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RENTON, Wash. (AP) — In the locker room after stifling Arizona, Michael Bennett was holding court, more than happy to proclaim this Seattle Seahawks' defense as the best all-time.
Certainly it was bombastic and the opinion of just one player. Yet Bennett might have been on to something. Maybe not the point of Seattle's defense being mentioned in the same breath of the best all-time, but certainly one of the best defenses of this era.
"It's cool for (Bennett) to say it. Obviously we'd love to be in that discussion, but I wouldn't say it," Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. "There's been some great defenses to play out there. I think we'd be in the discussion to be one of the best defenses, especially this year and last year, and what we've done on a consistent bases year in and year out."
Depending on what happens in the season finale Sunday against St. Louis, the Seahawks have a chance to place themselves into the conversation among the best in this era. Even if the numbers don't translate directly between generations — with differences in player skills and rules — what Seattle has accomplished is noteworthy in a historical context.
"You have to rate defenses in their own time periods, because the rules today, I don't know if the defenses back then would be as good, and they were killing quarterbacks and they'd probably get ejected out of games for half of the stuff they were doing back then," Sherman said. "But those were the rules back then that they played by, and they played the game at a high level, but like you said, the game has changed."
Seattle enters Week 17 leading the NFL in total yards allowed, points allowed, yards passing allowed and ranks third in yards rushing allowed. Last season, the Seahawks led the NFL in total defense (273.6 yards per game) and scoring defense (14.4 points).
It's almost a certainty the Seahawks will finish this season as the leaders in total defense. Seattle and Detroit are the only two teams in the league giving up less than 300 yards per game and the Seahawks have a nearly 30-yard advantage over the Lions. Seattle also has a slight edge over the Lions in points allowed.
And if Seattle can finish the season as leaders of those two categories it will join rare company.
"We're definitely playing really good ball right now and it's definitely going to be something to talk about later on in the years," Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
According to STATS, only three teams in league history have led the league in yards allowed and points allowed in consecutive seasons: the 1954-55 Cleveland Browns, the 1969-70 Minnesota Vikings and the 1985-86 Chicago Bears.
But what could separate Seattle as the best of this era is its scoring defense. Only two teams in league history have led the NFL in scoring defense in three straight seasons. Cleveland did it for five straight seasons from 1953-57, and Minnesota was the best scoring defense in the league between 1969-71.
Seattle led the league in 2012 (15.3 points per game), 2013 (14.4) and could add a third defensive scoring title by shutting down the Rams on Sunday.
On Wednesday, Bennett said total yards and points allowed are the statistics that matter most.
"Those are two things you take into account. You don't want to allow points and you don't want to give up a lot of yards," Bennett said. "When we give up 30 rushing yards we're thinking, 'Could we have given up 20?' It's one of those things where we're really ambitious about it when we go out there."
Whether this year's version of the Seahawks will be considered better than last season's squad that won the first Super Bowl in franchise history won't be known for another month. The 2013 version had better pass defense and scoring defense numbers. The 2014 version is far better at stopping the run. The ultimate tiebreaker — winning a title — goes in favor of the 2013 squad. For now.
"I think we're different. It's going to be hard to say you're better than the defense that won the Super Bowl — No. 1 in just about every category that you can be No. 1 in," Sherman said. "So, just different, I think at the end of the day. You can ask me that question after the season and I'll probably have a better answer for you."
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