and the Seahawks are back to being considered one of the best, if not the best team in football.

Carolina and Arizona have better championship odds than Seattle because the Seahawks have the most difficult path to Super Bowl 50, but Wilson and Co. don’t trail them by much. The Seahawks have the fourth-best Super Bowl odds at +550, barely trailing the Panthers (+500), Patriots (+425) and Cardinals (+425).

Seattle is an underdog in Carolina, but they would likely be favored on a neutral field. The same would be the case for a potential NFC Championship game in Arizona, and Seattle could even be favored if they have to go to Green Bay for a conference title game.

If the Seahawks reach Super Bowl 50, they might be favored no matter the opponent. Seattle was a one-point favorite against New England before kickoff of last year's Super Bowl.