NFL Draft & Playoff Watch Week 8: In the middle, in the middle, in the middle

Leon Halip

Well, that was fun while it lasted, wasn't it?

The euphoria of the Seattle's win against the Pats has worn off, thanks to two straight road losses, one in which the defense did their darnedest to keep them in the game while the offense proved incapable of moving the ball, the other in which the offense gave the team three separate leads but the defense couldn't hold any of them. Regardless of how they got there, which games they should've won and which ones they should've lost, the Seahawks reach the halfway mark with a 4-4, where they seem to find themselves at the halfway point of just about every season.

The prospects of landing a playoff spot now are... well, I won't say bleak, but they certainly are difficult given the hole our divisional record has dug us into, and the Niners thumping Arizona didn't do us any favors. With a two-game lead in the division against the 'Hawks and the Cards and tiebreakers against both, San Francisco has a strong grip on the division title, meaning that the Seahawks are going to need to fight with the rest of the conference for a wild card spot - not an easy task, considering the strength of the NFC North this year.

We'll start off this week with the playoff rankings in the NFC at the conclusion of Week 8:

Division Leaders:

1. Falcons (7-0)
2. Bears (6-1)
3. Giants (6-2, defeated SF)
4. 49ers (6-2, lost to NYG)

Wild Cards:

5. Vikings (5-3, 2-1 in common games)
6. Packers (5-3, 1-2 in common games)

Outside Looking In:

7. Cardinals (4-4, defeated SEA)
8. Seahawks (4-4, lost to ARI)
9. Lions (3-4, 3-3 conference record)
10. Buccaneers (3-4, 2-4 conference record)
11. Eagles (3-4, 1-0 divisional record, 1-3 conference record)
12. Cowboys (3-4, 1-1 divisional record)
13. Rams (3-5, defeated WAS)
14. Redskins (3-5, lost to STL)
15. Saints (2-5)
16. Panthers (1-6)

(An explanation of the 9-12 traffic jam: any ties with teams in the same division are broken first, using divisional record. Thus, the Cowboys gets the lowest ranking despite a 3-3 conference record - their divisional record loses to Philadephia, so they automatically get sent to the back of the line. Divisional records are not used for wild card positioning beyond that point; conference record is the first tiebreaker that comes into play. For more info on the arcane rituals that are NFL playoff tiebreakers, click here.)

So the Seahawks now find themselves one game behind both wild card teams, although they already have the tiebreaker over the Packers and can get it over the Vikings with a win next week. A loss against Minnesota, however, would really put the screws on them; Green Bay appears to be on the rise and the Vikings might be the only team left that the 'Hawks can realistically jump over in the standings.

We move on to draft positioning now, and even though the Seahawks have a middle-of-the-road record, the utter inferiority of the AFC this year means that they're actually a little further back than the middle of the draft order. Here's where everybody currently ranks:

1. Chiefs (1-6,.486 SOS)
2. Panthers (1-6, .522 SOS)
3. Jaguars (1-6, .559 SOS)
4. Browns (2-6. .509 SOS)
5. Saints (2-5, .509 SOS)
6. Rams via Redskins (3-5, .504 SOS)
7. Jets (3-5, .525 SOS)
8. Titans (3-5, .529 SOS)
9. Rams (3-5, .564 SOS)
10. Raiders (3-4, .421 SOS
11. Chargers (3-4, .423 SOS)
12. Bengals (3-4, .448 SOS)
13. Buccaneers (3-4, .466 SOS)
14. Eagles (3-4, .491 SOS)
15. Bills (3-4, .496 SOS)
16. Cowboys (3-4, .518 SOS)
17. Lions (3-4, .603 SOS)
18. Seahawks (4-4, .534 SOS)
19. Cardinals (4-4, .586 SOS)
20. Steelers (4-3, .441 SOS)
21. Broncos (4-3, .455 SOS)
22. Dolphins (4-3, .459 SOS)
23. Colts (4-3, .479 SOS)
24. Patriots (5-3, .504 SOS)
25. Vikings (5-3, .542 SOS)
26. Packers (5-3, .549 SOS)
27. Ravens (5-2, .470 SOS)
28. Giants (6-2, .478 SOS)
29. 49ers (6-2, .547 SOS)
30. Texans (6-1, .500 SOS)
31. Bears (6-1, .504 SOS)
32. Falcons (7-0, .391 SOS)

(Strength of schedule is found by calculating the total winning percentage of all 13 opponents on a team's schedule. Divisional opponents are counted twice, since they are played twice. Divisional record breaks any ties, followed by a coinflip.)

It's also interesting to note that there has been very little activity between teams trading for first-round draft picks. Granted, much of that happens on draft day or immediately prior, but usually the NFL season is good for at least one blockbuster trade where a team desperate for a playoff push mortgages their future for the piece they think wil take them over the top. This year, the only draft pick that belongs to a different team is the Rams' first-round pick from the Redskins. The trade deadline has been pushed back a couple of days because of Hurricane Sandy - we'll see if any picks get dealt in the next 48 hours.

Finally, we turn to next week's schedule to look for the games that may affect both our playoff and draft position. The 49ers are on a bye week, so there's a chance to pick up at least half a game on them if the Seahawks hold serve against the Vikings. As for the other games on the schedule:

ARI @ GB: We don't have a tiebreaker against Arizona, so we need to get in front of them to have any shot at a wild card. Go Packers.

CHI @ TEN: A Chicago loss weakens the NFC North's total record, which helps dilute our schedule strength. Go Titans.

CAR @ WAS: The Rams would have two top-10 picks if the draft were held today. Go Redskins.

DET @ JAC: Just so the Lions don't get in front of us and complicate the wild card chase any further, Go Jags.

DAL @ ATL: It's kinda grasping at straws, but a loss by Dallas brings down our SOS. Go Falcons.

Everything else is more-or-less inconsequential. Seattle looks to be saddled with a strong schedule once again - nobody who drafts sooner than Seattle has a stronger record save for Jacksonville - so we'd pretty much have to out-lose any team we want to get in front of in the draft.

The upcoming game against the Vikings is a pivotal one. Win, and our playoff hopes are renewed in earnest. Lose, and the chances of running down enough teams to earn even a wild card spot will be close to insurmountable. Here's hoping that there will be good news to report next week; see you then!

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