By John Boyle
Because it never gets old, let’s first start with the classic video of former Colts coach Jim Mora reaction to a question about his team’s playoff chances.
Following his team’s fourth win in five game, Pete Carroll was asked if he’s thinking about the playoffs, and while his answer was far less memorable, the fact that the question is even coming up says something about how far the Seahawks have come. After eight games, the Seahawks were 2-6 and people were wondering just how low they might go this season. Even with an easier second-half schedule, a lot of folks thought they were headed for a four or five-win season. But now the Seahawks are 6-7, and if by some chance they can win out and finish 9-7, a wild-card berth is a real possibility. Now realize that a 9-7 finish would require this team to end the year on a five-game winning streak, which is no small task for a team that hasn’t won three in a row since 2007.
But since there’s still hope, let’s take a look at the current playoff picture.
If the playoffs started today, here are the NFC teams that would be in:
1. Green Bay 13-0, NFC North champs
2. San Francisco 10-3, NFC West champs
3. New Orleans 10-3, NFC South champs
4. New York Giants 7-6, NFC East Champs
5. Atlanta 8-5, wild card
6. Detroit 8-5, wild card
Outside looking in
So now the question is what needs to happen for Seattle to move up. Obviously with Atlanta and Detroit already sitting on eight wins, it will be nearly impossible for Seattle to make it at 8-8, so first thing is first, for us to even have this conversation, the Seahawks have to win out. For the purpose of this blog post, we’ll assume from here on out that the Seahawks will win the rest of their games and finish with a 9-7 overall record and 8-4 conference record. So let’s say they do win, then what? Well by doing that, we can eliminate the Bears from the conversation, because Seattle winning out means a Bears loss next week, and even if Chicago won its last two games, Seattle would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of next week’s hypothetical win. Arizona is also out of the picture in this scenario because Seattle would hand them loss No. 8 (at least) in Week 17.
So now we’re left to look at Atlanta, Detroit, and whoever doesn’t win the NFC East between Dallas and New York.
Atlanta’s next three game are against Jacksonville (4-9), at New Orleans (10-3) and vs. Tampa Bay (4-9). It’s almost impossible to imagine the Falcons not getting one more win with two home games against 4-9 teams, and one more is all they’d need to stay ahead of Seattle because Atlanta would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Likelihood of catching the Falcons with a 9-7 record: Slim to none.
Detroit has been a tough team to figure. Since starting 5-0, the Lions are just 3-5, and their remaining schedule features a couple of enigmatic teams—at Oakland (7-6) and vs. San Diego (6-7). Even the final game at Green Bay isn’t as clear cut as it might seem. If the unbeaten Packers lose before that game, or just simply decide resting starters for the playoffs is more important than a perfect season, that could become a very winnable game for the Lions. The good news for Seattle is that if the Lions do lose two of three and finish with a matching 9-7 record, the Seahawks would hold the better conference record, which is the next tiebreaker after head-to-head (Seattle and Detroit did not play this year).
Likelihood of catching the Lions with a 9-7 record: Not bad. Let’s say 60-40.
New York’s comeback win over Dallas was bad news for the Seahawks, because it keeps Dallas in the wild-card picture and gives the Giants a game on Seattle should they fall back into the wild card picture. The good news for Seattle is that it won in New York, meaning the Seahawks own the head-to-head tiebreaker. New York finishes vs. Washington (4-9), at the New York Jets (8-5), and vs. Dallas (7-6). If we’re assuming for a moment that the Giants are in the wild-card hunt because the Cowboys pass them, that means they would only have to lose one of those for Seattle to be able to catch them.
Likelihood of catching the Giants with a 9-7 record: Pretty solid. In the neighborhood of 75-25.
The Cowboys hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Seattle, so the Seahawks would be better off if Dallas just wins the division and leaves the Giants to contend with the wild card. The Cowboys finish their season with at Tampa Bay (4-9) vs. Philadelphia (5-8) and at the Giants (7-6). If Dallas isn’t going to win the division Seattle needs Dallas to lose two of those final three, which is possible, but seemingly unlikely.
Likelihood of catching the Giants with a 9-7 record: Not great. Perhaps 30-70.
Also, there are scenarios that could play out with more than two teams tied. A lot of those would favor the Seahawks, who would have a stronger conference record, but quite frankly it’s not worth the headache right now of trying to sort those out until we know if it is even a real possibility, so we’ll worry about that in a couple of weeks, if necessary.