PHOENIX (AP) As it is, a pretty persuasive case could be made that Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and the rest of the Seattle Seahawks defense is among the very best groups on that side of the ball in NFL history.
The Seahawks are the first team since coach Buddy Ryan's 1985-86 Chicago Bears to give up the fewest points per game and fewest yards per game in back-to-back seasons.
They're also the first team in more than 40 years, since the Minnesota Vikings' ''Purple People Eaters'' of 1969-71, to lead the league in points allowed for three consecutive seasons.
Where would Seattle rank, though, if it manages to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Sunday's Super Bowl, a year after overwhelming Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 43-8 in the championship game?
Not surprisingly, in this age of Twitter's ability to instantly transform a mild boast into motivational material for an opponent, the Seahawks are not quite willing to wade into a debate.
''That would be cool, once you look back 20 or 30 years from now, to see how good you are. I remember the great defenses back in the day. They're still being talked about. Teams from the `70s, from the `80s, they're still being talked about to this day, even,'' linebacker K.J. Wright said. ''So when it gets to 2040, we can look back and just see how good we are. It'll be pretty fun.''
Others are ready to assess the Seahawks today.
''Over a two-year period, they're as good as anybody that's played,'' said Brian Billick, coach of the Ray Lewis-led 2000 Baltimore Ravens that set a league record for fewest points in a season.
Another former NFL head coach, Steve Mariucci, is impressed by the way Seattle has put up strong statistics year after year lately.
''They're in the conversation because of continuity over time,'' said Mariucci, now an NFL Network analyst. ''The Bears were pretty good over time, too, but they didn't win another Super Bowl. They were one-and-done.''
Those Chicago teams featured Hall of Famers, but they also used a never-before-seen scheme that confounded opponents. The Seahawks don't necessarily present creative formations or try to confuse offenses.
Instead, they rely plenty on everyone sticking to their assignments, hard hitting, turnovers and closing speed that helps limit opponents' yards after catches.
To try to avoid fumbling Sunday, the Patriots worked this week on protecting the ball.
''Running with slippery balls. Guys trying to strip the ball from you all practice,'' receiver Brandon LaFell said, adding that coach Bill Belichick ''puts a ton of water on the balls, and we've got the greased balls that are real slick.''
Brady calls playing against the Seahawks ''a grind'' and ''a test of wills.''
''You've got to run good routes. You've got to make good throws. You've got to throw into tight windows,'' Brady said. ''They've got a lot of eyes on the quarterback, so you've got to be conscious of those things, and you've still got to be able to play aggressively and play with confidence. You can't let one bad play affect another.''
The Seahawks defensive line's ability to fluster Brady and slow burly running back LeGarrette Blount could be key Sunday, and much of that responsibility will fall to Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.
But Seattle's success really starts in the secondary with the self-styled ''Legion of Boom,'' led by All-Pros Sherman at cornerback and Thomas at safety. The other safety, Kam Chancellor, gets less recognition, but as Sherman put it: ''He doesn't fly under the radar on the field.''
Another vital cog is All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, whose value became most clear when he was out of the lineup for five games with a toe injury. Since his return, Seattle is 8-0.
If they make that 9-0 with another Super Bowl victory, then maybe even the Seahawks will be ready to rate themselves.
''We can definitely talk about it. We have to win the game first,'' Wagner said. ''But if we win the game, we can talk about it.''
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/AP-NFL