Seattle Seahawks fans have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
They can be thankful for last Thursday’s 28-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, in which Seattle not only bested a rival for the NFC West title, but also saw its defense finally show up to the 2020 party.
They can be thankful for the mishaps suffered by other teams vying for NFC supremacy, such as the Green Bay Packers’ 34-31 overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, as well as the New Orleans Saints losing star quarterback Drew Brees to injury for an indefinite period.
But if there’s one thing Seahawks fans should include during their Thanksgiving gratitude it’s this: the schedule.
I’m as bullish as I’ve been all season about Seattle’s chances of claiming the top seed in the NFC and earning a first-round playoff bye. The reason isn’t quarterback Russell Wilson getting out of his turnover funk, it isn’t the defense displaying the type of physicality reminiscent of the Legion of Boom years, and it isn’t creeping up from the No. 7 seed to No. 5 in the NFC playoff picture. It’s scanning the list of opponents Seattle has the rest of the way.
Seattle’s remaining schedule is softer than a peach that’s been left to over-ripen for a week. Based on opponent winning percentage the Seahawks have the league’s easiest remaining schedule by some margin, as Seattle’s six remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of just .342.
This is particularly true over the next four weeks, when Seattle faces … well, what’s the opposite of Murderer’s Row? Jaywalker’s Lane? Those four games include three patsies from the NFC (L)East — Philadelphia, the New York Giants and Washington — with the winless New York Jets sprinkled in for good measure. Those teams’ combined record? It’s 9-30-1, which is a minuscule .238 winning percentage. And that doesn’t even tell the whole story, as those nine victories by the NFC East include seven against one another and just two outside the division: Philadelphia’s 25-20 victory over the banged-up San Francisco 49ers and the Giants’ 20-9 win against the feeble Cincinnati Bengals. The Seahawks will be enormous favorites in all four of those games.
Even the final-weekend game against the 49ers, which seemed so juicy when the schedule was released, is likely to end up as a dead-rubber contest for a San Francisco team enduring a lost season because of injuries.
So even though at 7-3 Seattle is a game behind the Saints for the conference’s top record and slotted into a wild-card spot on the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Los Angeles Rams, there’s an excellent chance that won’t be the case when the Seahawks face the Rams on Dec. 27 in what’s likely to be Seattle’s only remaining game against a decent opponent — a game that will be played at home.
Granted, it’s not as though the other NFC contenders are staring down an iron gauntlet in the final stretch, either. All of the other teams with any shot at the No. 1 seed — New Orleans, L.A., Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Arizona — have remaining opponent winning percentages between .475 and .450. The statisticians still peg the Saints as the favorite to earn the No. 1 seed, with FiveThirtyEight.com calculating New Orleans at a 34% chance and FootballOutsiders.com having it at 55%, versus 19% and 15%, respectively, for Seattle. But do those calculations take into account the absence of Brees for at least two more games?
And that No. 1 seed is going to be oh so valuable this year. First, with the playoffs expanded to 14 teams, only one team in the conference is going to get that extra week of rest. Second, given the unpredictability of COVID-19 and when a team might get hit, having a built-in off week provides an extra layer of protection should an outbreak occur.
Just how valuable has having the first-round bye been? The last team to reach the Super Bowl without having a bye was the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. Since then teams receiving a bye are a combined 28-6 in playoff contests when facing teams that didn’t receive byes. The bye has been a requirement for teams with Super Bowl aspirations.
One school of thought percolating around right now is that finishing with the first wild card in the NFC, the position the Seahawks currently find themselves in, wouldn’t be a bad situation, considering it would mean a first-round date with whichever teams emerges from the NFC East morass. But history suggests teams should be fighting tooth and nail for that off week.
Given Seattle’s remaining schedule the Seahawks have that fighting chance, and that’s something both Seattle and its fans should be thankful for.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.