Seattle’s 24-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday clinched the NFC West championship for the Seahawks. It’s yet another notch in Seattle’s belt as the Seahawks claimed their third division title in four years, reaffirming their status as the NFC West’s top dogs.
So the division title was wrapped up with two games to spare. That’s cause for popping corks and a well-deserved celebration, right?
The Seahawks better not spend the final two weeks of the regular season feeling satisfied about their accomplishments, resting dinged-up players or experimenting with their schemes. The results of the games next Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals and the final weekend versus the San Francisco 49ers are every bit as vital to Seattle as the ones that gave them the division title.
That’s because the Seahawks have loftier goals than hanging another divisional banner. Seattle seeks a Super Bowl championship, and that pursuit requires the maximum number of ticks in the win column.
The Seahawks, at 9-4-1, enter Sunday’s play tied for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. NFC East-leading Dallas occupies the No. 1 seed at 11-2, while NFC North-leading Detroit is temporarily knotted with Seattle at 9-4. NFC South contenders Tampa Bay and Atlanta are right behind at 8-5.
It behooves the Seahawks to finish above as many of those teams as possible.
Let’s begin with a Super Bowl history lesson. Since the NFL expanded its playoffs to 12 teams in 1990 there have been 52 Super Bowl participants. Of those 52, 40 had a bye in the first round of the playoffs. That means, based on history, a team that doesn’t get a first-round bye has just a 23.1-percent chance of reaching the Super Bowl.
Seattle’s history reinforces that notion. The Seahawks reached the Super Bowl three times in franchise history: in 2005, 2013 and 2014. All three times Seattle had a first-round bye. Since the playoff expansion the Seahawks played in the wild-card round eight times, and not once did Seattle advance past the divisional round.
Clearly the bye is a goal worth playing for.
But wait, there’s more. What about home-field advantage?
Seattle, more than any other team in the NFL this season, has been different teams at home and on the road. Seattle is averaging 28.0 points per game at home and 14.6 on the road. The Seahawks are allowing 14.6 points per game at home and 19.0 on the road. Seattle is scoring 13.4 points per game more than its opponents at home, but is getting outscored by its opponents by 4.4 points per game on the road. That 17.8-point differential between home and road contests is the largest in the league.
Indeed, the Seahawks are almost in a category of their own. The Arizona Cardinals have a difference of 15.8 points between home and away games, but other than that no team in the league has a greater differential than 14.2, and just eight teams other than Seattle are even in double digits.
The net result is easily summed up in the records. The Seahawks are a perfect 7-0 at home, but a meager 2-4-1 away from the cozy confines of CenturyLink Field.
The need for home playoff games is again supported by history. All three times the Seahawks reached the Super Bowl they played all their playoff games at home. Therefore, Seattle has plenty of incentive to achieve the highest possible seed in order to get as may postseason games as possible at CenturyLink.
The good news for the Seahawks is that the schedule appears to be in Seattle’s favor. The Seahawks’ final two opponents are eminently beatable. Arizona, at 5-7-1, has been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, and the Cardinals have been woeful on the road. San Francisco has been a team all opponents relish seeing on their schedule, and the 49ers are still in the hunt for the first-overall pick in the 2017 draft at 1-12. Seattle will be big favorites in both contests.
Meanwhile, the other contenders for the top two seeds, and therefore a bye in the first round of the playoffs, have tougher roads ahead. Dallas has games against both Tampa Bay and Detroit, so those teams will damage one another’s chances. The Lions, in addition to facing the Cowboys, have difficult games against the New York Giants and Green Bay. The only one of the other four contenders that will be a sure favorite in each of its remaining games is Atlanta, and Seattle has a head start on the Falcons.
But none of that will mean anything if the Seahawks don’t take care of their own business.
So put down the party hats and noisemakers. Seattle still has work to do with regards to its playoff positioning. Where the Seahawks end up in the seeding will go a long way towards determining whether Seattle reaches its ultimate goal of playing in Houston on Feb. 5.
For more on the Seattle sports scene, check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at www.heraldnet.com/tag/seattle-sidelines, or follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.