As of this week, the Seahawks pull into the lead for the sixth playoff spot (the others taken by the Falcons, Bears, 49ers, Giants, and Packers), fending off the nearest competitors of the Vikings, Lions, Cardinals, Eagles, and Buccaneers at the moment.
Obviously a lot can change in eight more weeks of football, but let's just take a moment to consider the schedules of our nearest competition, after I overheard someone lamenting the Vikings' "brutal" remaining schedule. It looks like, to a large degree, Seattle can control its own destiny by finishing out its schedule strong, which is a nice position to be in.
Yikes. Based on opponents' current records, you could expect a 2-5 finish, for a 7-9 record. Maybe they'll split with the Bears and Packers and get to 9-7, but it truly is brutal.
Lions: @Vikings, Packers, Texans, Colts, @Packers, @Cardinals, Falcons, Bears
Well, the 5 home games doesn't hurt. But again, based on where teams are now in the standings, you're looking at 5-6 losses in there, for a final record of 6-10 or 7-9. Maybe split with the Packers, catch the Falcons in slow down mode, don't get surprised by the Colts, and you can go 9-7. There are no gimmes on the schedule, though.
Cardinals: @Falcons, Rams, @Jets, @Seahawks, Lions, Bears, @49ers
This is one where controlling our own destiny comes into play, as we need to finish business with the Cardinals first and foremost. Now, the way the Cardinals are playing, with five straight losses, perhaps it doesn't matter, but assuming some sort of rebound after the Falcons game, they could go 3-4 or 4-3 here, especially if the 49ers are resting starters in the final game. So 8-8, potentially. If we lose, it becomes much harder to keep them at bay.
The Bucs are somewhat surprisingly in the hunt after a 1-3 start, but have won against only 1 quality team so far, fattening their stats on the Chiefs, Panthers, and Raiders. Aside from the Falcons, though (who might rest starters in the final game), the rest of their competition is running middle of the road right now, so assuming a split across the board, they get to 8-8, (or 7-9 or 9-7 with a few bounces one way or another).
We'll have a better idea of how scared to be of the Eagles after the Monday Night game, but there are a lot of winnable games remaining for them. Only the Giants of the remaining teams have a winning record, and only the Bucs are dead even. The rest all have losing records currently. Granted, the Saints are a more dangerous team than most 2-5 squads, and facing the Cowboys and Redskins twice should lead to a loss or two in there, as it's hard to sweep against teams that know you well. But they could easily go 6-3 or 7-2 in their remaining games, putting them at 9-7 or 10-6. Of course, the Eagles have been a little bipolar this season and last, so perhaps they blow a winnable game or two and go no higher than 9-7.
All that means that we need to be better than 9-7. 12-4 would be best, naturally, but 10-6 could do it. Our remaining schedule includes:
Based on current records, we would end up 5-2 against these teams, which would put us at 10-6. Of course we should have won the Lions game by that measure, so the key here is winning winnable games on the road (as well as taking care of business with the Cardinals and Rams at home). An unexpected loss plunges us back into the quagmire of potential 9-7ers. We will find what mettle this team has in the coming weeks, certainly.
I expect some of our competitors to fall away as the weeks progress, but enough to stick around to make things tight. Hold on to your butts.