Playoff & Draft Watch, Week 11: Withered Hope

Grant Halverson

Well, that bye week turned about as bad as it possibly could.

Of the five contests that we Seahawk fans had rooting interests in, four of them went in the opposite direction. Most importantly, the Panthers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against the Buccaneers, and the Bears played dead in San Francisco. Thus, the Bucs pull even with both the Seahawks and Vikings with a 6-4 record. Worse yet, the Packers take over the lead for the NFC North, making the Bears the new wild card contender with a Week 13 matchup looming (on the road, in an early game, as it seems every game against the Bears is scheduled), and the Saints have now officially clawed back to a .500 record themselves thanks to a 38-17 thrashing of the Raiders, adding yet another team in the fight for no more than two wild cards.

But all is not lost!

Even though I had suggested in last week's column that the Seahawks would be out of the playof picture with wins by both teams with "Bay" in their locality, one rule actually went overlooked. As it turns out, it's the Vikings who get the shaft in the three-way tie, not the Seahawks, and Minnesota now sits way back in eighth place. Why's that? Well, the "head to head sweep rule" works both ways in the tiebreaking procedure, and while the Seahawks and Buccaneers won't face off against each other, the Vikings have played against both the 'Hawks and the Bucs - and lost to both. Thus, they automatically get ranked behind both of their superior opponents, and Seattle's 4-4 conference record outranks Tampa's at 3-4.

With all that in mind, here are the new standings in the NFC:

Division Leaders:
1. Falcons (9-1)
2. 49ers (7-2-1)
3. Packers (7-3, beat CHI)
4. Giants (6-4)

Wild Cards:
5. Bears (7-3, lost to GB)
6. Seahawks (6-4, beat MIN, 4-4 Conf.)

Outside Looking In:
7. Buccaneers (6-4, beat MIN, 3-4 Conf.)
8. Vikings (6-4, lost to SEA & TB)
9. Saints (5-5, 3-3 Conf., .500 SOV)
10. Cowboys (5-5, 4-4 Conf., .380 SOV)
11. Redskins (4-6, 4-4 Conf.)
12. Lions (4-6, 3-5 Conf.)
13. Cardinals (4-6, 2-5 Conf.)
14. Rams (3-6-1)
15. Eagles (3-7)
16. Panthers (2-8)

The Panthers are officially on death watch; one more loss would put them at 7-9, and that plus a win by any of the 6-4 teams would officially lock them out of playoff contention. (They've lost to TB and Seattle already, and their conference record would be unable to match Minnesota's.)

We'll get into the ramifications of next week's tussles in just a moment. For now, since there still exists the chance that the Seahawks could find themselves out of the playoff picture, let's take a look at how the draft currently would shape up:

1. Chiefs (1-9, 81-79 SOS)

2. Jaguars (1-9, 89-71 SOS)

3. Browns (2-8, 81-79 SOS)

4. Panthers (2-8, 86-74 SOS)

5. Raiders (3-7, 72-88 SOS)

6. Eagles (3-7, 80-79-1 SOS)

7. Rams (3-6-1, 87-71-2 SOS)

8. Dolphins (4-6, 60-98-2 SOS)

9. Lions (4-6, 72-96-2 SOS, 0-4 Div.)

10. Chargers (4-6, 73-97 SOS, 3-2 Div.)

11. Bills (4-6, 73-85-2 SOS)

12. Jets (4-6, 78-80-2 SOS)

13. Rams via Redskins (4-6, 80-79-1 SOS)

14. Titans (4-6, 85-75 SOS)

15. Cardinals (4-6, 87-69-4 SOS)

16. Bengals (5-5, 70-90 SOS)

17. Saints (5-5, 81-78-1 SOS)

18. Cowboys (5-5, 82-78 SOS)

19. Vikings (6-4, 66-92-2 SOS)

20. Steelers (6-4, 71-89 SOS)

21. Colts (6-4, 74-86 SOS)

22. Buccaneers (6-4, 74-85-1 SOS)

23. Seahawks (6-4, 78-78-4 SOS)

24. Giants (6-4, 81-78-1 SOS)

25. Broncos (7-3, 75-85 SOS)

26. Patriots (7-3, 79-79-2 SOS)

27. Packers (7-3, 81-77-2 SOS)

28. Bears (7-3, 85-73-2 SOS)

29. 49ers (7-2-1, 80-78-2 SOS)

30. Ravens (8-2, 75-85 SOS)

31. Falcons (9-1, 67-93 SOS)

32. Texans (9-1, 80-80 SOS)

(Strength of schedule is found by calculating the win-loss-tie records of all 13 teams on an opponent's schedule. Division opponents are counted twice, because they are played twice, which explains why the Seahawks and Cardinals have four ties in their SOS. Ties are counted as "half" of a win. Divisional record breaks any ties for schedule strength, followed by a coinflip.)

OK, now it's time to get into brass tacks. With everyone's bye weeks having now been completed, every team has six games remaining on the schedule. Unfortunately, thanks to the 49ers slapping the Bears silly last night, we do not control our own destiny when it comes to the division. Even though the Seahawks host the Niners in week 16, that would only allow us to make up a game over them, and we trail by a game and a half. Thus, we're going to have to win one more game than the 49ers out of the five remaining that are not against each other.

The good news is that Seattle controls their own destiny for a wild card spot, provided they win out. Of course, you're probably thinking at this point, "If they win out they'd be at 12-4 - that better be enough to lock up a wild card!" Well, the truth of the matter is that there are a few situations where all three teams currently with 6-4 records could win out, since none of them have any schedule overlap at this point. Add in the Bears (who would, with a loss to the Seahawks, join the Four Loss Club), and the Packers (who still have to play the Bears one more time), and there are two different situations where the Seahawks could find themselves in a three-way tie for two Wild Card spots at 12-4, depending on how the three current NFC North contenders finish out their season.

Here are the possible scenarios - and remember, each of these are based on the assumption that the Seahawks and Buccaneers both win out.

Scenario #1: Minnesota runs the table.
This is actually the calmest of the three possibilities. Minnesota would win the division with a 12-4 record; the Packers would no better than 11-5 while the Bears could only hope for 10-6. Thus, the Vikings take the NFC North, and the Seahawks and Buccaneers would get the Wild Cards. Which ones they'd get would depend on Strength of Victory, since both Seattle and Tampa Bay would tie with 8-4 conference records and not have enough common opponents for that tiebreaker to come into play. (As it stands, the Seahawks have a whopping 13-game edge on the Bucs for SOV should it come to that.)

Scenario #2: Never mind.
In this scenario, Chicago would have lost to Green Bay and Seattle, while winning the other four games on their remaining schedule. However, this would put them at 11-5, not 12-4, thus they'd be out of the playoff picture while the Packers would win the NFC North at 13-3, and the Seahawks and Bucs would get the wild card spots with Strength of Victory determining which team would get which spot.

Scenario #3: Chicago loses to Seattle but wins the others.
This would put four teams - the Seahawks, Bears, Packers and Buccaneers - all at 12-4. The NFC North title would be settled first, and it would have to go all the way to strength of victory, as it would be a total dead heat between the Bears and Packers for record (12-4), head-to-head (split), divisional games (5-1), common games (9-3), and conference games (9-3). Green Bay currently has an eight-game lead in SOV. Regardless, whichever team doesn't win the division would get the #5 spot due to their 9-3 conference record beating out both the 'Hawks and the Bucs at 8-4 (remember, head-to-head doesn't come into play unless one team either beats or loses to every team it's tied with, and Tampa Bay doesn't play any of the other three teams). Once again, Seattle would have to rely on Strength of Victory to beat out Tampa Bay, but they have a pretty sizable lead in that statistic right now.

Needless to say, if the Saints or Lions find a way to enter the playoff hunt, I will find the tallest bridge in the area and jump off it. Also, if the Packers, Bears and Vikings manage to beat themselves bloody over the course of their five remaining divisional matchups, all the better for us.

Since looking six weeks into the future is this side of outright folly, let's trim this down to a manageable size. Here are the important matchups in the upcoming week, and how we want them to fall to serve the greatest benefit.

SF (7-2-1) @ NO (5-5):
Although I just said how much I do not want the Saints to muddy up the playoff waters any more than they already are, we have to make up a game on the Niners somewhere, and on the road against a resurgent contender is as good a place as any to do so. Go Saints!

GB (7-3) @ NYG (6-4):
A division win for the Pack gives us the best chance at the higher wild card. Go Packers!

MIN (6-4) @ CHI (7-3):
We want chaos in the NFC North. Minnesota could provide such chaos. Go Vikings!

ATL (9-1) @ TB (6-4):
There seems to be a rather strong anti-Falcons sentiment that I can't seem to comprehend. I have no problem with them running away with the division - especially if that entails knocking off the suddenly frisky team that's nipping at our heels. Go Falcons!

WSH (4-6) @ DAL (5-5):
The Cowboys are more in the hunt for their division than a Wild Card, but that doesn't mean we want them making any noise. Go Redskins!

STL (3-6-1) @ ARI (4-6):
The more dirt that can be thrown on the Cardinals' season, the better. Go Rams!

That'll do it for this week's Playoff & Draft Watch. Clearly, the situation is a lot more complicated than it was this time last year - of course, back then we were watching the 49ers run away with the division while we never got closer than the outer fringes of the playoff chase. Having this much information to sift through can only mean that the Seahawks are in the hunt, and that's always preferable to just seeing where we might draft. See you next week!

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