Hold on to your pants.
I was looking at Seattle's remaining schedule and that turned into looking at other teams' schedules and here I am telling you about everyone’s schedules. The following will hopefully be a review of the Hawks' playoff-race competition and their respective schedules. Actually, pretty much just the schedules.
It's already Week 11 and our Seattle Seahawks are good! Football Outsiders has them at #3 through 10 weeks of DVOA data with 33.1% (Seattle has 8.3 estimated wins! They only have 6 real wins!). The last time the Hawks were in this DVOA neighborhood was 2005 when they finished the year with 28.4%.
(I really like Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, and while it's not perfect, it's damn good. Be warned, I'm going to be putting a lot of DVOA ranks in parentheses. If you don't know what DVOA is, here.)
It's too bad there's another team in the division that also isn't shitty at football. Those damn 49ers. Most of you know that they recently used magic to tie the Rams. Well, because of that, they sit ahead of us at 6-2-1 with an important head-to-head matchup in the not-too-distant future. I'm going to focus on the wild-card race down below, but who's to say Seattle can't win the division? All they need to do is win one more game than the 49ers. To the schedules!
Seattle's schedule (8th toughest future schedule): @Miami (20th best team by DVOA), @Chicago (5), vs. Arizona (24), @Buffalo (23), vs. San Francisco (6), vs. St. Louis (17)
San Francisco's schedule (5th toughest): vs. Chicago (5), @New Orleans (16), @St. Louis (17), vs. Miami (20), @New England (2), @Seattle (3), vs. Arizona (24)
I don't know about you, but I feel good about that schedule, especially compared to what the Niners are facing. Besides, the 8th toughest future schedule should be no problem for a team that crusaded through the 6th toughest past schedule! Out of the games left, Seattle has four very winnable games left and two sorta winnable games. I'm not saying the team will finish the second half on an 8-0 tear. I'm saying they have the ability to be competitive in every game. For the sake of the next couple sentences, I'll say they finish 4-2. For the Hawks to win the division at 10-6, San Francisco would have to finish 3-4. That doesn't seem especially likely. Still, it's something to hope for. The 49ers play three very good football teams and the Saints, who may well be a very good football team themselves; losing those (also: any) four games would do the trick. Losing three of those four games and tying the Rams would work too. I'd prefer the latter.
Now to get to my reason for doing this: the wild-card competition. While the division title is within reach, I find it a lot more plausible that the Seahawks end up going to the playoffs via a wild-card berth. The 5th seed is fairly close to locked up already by Chicago/Green Bay, barring serious bad luck. That leaves one spot up for grabs. I see the wild-card competition for the final spot as follows, in order of scariness, with their DVOA ranks: New Orleans (16), surprise team!!!, Dallas (10), Tampa Bay (13), Minnesota (15), and Detroit (14). The chances of making the playoffs for 3-6 teams is about 2%, so I’m not going to focus on any of those teams. Arizona is lolz-inducing, so I won’t be looking at them either.
The wild-card competition and their schedules
The team I was most concerned about before Week 10 was Detroit, because they beat us and that's bad because head-to-head record. Some guy from some place from some time once pondered (!!!) the question of whether it is better to be loved or feared. The Lions didn't want to be feared anymore so they lost. Good for them. I’ll throw ‘em some love. They’re now 4-5 and have a brutal schedule coming up - 4th toughest by DVOA! Their remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .714. I think they’re as good as done now.
I'm now scared of other teams, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4) and the New Orleans Saints (4-5). You know how people sometimes illegitimately bitch about the Seahawks manufacturing crowd noise? Well the Bucs fire fucking cannons off when they score. Cannons, you guys. Talk about unfair home-field advantage! And the Saints have Drew Brees, which is unfair in and of itself.
Tampa Bay's schedule (12th toughest): @Carolina (19), vs. Atlanta (11), @Denver (1), vs. Philadelphia (26), @New Orleans (16), vs. St. Louis (17), @Atlanta (11)
Tampa’s schedule looks conducive to a 9-7 or 8-8 finish. The games at New Orleans, Denver, and Atlanta are going to be tough as hell for them and the other four games aren’t exactly easy wins, possibly with the exception of those reeling Eagles. The good news? They have a 2-4 conference record right now.
New Orleans' schedule (11th toughest): @Oakland (28), vs. San Francisco (6), @Atlanta (11), @Giants (9), Tampa Bay (13), @Dallas (10), Carolina (19)
New Orleans is the team that scares me the most. Why? Drew Brees. Duh. They have a 3-3 conference record that stands to be improved upon if they finish 9-7 or 10-6. Because of that, in the case that Seattle winds up tied with New Orleans at the end of the year, Seattle will be starting the offseason early. Luckily for us, they have a brutal schedule.
I hate the Dallas Cowboys. Seattle beat them and they’re 4-5 so it’s all good right? Wrong. A strong finish appears in store, sadly. A strong finish would open the door for my mild-surprise team to be a wild-card contender (building suspense!). That team is...the New York Giants (6-4). Surprise! Or maybe not! Maybe you’re really smart and you saw that coming!
Dallas’ schedule (8th easiest): vs. Cleveland (28), vs. Washington (21), vs. Phiiladelphia (26), @Cincinnati (18), vs. Pittsburgh (12), vs. New Orleans (16), @Washington (21)
Dallas has - and, uh, this is hard for me to say because I hate them - played damn good this year and their record doesn’t reflect their ability. 3 of their 5 losses have come on the road against Seattle (yeah bitches), Baltimore, and Atlanta. The other two losses were against the Giants (who they beat on the road) and Chicago (who is good). They’ve won the games they should have and lost games they should have, according to DVOA; Baltimore is 12th in DVOA, but that game was on the road.
Giants’ schedule (9th toughest): vs. Green Bay (4), @Washington (21), vs. New Orleans (16), @Atlanta (11), @Baltimore (8), vs. Philadelphia (26)
The Giants have a tough remaining schedule and have looked shitty lately, with their latest game being a 31-13 loss to the Bengals. Dallas might overtake them and that would leave the Giants fighting for that final wild-card spot. They have a 5-2 conference record, and will likely have that tie-breaker over Seattle when it’s all said and done. Hopefully the Cowboys or Giants implode in the near future. Dallas surging and New York treading water is not a fun scenario.
On to the NFC North, and the possibility of catching Green Bay. Seattle is not catching Green Bay. Now that I’ve touched on that, let’s look at the Minnesota Vikings (6-4) and Detroit Lions (4-5), who both have gauntlet runs left.
Minnesota’s schedule (The toughest!!!): @Chicago (5), @Green Bay (4), vs. Chicago (5), @St. Louis (21), @Houston (8), vs. Green Bay (4)
Yikes. After seeing that, I’m tempted to move them behind Detroit in my scared-of rankings. The Vikings may not win another game this season.
Detroit’s schedule (4th toughest): vs. Green Bay (4), vs. Houston (7), vs. Indianapolis (27), @Green Bay (4), @Arizona (24), vs. Atlanta (11), vs. Chicago (5)
That’s rough, but not as bad as Minnesota’s suicide run. It looks like there could be a few wins in there, but the team is already 4-5. It helps them that they have 5 home games left. It doesn’t help that 4 of those teams are in the top 10 by DVOA. Detroit needs to win most of their remaining games to pose a threat, and that likely isn’t happening.
Who to root for in the relevant Week 11 matchups
Arizona at Atlanta - This is not as simple as it looks, but Arizona's hopes might as well be destroyed now.
Cleveland at Dallas - Shiiiiiit
Green Bay at Detroit - Huh. This one is interesting. I’m going to go with Detroit because their future schedule is tough enough such that a win here shouldn’t help them too much; a win here would also give Seattle temporary control of the 5th seed. Dream big!
Tampa Bay at Carolina - On the off chance that Carolina winds up 10-6, Tampa Bay will be the correct choice in hindsight.
New Orleans at Oakland - At least it’s a road game. I guess.
Chicago at San Francisco - The division! Dream big, people!
Okay, that’s it.