Ah, the life of a fan of a team that's right smack dab in the middle of a playoff chase. One week you feel adrift in a sea of melancholy and defeatism, the next week you're outlining the ways that your team could not just clinch a playoff berth, and not even win the division, but snag a first-round bye in the process.
Needless to say, it's an exciting time to be a Seahawks fan again - maybe for the first time in about five years.
Despite the looming suspensions of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, everyone's spirits are high after the win in Chicago. And rightfully so - the Seahawks won one of those infamous breakfast-time road games on the other side of the Mississippi, a game where it felt at times that they were playing 11 on 18, a game where Russell Wilson went all "jump on my backs, fellas" and carried the team 177 yards in the final two drives, having an impressive enough showing that pundits on the various networks were starting to mention him in the same breath as those two guys who were taken with the first two picks in the draft. (Hey, it's nice to be noticed, at least.)
But that wasn't the only great thing that happened last week. While the Seahawks were rising from the ashes of another 4th-quarter deficit like a rain-soaked Phoenix, both of the teams that shared Seattle's record in the conference stumbled, and the Saints cooled off, giving the 'Hawks sole possession of the #6 seed without any need for tiebreakers (which, incidentally, we now own over every serious NFC North contender). And as if that weren't enough, the Rams did what they tried and failed to do just three weeks prior - finish off the much-despised 49ers in overtime, allowing us to make up a game on the division leaders. All of a sudden, we're squarely in the playoff picture and right back in the hunt for the NFC West - who honestly expected we'd be in this position with just four games left in the season?
Meanwhile in the rest of the league, the Falcons became the first NFC team to lock up a playoff spot, while the Panthers and became the first NFC team to be officially eliminated from postseason eligibility. (The Eagles are hanging on by a gnat's eyelash; they can only get into the playoffs by winning their division, which they trail by four games.) On that note, here's how everyone ranks upon the conclusion of Week 13:
5. Bears (8-4, lost to GB)
6. Seahawks (7-5)
Outside Looking In:
7. Redskins (6-6, swept all other 6-6 teams)
8. Vikings (6-6, 4-4 Conf., .368 SOV)
9. Cowboys (6-6, 5-5 Conf., .361 SOV)
10. Buccaneers (6-6, 3-5 Conf.)
11. Rams (5-6-1)
12. Saints (5-7)
13. Lions (4-8, 3-5 Conf.)
14. Cardinals (4-8, 2-6 Conf.)
15. Eagles (3-9)
Thanks For Playing:
The Redskins, on the back of their win against the Giants on Monday night, have now emerged as another rival for the wild card spot, and currently reign over everyone else simply by virtue of beating everyone else who happens to have the same record. The scary part is their 6-4 conference record, which makes them the biggest threat to our Wild Card spot at this point - Seattle is 5-4 in the conference, and if they drop any of their remaining home games against divisional opponents, that would open the door for RG3 and crew to leapfrog us.
It certainly doesn't help that Washington's remaining schedule (BAL, @CLE, @PHI, DAL) doesn't strike fear in anyone's hearts. (And in case anyone is wondering, the Giants' conference record is even better at 6-3, so it wouldn't do us any good for the 'Skins to overtake them in the NFC East.)
Ergo, if Seattle is going to drop a game the rest of the way, the one to do it with is the one in Toronto against the Bills.
As for the draft standings, the Chiefs still have a hold of the #1 spot, despite the emotional win against the Panthers less than 24 hours after the news of Javon Belcher's alleged murder-suicide, while four teams have now guaranteed themselves a pick no higher than 21st, by virtue of clinching a playoff spot. Here is the full draft order:
1. Chiefs (2-10, 97-95 SOS)
2. Jaguars (2-10, 106-86 SOS)
3. Raiders (3-9, 89-103 SOS)
4. Eagles (3-9, 98-94 SOS)
5. Panthers (3-9, 99-93 SOS)
6. Chargers (4-8, 89-103 SOS)
7. Browns (4-8, 99-103 SOS)
8. Titans (4-8, 103-99 SOS)
9. Cardinals (4-8, 104-84-4 SOS)
10. Lions (4-8, 107-83-2 SOS)
11. Bills (5-7, 93-97-2 SOS)
12. Saints (5-7, 96-95-1 SOS)
13. Jets (5-7, 97-93-2 SOS)
14. Dolphins (5-7, 98-92-2 SOS)
15. Rams (5-6-1, 100-90-2 SOS)
16. Buccaneers (6-6, 89-102-1 SOS)
17. Rams via Redskins (6-6, 95-97 SOS)
18. Cowboys (6-6, 99-93 SOS)
19. Vikings (6-6, 101-89-2 SOS)
20. Bengals (7-5, 87-105 SOS)
21. Steelers (7-5, 89-103 SOS)
22. Seahawks (7-5, 93-95-4 SOS)
23. Giants (7-5, 98-93-1 SOS)
24. Colts (8-4, 90-102 SOS)
25. Bears (8-4, 94-96-2 SOS)
26. Packers (8-4, 97-93-2 SOS)
27. 49ers (8-3-1, 94-96-2 SOS)
28. Ravens (9-3, 96-96 SOS)
(Strength of Schedule is calculated by totalling the win-loss-tie 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" of a win for SOS purposes. Divisional record breaks any ties, followed by a coinflip. Teams that reach the playoffs draft according to their postseason finish, but no higher than 21st.)
Finally, we come to the games on next week's docket. With the wild card contenders pretty clearly defined at this point, the question of who to root for should be fairly obvious, but with the division title and even a first-round bye still attainable (if implausible), there's still quite a bit to keep an eye on.
MIA @ SF: The 49ers have shown a penchant this year for taking a loss out on their next opponents. But they've also shown a tendency to play down to their opponents at times - and with a QB controversy now simmering in the locker room, there's still some upset potential here. Go Dolphins!
NO @ NYG: With the Saints now two games back of the Wild Card chase and a weak conference record, we gain more from the Giants imploding than the Saints dropping even further. Go Saints!
CHI @ MIN: The best thing that the NFC North contenders can do is beat each other bloody. With a Bears loss and a Seahawks win, we'd move up a spot to #5 thanks to the tiebreaker we now hold against the Bears. Go Vikings!
BAL @ WAS: A few weeks ago, the Buccaneers were the party crashers. Now it's the Redskins. Hopefully what happened in Baltimore on Sunday was a fluky divisional loss and not a sign of something more ominous. Go Ravens!
DAL @ CIN: Even though we hold the tiebreaker over the Cowboys, it would be a hell of a lot easier for us to write them off if they'd just lose. Go Bengals!
PHI @ TB: The Bucs seem to have gotten their friskiness out of their system, but they do host the freefalling Eagles. A loss would all but seal their fate. Go Eagles!
DET @ GB: The weaker the NFC North champ is, the better our chances of keeping the #2 seed away from them. Go Lions!
There's quite a bit at stake in the next four weeks. A win against the Cardinals next week would guarantee our first non-losing season since 2007, and guarantee our best record since Carroll and Schneider came on board in 2010. It would also be our best start since 2006. But best of all, the Seahawks have started a season 8-5 or better a total of seven times in franchise history. In all seven instances, the Seahawks found themselves in the playoffs at season's end.
It really is an exciting time to be a Seahawks fan again. See you next week!