Is the Seahawks' 4-3 Record Merely Fool's Gold?

How much you wanna bet I can throw that football over them mountains? - Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

At 4-3, the Seahawks are tied for second in the NFC West, one game out of first. But with an 0-3 divisional record, just how high is the mountain they have to climb in order to make the playoffs?

If you had told me before the season started that the Seahawks would be going into their game against the Lions with a 4-3 record, I'd be pretty enthusiastic about the whole thing. In fact, I had them pegged as a 2-5 team through seven games when the schedules were released, predicting that a strong second half would carry them to an 8-8 record. So, if the team is two games ahead of that projection, why am I not somersaulting through my day, powered by unbridled optimism?

0-3.

That's Seattle's record in the NFC West. That they've beaten all four teams outside of their division is both surprising and beneficial (three of those wins have come against NFC teams -- a valuable tie-breaker), but an o-fer in the first half of the divisional schedule is a historically significant obstacle to overcome. Obviously, the Seahawks now have to run the table in the division to finish at 3-3. The good news: all remaining divisional games will be played at Century Link. The bad: the margin for error in those games is practically zero.

Consider this: since the NFL went to eight divisions, only six of the 108 playoff teams had a divisional record below .500*. If the Seahawks slip up in even one of their remaining NFC West games, they'll have to shoehorn themselves into the fortunate 5.6% of playoff teams that have overcome a losing record inside their division.

*I mentioned this to a fellow FG writer, who called it a "misleading stat". His point was that no 2-4 teams won their divisions, so I should say that the stat is six of 36 Wild Card teams. If you're punting hopes of winning the division after seven games, then sure, six of 36 is more accurate, but even so, 16.7% is not exactly hopeful.

Now, while it's easy to sit back and assume that Seattle will win their remaining division games (after all, they are 3-0 at home this season), keep in mind that no game in the NFL should be a presumed victory, especially divisional ones. In fact, I'm sure many that are confident that Seattle will hold serve in the NFC West the rest of the way also felt sure that the Seahawks would log victories against the Cardinals and Rams earlier this year. My point is that while Seattle is very capable of beating Arizona, St Louis, and San Francisco in December, the fact that they are the NFL's only 0-3 divisional team is a harbinger that bodes against them.*

*Check out Tim's excellent piece detailing the situation HERE

The crazy thing about an NFL season is that 16 games, no matter the sheer tonnage of "conclusions" we draw about teams as the year progresses, is still a pretty small sample size and, as such, the implications of each game can have massive effects on the chances a team has of making the postseason.

For example, going into Seattle's game against San Francisco, the ultra simple yet cool MakeNFLPlayoffs.com had the Seahawks at ~48% chance of making the playoffs. One tough loss later and the 'Hawks odds were dropped like a Russell Wilson pass on a Thursday night, all the way to ~35% (other sites, like PlayoffStatus.com {39%} and PlayoffRace.com {35%} have similar outlooks).* That one loss, though fairly predictable and largely acceptable, still cost Seattle roughly 13% of their chances. For their part, PlayoffRace.com predicts a Seahawks win over Detroit this week would increase their odds by 11.8%, while a loss would decrease them by 11.7%.

*FootballOutsiders.com, which is my most trusted playoff odds site, had yet to update the Seahawks chances at the time of this writing. UPDATE: FootballOutsiders (which is an aggregate of 25,000 simulations that takes DVOA into account) lists the Seahawks' chances at ~62%, down from ~72% last week. A much rosier picture!

Still, there is much good to be drawn from where the Seahawks sit after seven games. For one, they own the tie-breaker over two potential Wild Card teams (Packers, Cowboys) and have a chance to own a third should they manage to beat the Vikings in Seattle in Week 9. Should Seattle end up in a two-way tie for a playoff spot with any of the teams they've beaten, they would get the nod as head-to-head is the primary tie-breaker used.

Another bright spot is the appearance that the Seahawks' toughest stretch is behind them. Through seven games, only three of which have been at the CLink, Seattle's opponents boast an impressive average DVOA of 10.8*, which is roughly equivalent to the 'Hawks playing the league's 11th best team every week (this is very high) and includes a split with the #1 team (SF) and the #2 team (GB). From here on out, however, Seattle's schedule holds an average DVOA of 6.6, which is still tough but considering that five of those nine games will be at home, is an easier draw than the schedule has been thus far.

Additionally, it is difficult to overstate (though many of us are wont to try) the benefits of playing in Seattle vs playing on the road. After this Sunday's road tilt in Detroit (Lions favored by between 1 and 2.5, for what it's worth), Seattle will finish with five home games in the back half of their schedule, including the aforementioned remaining divisional games. We all know that it's difficult for opponents to win in the 12th Man's fortress, but just how difficult is it? Well, according to the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective (nerds!), Century Link Field is the single toughest stadium in the NFL for road teams, claiming that the stadium and those who fill it account for a staggering 79.7 point advantage per season. For reference, I added up the other 31 teams' advantages and they average out to ~36.2. The Emerald City edge is more than just anecdotal, it is a monumental, quantifiable advantage.

Finally, we can't overlook that the Seahawks are a good team. According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks flaunt an overall DVOA of 21.7, good for 8th in the league and ahead of the undefeated Atlanta Falcons (18.9). I could spend another 1,00 words detailing the things that make the 'Hawks formidable, but I've done that extensively elsewhere on this site, as have the rest of the FG staff, so no need to delve to deep here.

The Seahawks are 4-3 and are currently 8th in the NFC (they'd be 3rd in the AFC but no point in fussing over that). The path to the playoffs is still an open and accessible one, but don't kid yourselves -- that road is uphill and full of potholes. The best thing about it, however, is that this team is more equipped than it has been in half a decade to make that journey successfully.

Jacson on Twitter

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