I come to Field Gulls with tidings of joy and good cheer. For a star is shining in the Emerald City, and unto us a playoff berth has been won.
It's such a great feeling to compile a post like this knowing that the Seahawks are in the playoffs, and not having to worry about the nightmarish permutations of all the 8- and 9-win teams potentially jockeying for wild card spots. In fact, thanks to all the tiebreakers that we've been racking up over the season, we can't do any worse than a #5 ranking in the Conference. And yes, Virginia, there is still a chance for the Seahawks to slide into the division title with a win over the Rams, and a loss by the 49ers against the Cardinals. (Of course, that's a home game for the Niners, and they've outscored opponents 74-19 following a loss, but it is possible.) It also means that we no longer care about the melee taking place in the NFC East, at least when it comes to whether any teams other than the division champ makes it into the postseason.
Let's run down the NFC rankings after fifteen games:
5. Seahawks (10-5) - clinched playoff berth
6. Vikings (9-6, 3-2 Div.)
With the Seahawks now comfortably in the postseason, we can now turn our attention to where we might end up in the playoff picture. Amazingly enough, a division title, and even a first-round bye is still within reach. Meanwhile, the Redskins, Cowboys, Giants, Vikings, and Bears are all still slugging it out. There's a lot of moving parts here, so we'll go over everyone's situation team by team:
Seahawks (10-5): If they beat the Rams, and the Niners lose to the Cardinals, the Seahawks will win the NFC West. If they beat the Rams, the Niners lose to the Cardinals, and the Packers lose to the Vikings, the Seahawks will get the #2 seed in the conference and a first-round bye. If the Seahawks lose, or the Niners win, the #5 spot is theirs, and they'll end up going against the NFC East champion in the wild card round (whose record would be no better than 10-6).
Packers (11-4): A win, or losses by the Niners and Seahawks, would earn them the first-round bye. If they do slip out of the #2 spot, they can do no worse than the #3 seed.
49ers (10-4-1): A win gives them the NFC West title and the #3 seed. A win and a Packer loss gives them a first-round bye. A loss, and a Seahawk win, drops them to the #5 seed.
Redskins (9-6): A win gives them the NFC East title and the #4 seed. If they lose, they can still make the playoffs if both the Vikings and Bears lose.
Vikings (9-6): A win gives them the second wild card spot. If they lose, they'll need the Redskins to win, and the Bears and Giants to lose, in order to make the playoffs.
Bears (9-6): The Bears need to win, and the Vikings to lose, in order to claim the second wild card.
Cowboys (8-7): The Cowboys can only make the playoffs by winning the NFC East, which they can do by beating the Redskins.
Giants (8-7): The only way the Giants can get into the playoffs is if they win, the Redskins beat the Cowboys, and the Vikings and Bears both lose. If all of that happens, they'll be the #6 seed.
The draft order is nearly set, and the Chiefs are practically assured of the #1 pick, unless they somehow win against Denver (who are trying to get a first-round bye or homefield advantage) and the Jaguars lose to the Colts (who are locked into the #5 seed and may decide to rest some players). Of course, the Seahawks are in that "can't pick higher than 21st" category, on account of making the playoffs. Here's the rest of the draft standings:
1. Chiefs (2-14, 123-117 SOS)
2. Jaguars (2-14, 129-111 SOS)
3. Raiders (4-11, 110-130 SOS)
4. Eagles (4-11, 122-118 SOS)
5. Lions (4-11, 136-102-2 SOS)
6. Bills (5-10, 116-122-2 SOS)
7. Browns (5-10, 122-118 SOS)
8. Titans (5-10, 123-117 SOS)
9. Cardinals (5-10, 133-103-4 SOS)
10. Chargers (6-9, 110-130 SOS)
11. Jets (6-9, 120-118-2 SOS)
12. Buccaneers (6-9, 121-118-1 SOS)
13. Panthers (6-9, 124-116 SOS)
14. Steelers (7-8, 108-132 SOS)
15. Dolphins (7-8, 118-120-2 SOS)
16. Saints (7-8, 124-115-1 SOS)
17. Rams (7-7-1, 127-111-2 SOS)
18. Cowboys (8-7, 124-116 SOS)
19. Giants (8-7, 126-113-1 SOS)
20. Rams via Redskins (9-6, 119-120-1 SOS)
21. Bears (9-6, 123-115-2 SOS)
22. Vikings (9-6, 124-114-2 SOS)
(Strength of Schedule is found by calculating the total records of all 13 opponents on a team's schedule. Divisional opponents are counted twice since they are played twice. A tie counts as "half" a win for SOS purposes. If two teams tie for strength of schedule, divisional record is used as the tiebreaker, followed by a coinflip. Teams that reach the playoffs draft according to their postseason performance, but no higher than 21st.)
Reaching the playoffs will make scoreboard watching a much less stressful proposition, since we're not going to have to worry about other teams potentially throwing a monkey wrench into our plans. Still, we have bonuses to shoot for, and we probably have our preferences as to who we'd want to play in a potential wild card matchup. On that note, here are the pertinent games in the final week of the season, and here's how we want them to fall.
ARI @ SF: An injury-ravaged 49ers team losing to the Cardinals leaves the door open for us to grab the division title. Go Cards!
MIN @ GB: A first-round bye is still obtainable if the Packers lose. Of course, this game and the 49ers game will both be played at the same time as ours, so we won't be able to know ahead of time whether this game actually matters, but assuming that it does, Go Vikings!
DAL @ WAS: Whoever wins this game will most likely be our first playoff opponent unless we win the division ourselves. We've beaten the Cowboys once already, but that was at home (we'd have to fly to Dallas for the playoffs), and a Redskin win would give us a matchup between two of the hottest rookies this year. Root however you like.
CHI @ DET, PHI @ NYG: If the Vikings actually do knock off the Packers, then these two games won't make a difference, because neither the Bears nor the Giants would have any chance at the playoffs. In any case, we wouldn't face them in the postseason unless we either win the division or both the Seahawks and one of these teams reach the NFC Championship. But since we're just doing this for funsies, let's root for some chaos in the head coaching department. Go Lions and Eagles!
And with that, this year's Playoff (and Draft) Watch has come to a close. After next week's games, we'll know exactly who's playing whom, where, and when. It's been a lot of fun keeping track of the Seahawks' playoff hopes, drawing up all those crazy scenarios where everyone wound with with a 6-4 record or finished the season at 10-6, and slogging through all the bizarre tiebreakers that put one team at the bottom of the pile just because they couldn't take care of business in their own division.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Danny Kelly for giving me the forum to share all of this information with you guys, as well as the kind words from all the readers who've confirmed that all this work wasn't just a waste of time on my part. And rest assured, when the 2013 season rolls around, Playoff Watch will be there following it all. (And more efficiently, now that I've moved everything from a Notepad to an actual spreadsheet. Have a great holiday, and I'll see you guys next year!