Playoff & Draft Watch, Week 15: I'm impressed

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Best season in five years. Best season of the Pete & John era. Russell Wilson breaking out, and definitely one of the best rookies of the year (even if the media are way too enamored with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin to pay attention). Back-to-back stompings of Arizona and Buffalo. A win-and-you're-in scenario next week at home against the hated 49ers. I don't think I've had this much fun following the Seahawks since the 2005 Super Bowl season. It's just a shame that we couldn't get the other teams to cooperate with us on Sunday.

The 50-17 smashing of the Bills was just about the only thing that went right for us this week. In just about every game that did not involve the Seahawks, the less beneficial (or, more pointedly, the most damaging) team came out victorious. The Bears, Browns, Giants, Rams, and most importantly, Patriots all failed to take care of business, and so while the Seahawks still hold the #5 Wild Card spot with a one game lead over the other suitors in the NFC, winning the division has just become a whole lot tougher, the possibility of a first-round bye is slimmer still, and the chances at home field throughout are toast.

Still, this is not a time to be downbeat about the 'Hawks chances at the postseason and beyond: a win over the 49ers locks up a playoff spot, and the NFC West title is still mathematically possible if the Seahawks run the table and the Niners stumble against the Cardinals.

In other playoff news, the Packers lock up the NFC North title (so they can stop bitching about Week 3), the Redskins take over the NFC East lead, and All-Day AP has the Vikings back in the playoff picture.

Here's the rundown:

Division Leaders:
1. Falcons (12-2)
2. 49ers (10-3-1)
3. Packers (10-4)
4. Redskins (8-6, 3-1 Div.)

Wild Cards:
5. Seahawks (9-5)
6. Vikings (8-6, 3-2 Div. over Bears, 6-5 Conf. over Dallas)

Outside Looking In:
7. Bears (8-6, 2-3 Div., beat DAL)
8. Cowboys (8-6, 3-2 Div., lost to CHI)
9. Giants (8-6, 2-3 Div.)
10. Rams (6-7-1)
11. Saints (6-8, swept TB)

Playing Out the String:
Buccaneers (6-8, swept by NO)
Cardinals (5-9)
Panthers (5-9)
Eagles (4-10)
Lions (4-10)

Yes, the Saints are still mathematically eligible for a playoff spot. Of course, they would have to win out, and the Vikings, Bears, Cowboys, and Giants, would all have to lose their last two games while the Rams lose at least one, but there's still a sliver of hope there.

Here's a quick(ish) explanation as to how Minnesota outranks the other three 8-6 teams to claim the sixth and final playoff spot: Because only one team in each division can graduate to the other tiebreakers, both the Vikings/Bears and Cowboys/Giants tiebreakers are considered first. Minnesota outdoes Chicago by virtue of a better division record, as does Dallas over the Giants. With those two knocked out, Minnesota has a stronger conference record than Dallas, so they get the top spot.

Things start over at that point, but the Giants stay on the bottom because of their inferior divisional record to Dallas. The Bears beat the Cowboys in Week 4, thus Chicago gets slotted above both NFC East teams despite the fact. It's a good demonstration of how divisional clashes make a big difference in the playoff hunt; the Giants have everyone shellacked in conference record (7-4, vs. Minnesota at 6-5 and both Chicago and Dallas at 5-5) but since they can't beat the Cowboys in divisional record, they get sent to the back of the bus.

All this is well and good, but what does that have to do with the Seahawks? Well, a win against either the 49ers or the Rams puts them in the postseason - that's the easy part. The real issue is what would happen if the Seahawks lose their final two and end up with a record of 9-7. Once again, it's time to size up the competition and see where we'd rank.

Seahawks vs. Redskins (remaining games @PHI, DAL)
Prognosis: BAD. Seahawks would lose out to the Redskins on account of conference record, 6-6 vs. 7-5.

Seahawks vs. Vikings (remaining games @HOU, GB)
Prognosis: GOOD. Seahawks beat the Vikings in Week 9, so we own the tiebreaker over them.

Seahawks vs. Bears (remaining games @ARI, @DET)
Prognosis: GOOD. Seahawks beat the Bears in Week 12, so we have the tiebreaker.

Seahawks vs. Cowboys (remaining games NO, @WSH)
Prognosis: GOOD. Seahawks beat the Cowboys in Week 2, so we have this tiebreaker as well.

Seahawks vs. Giants (remaining games @BAL, PHI)
Prognosis: BAD. The Giants have a 7-4 record already, thus own the tiebreaker against us regardless of which of the above games they lose.

The Redskins and Giants would also screw things up for us if a Wild Card went to a multi-team tiebreaker, since head-to-head dominance only counts if you've played and beaten every other team you're tied with. Since we've never played Washington or the Giants, the tie would have to be decided by conference record. The nightmare scenario is if Dallas won the NFC East, which would happen if Dallas beats Washington in Week 17 (regardless how they do against the Saints) and the Giants split their final two. In this situation, the Wild Cards would be contested between the Giants, Redskins, and possibly Vikings (if their ninth win was against the Packers), all of whom would have at least seven conference wins while Seahawks and Bears would have only six.

What makes this whole thing even more hair-pullingly frustrating is the fact that none of the games played by any of the NFC East contenders next week will have any effect on this. The only possible development is if the Giants lose to the Ravens, which would eliminate them from the divisional race but still make them a very viable Wild Card candidate. Were that to happen, the division title would be decided on Week 17 when the 'Skins host the Cowboys, but each of their penultimate games would be moot.

This is the point where I repeat what I said at the start of all this: a win by the Seahawks would render all of this irrelevant. In fact, it would practically guarantee the #5 spot, which would result in us facing off against whichever one of these teams emerges from the smoldering ruins of the NFC East as champion. I don't know about you, but I kinda like the prospect of going up against a team that's spent all of its energy just getting into the playoffs.

As we turn our attention to the draft order, the list is starting to shrink bit by bit. Another three teams clinched a playoff spot this week, and since the Seahawks are one of only two 9-win teams not already in the postseason (the Colts are the other one), they have the lowest pick out of those who are still in the position to jockey for the order. Here's the full list:

1. Chiefs (2-12, 113-111 SOS)

2. Jaguars (2-12, 121-103 SOS)

3. Raiders (4-10, 101-123 SOS)

4. Eagles (4-10, 115-109 SOS)

5. Lions (4-10, 126-96-2 SOS)

6. Chargers (5-9, 103-121 SOS)

7. Bills (5-9, 109-113-2 SOS)

8. Browns (5-9, 113-111 SOS)

9. Titans (5-9, 115-109 SOS, 0-4 Div.)

10. Panthers (5-9, 115-109 SOS, 2-3 Div.)

11. Cardinals (5-9, 123-97-4 SOS)

12. Buccaneers (6-8, 110-113-1 SOS)

13. Dolphins (6-8, 112-110-2 SOS, 1-3 Div.)

14. Jets (6-8, 112-110-2 SOS, 2-3 Div.)

15. Saints (6-8, 116-107-1 SOS)

16. Rams (6-7-1, 119-103-2 SOS)

17. Steelers (7-7, 105-119 SOS)

18. Bengals (8-6, 99-125 SOS)

19. Bears (8-6, 111-111-2 SOS)

20. Rams via Redskins (8-6, 112-111-1 SOS)

21. Cowboys (8-6, 115-109 SOS)

22. Vikings (8-6, 116-106-2 SOS)

23. Giants (8-6, 118-105-1 SOS)

24. Colts (9-5, 102-122 SOS)

25. Seahawks (9-5, 112-108-4 SOS)

TEAMS THAT HAVE CLINCHED:
Ravens (9-5)
Packers (10-4)
Patriots (10-4)
49ers (10-3-1)
Broncos (11-3)
Falcons (12-2)
Texans (12-2)

(Strength of Schedule is found by calculating the records of all 13 opponents on a team's schedule. Divisional opponents are counted twice, since they are played twice. Ties count as "half" a win for SOS purposes. Divisional record breaks any ties for SOS, followed by a coinflip. Teams that make the playoffs draft in order of their postseason finish, but no higher than 21st.)

Since we host our division rivals this week, and the incestuous nature of the NFC East race makes their Week 16 contests by-and-large irrelevant, there isn't much scoreboard watching we have to do this time around. This is a good thing, because it allows us to focus entirely on the task at hand: beating the 49ers, clinching a playoff spot, and keeping the NFC West title within reach. But just in case you want to have a vested interest in the other games, here are the ones to keep an eye on:

WAS @ PHI, NO @ DAL, NYG @ BAL: While these games don't mean much by themselves, they could drastically help or hurt the Seahawks' chances at a 9-7 playoff spot if they break a certain way. Basically, we want whatever happens this week to happen again next week.

TEN @ GB: If we do somehow win the division, our only hope for a first-round bye is for the Packers to lose one of their last two. Go Titans!

CHI @ ARI: A loss by the Bears effectively ends their playoff push. Go Cardinals!

STL @ TB: The Rams need to win out and get a buttload of help to get into the playoffs. Keeping them out means our season finale would be worth nothing to them but pride. Go Bucs!

CIN @ PIT: A game that is of no import whatsoever to the Seahawks' playoff hopes - just pure schadenfreude if Steelers get eliminated from the chase. Go Bengals!

Next week will be the final Playoff & Draft Watch of the season. Hopefully, it'll also be the shortest one, as it won't have all of the what-ifs and oh-craps and please-God-nos that keep the pressure on what should by all accounts be a playoff team. All they gotta do is win, and we can all breathe a little bit easier. It sounds so simple when you put it that way.

See you next week!

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