The Seattle Seahawks aren't going to be able to afford many slip-ups in the second half of the season if they want to win a second straight NFC West title.
A home loss to the struggling New York Giants on Sunday would fit such a description, but the Seahawks figure to be considerably healthier than they have been in recent weeks.
Seattle (5-3) is two games behind Arizona for the division lead. Despite back-to-back wins, the Seahawks are finding that close games aren't necessarily going their way like they did a season ago.
They've split their last four contests, all of which were decided by a touchdown or less. They went 7-3 in such games last season, including playoffs.
"We're making progress," coach Pete Carroll told the team's official website. "We've survived some really hard games and we've won some really hard games. We're battle tested. We're ready to go."
After building a 21-point halftime lead at home against Oakland last Sunday, Seattle held on for a 30-24 victory amid a rash of injuries.
Russell Wilson was ineffective, going 17 of 35 for 179 yards. He's posted a 76.4 rating over the past four games after accumulating a 112.9 mark in the first four.
He could have some help returning on the offensive line this week. Center Max Unger (foot) dressed for the win against Oakland, but was only going to be used in an emergency situation. Left tackle Russell Okung suffered a calf strain during practice last week, but Carroll said Okung feels he's ready to play.
Left guard James Carpenter, though, went down with a sprained ankle against Oakland.
There's also some injury relief on the defensive side, with Jeremy Lane being activated and fellow defensive backs Kam Chancellor and Jeron Johnson also potentially returning, along with tackle Jordan Hill. The statuses of linebackers Malcolm Smith and Bobby Wagner aren't as positive.
"It's a big turn," Carroll said. "It depends on how much good fortune we have. We'll have four guys back that weren't ready for us this week and we could have eight. It's amazing that it could be like that, but we're on the verge of getting some guys back."
The defense has lived up to its stout reputation in the last three weeks, limiting opponents to a league-best 255.7 yards per game after opening the season with a 334.4 mark through five contests. Despite the secondary shuffling, Seattle's pass defense has allowed 171.3 yards over the past three.
A big reason for the improvement could be because the back-to-back wins have featured five takeaways after the team totaled five in the first six games.
That may not bode well for the streaky Giants (3-5), who are looking to avoid a third straight loss in the series after a 23-0 home loss to the Seahawks on Dec. 15. New York committed five turnovers in that game - all Eli Manning interceptions.
The Giants have lost three straight by an average of 17.7 points after winning three in a row. They're dealing with a brutal stretch of schedule that began with visits to Philadelphia and Dallas followed by Monday night's 40-24 home loss to Indianapolis. This game is followed by home matchups with San Francisco and Dallas.
"There are some times we go out and play as good as any team in this league, and there are times when we go out and play as bad as any team in the league," safety Antrel Rolle said.
They are, however, beginning to expect plenty from receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The rookie caught eight passes for 156 yards against the Colts and has three touchdowns in his first four games. Plenty of his success against the Colts came after the game was out of hand, though.
New York punted seven times on eight first-half possessions Monday, and it's averaged 5.7 points and 129.7 yards in the first half during the losing streak.
"We've got to find a way to move the ball more efficiently as an offense," Manning told the team's official website.
Defensively, the Giants have been a mess. While Philadelphia shredded them on the ground, Dallas mixed things up and the Colts picked them apart through the air. It's amounted to 438.0 yards of offense allowed in those games, the worst in the league since the start of Week 6.
New York also suffered yet another costly personnel loss, as starting cornerback Prince Amukamara joins fellow corners Walter Thurmond III and Trumaine McBride on injured reserve due to a torn biceps.
Running back Rashad Jennings' status is uncertain. He's missed the past three games with a knee injury.