It's 1:00 AM. I am abusing the hell out of NFL Game Rewind's free 7-day trial. And the Seattle Seahawks are 10-1.
It's time for Week 12 of The Watch.
The Seahawks are now officially off for the next 14 days, and their lead on the NFC West can now be accurately described as a "stranglehold". Between the slap-'em-silly win over the Vikings, and the 49ers stumble in the Superdome, the Seahawks are now 3 1/2 games ahead of both San Francisco and Arizona. Yes, the Cardinals have now snuck into the conversation, as their win over Jacksonville pulls them even with the 49ers at 6-4. (The 49ers do own the tiebreaker, though, so for the time being they're still technically third.)
Of course, the game we picked up on the 49ers was done at the cost of picking up no ground over the Saints, who still loom just a game and a half back of Seattle at 8-2. With the Seahawks idle next week, the Saints will have a great chance to reclaim that half-game over us with a win over hapless Atlanta, which would mean that Saints-Seahawks tilt at the CLink on Week 13 would have serious repercussions in terms of playoff positioning.
If the Saints lose next week, however, our lead would grow to two games, and thus Week 13 would be definitely worthwhile but not critical for our hopes of clinching homefield advantage. And with the Panthers now just a game behind New Orleans and two games still to play between them, nothing is even close to being decided at the top of the NFC.
Elsewhere in the conference, the Lions and Bears continue to be forever intertwined. Chicago has the worst of it, seeing as the season series between the two teams has already been decided in Detroit's favor. But with the Lions derping their way to a loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday, it's fair to say that nobody's going to pull away in that division any time soon. (And at 5-5 and one game behind, the Packers will likely have no say in this race until and unless Aaron Rodgers gets back on the field.) Philadelphia is now leading the NFC East by half a game thanks to Dallas being idle; expect them to give that half-game right back next week.
As nearly everyone has now caught up with their bye weeks, the NFC standings are messier than normal:
(Division tiebreakers are handled first, in the following order: head-to-head, division record, common opponents, conference record, strength of victory, strength of schedule. After division ties are broken, conference tiebreakers are handled in the following order: head-to-head, conference record, common opponents, strength of victory, strength of schedule.)
That's a lot of ties to break up there, and here's how they all shake out:
1. Detroit gets the NFC North lead over Chicago due to their head-to-head sweep over the Bears.
2. The 49ers, Bears, and Cardinals all tie for the second Wild Card with a 6-4 record. Division tiebreakers take precedence, and the 49ers win over the Cardinals in Week 6 gives them that tiebreaker. That, and their 3-3 conference record, gives them the #6 seed over the Bears. Arizona and Chicago now vie for the #7 spot, and the Cardinals win this tiebreaker with a 4-4 conference versus the Bears at 3-4.
3. Dallas beats Green Bay for the #9 seeding due to their 5-2 conference record, over the Packers at 3-4.
4. The Giants get the #11 seed thanks to a 3-4 conference record, over the Rams at 1-5.
5. Finally, the Falcons, Buccaneers, and Vikings are all at the bottom of the conference with a 2-8 record. Breaking the divisional tie are the Buccaneers, who despite splitting their season series against Atlanta and tying them with a 1-3 divisional record, outplayed them against common opponents (CAR, NO, MIA, NE, NYJ, ARI, SEA) with a 1-6 record while the Falcons went 0-7. The Buccaneers and Vikings tie for conference record, don't have enough common opponents, and their strength of victory is also tied at 7-13. (Tampa Bay's beaten 2-8 ATL and 5-5 MIA; Minnesota's beaten 3-7 WAS and 4-6 PIT.) Strength of schedule finally gives the Buccaneers an edge over the Vikings, 58-44 vs. 54-47. With that tie broken, Atlanta is reintroduced to the rankings, and their 2-5 conference record beats the Vikings at 1-6.
The most significant traffic jam is currently the one between the Lions, 49ers, Bears, and Cardinals, all tied at 6-4. Throw in the 7-3 Panthers, the 6-5 Eagles, the 5-5 Cowboys, and the 5-5 Packers, and you've got four playoff spots potentially being contested by eight teams. And with six weeks left in the season, it's time to play a little thing I like to call "The 10-6 Game".
The rules are simple: we look for a way for as many of these seven teams to finish the season 10-6. From there, we work out which 10-6 teams would make it into the playoffs and which 10-6 teams would be left out in the cold. (Granted, Seattle and New Orleans could also potentially finish 10-6, but since it would require both teams to play worse than .500 to do so, we'll assume they go 1-2 in whatever order and worry about the rest of the playoff seeds.)
After a bit of tinkering, some navel gazing, and a handful of ibuprofen, an eight-way logjam at 10-6 was achieved. First of all, here's how the last six weeks of the season would look for each team:
Bears: Beat STL (W12), @MIN (W13), CLE (W15), @PHI (W16); lose to DAL (W13), GB (W17)
Lions: Beat TB (W12), BAL (W15), NYG (W16), @MIN (W17); lose to GB (W13), @PHI (W14)
Packers: Beat MIN (W12), @DET (W13), ATL (W14), PIT (W16), @CHI (W17); lose to @DAL (W15)
Panthers: Beat TB (W13), NO (W16), @ATL (W17); lose to @MIA (W12), @NO (W14), NYJ (W15)*
Cowboys: Beat @NYG (W12), OAK (W13), @CHI (W14), GB (W15), @WAS (W16); lose to PHI (W17)
Eagles: Beat ARI (W13), DET (W14), @MIN (W15), @DAL (W17); lose to CHI (W16)
Cardinals: Beat IND (W12), STL (W14), @TEN (W15), SF (W17); lose to @PHI (W13), @SEA (W16)
49ers: Beat @WAS (W12), STL (W13), @TB (W15), ATL (W16); lose to SEA (W14), @ARI (W17)
(* - Carolina's three losses are fairly interchangeable, but I made them lose to their two remaining AFC opponents to keep their conference record strong.)
If such a thing were to happen, here's how the four remaining playoff spots would be doled out. Since there isn't a season sweep between Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit, the NFC North title would go to the best divisional record, which Green Bay would win (5-1 vs. 4-2 vs. 4-2). In the East, Dallas would win the tiebreaker with a 5-1 divisional record, versus Philadelphia at 4-2. To complete the divisional tiebreakers, Detroit would knock Chicago out of the running due their season sweep, and San Francisco would beat out Arizona due to divisional record (3-3 vs. 2-4).
That leaves it between Detroit, Carolina, Philadelphia, and San Francisco to fight it out for the wild card spots. Since none of these teams have either swept or been swept by any of the others, we go to conference record. Both Carolina and Philadelphia - yes, Philadelphia - would get in with this tiebreaker, boasting 9-3 conference records against the Lions at 8-4 and the 49ers at 7-5.If you were to switch out one of Carolina's AFC losses with an NFC opponent, you'd have them in a tie with Detroit that would take strength of victory to break. Switch a second AFC loss for an NFC one, and Detroit cruises into the #2 wild card.
(Incidentally, Green Bay would get the #3 seed over Dallas due to their head-to-head win, and it would take a strength of victory tiebreak to figure out whether Carolina or Philly would get the higher wild card.)
Of course, this all assumes that the Cowboys and Eagles both manage to find a way to win 10 games. If they both make it to 8-8, I'll be impressed.
While all of this is wild speculation, it does give us a little insight as to exactly how much of a chance each of these teams has to reach the playoffs when you consider what division each team is in and what teams are left on their schedule. It's evident that the Panthers and Eagles are in the enviable position of only needing to win in order to reach the postseason, while teams like the Bears and Cardinals have to hope other teams trip up on a few extra games in order for the door to open for them.
So that's how you play "The 10-6 Game". And if you think that's confusing, you should see the rules they used when they tried to make a game show out of Monopoly back in the '80s.
Although no team has clinched their playoff berth yet, the hatchet could potentially fall on any of the three teams tied for the bottom at 2-8. If San Francisco, Arizona, or both Chicago AND Detroit win, it would make 7 wins the absolute minimum for getting into the postseason. Thus, if any of the three bottom teams were to lose their ninth game next week, they would either be knocked out automatically or need some incredibly wacky tiebreakers in order to survive. Here's how next week's Death Watch looks:
Atlanta gets eliminated with a loss and an Arizona win (as the Cards have beaten Atlanta already). They would, however, survive a 49ers win - provided that ATL won out and SF lost out, the two teams would tie at 7-9, and Atlanta would win the head-to-head tiebreak. They could also survive a double-win by Detroit and Chicago, as both teams losing out would give Green Bay enough wins to take the division, Chicago would get knocked out by Detroit's head-to-head sweep, and Atlanta would then beat them by virtue of common opponents.
Tampa Bay is out if they lose (to Detroit) and Arizona wins (head-to-head again). They could survive a 49ers win; winning out and SF losing out would give them a conference record tiebreak. However, a win by Chicago would doom the Bucs; even if GB wins the division as laid out above, TB's loss to Detroit would hand the Lions the head-to-head tiebreak.
Minnesota could survive a loss and a win by Arizona, although it would ultimately come down to strength of victory to break the tie between them. A win by the 49ers would be fatal, as San Francisco would ultimately triumph on common opponents. And with Detroit and Chicago being in the division, a 3-way tie between the teams would come down to divisional record, which the Lions would win.
Naturally, if any of these teams win, they're guaranteed to survive at least another week. But then again, if you're 2-8, it's probably not likely that you'll win your next game, especially since they're all facing .500 competition or better (ATL vs. NO, TB @ DET, MIN @ GB). Thus, they may be better off looking at the draft order - and Jacksonville is thwarting them all for the top spot with just one win. And Houston, who continues to circle the drain, is right there with them in the top 5 with their own 2-8 record. As for the rest of the draft order:
(Strength of schedule is determined by totalling the win-loss records of all 13 opponents on a team's schedule, with double weight given to divisional opponents. Ties are broken using divisional record; a coin flip breaks any ties that persist.)
With the Seahawks on a bye week, we can really focus on all the other teams with games on the schedule. There are a couple marquee matchups featuring the two most pertinent rivals (who sadly are both going against cupcakes this week, but you never know). So in case you're unsure, here's how to root in next week's games:
Thursday night: Saints (8-2) @ Falcons (2-8)
As explained above, if the Saints come to the CLink just one game behind the Seahawks, it makes the Week 13 matchup a pivotal game in determining homefield advantage. If they lose this one, though, they'll be two games back and there's a lot less pressure to win after the bye week. As fallible as the Saints have demonstrated themselves to be in recent weeks, I'd still rather not see them in striking distance of us this late in the season. Go Falcons.
Sunday morning: Buccaneers (2-8) @ Lions (6-4)
With the NFC North leader now two games back of the Saints, they're less of a threat to steal a first-round bye away from us even if we do slip up on a couple of games. Still, the mantra of the NFC North continues to be that of maximum attrition, and a loss at the hands of a suddenly frisky Tampa Bay team would certainly provide that. Go Bucs.
Sunday morning: Bears (6-4) @ Rams (4-6)
A win by St. Louis would accomplish two things at once: it would keep the NFC North a quagmire, and it would make St. Louis' draft pick that much worse. Go Rams.
Sunday morning: Vikings (2-8) @ Packers (5-5)
A .500 record, mediocre as it is, is still just one game back of the division lead. A Packers win isn't really necessary to keep the North a slugfest if the Bears match Detroit's result, but since we're aiming for parity in what's shaping up to be the third-seeded division, Go Packers.
Sunday morning: Panthers (7-3) @ Dolphins (5-5)
We definitely want the Panthers to beat the Saints at least once during this last month and a half of the regular season. But I don't know how much we want to face that front seven in the postseason. Go Dolphins.
Sunday afternoon: Colts (7-3) @ Cardinals (6-4)
Hilarious though it may be for the Cards and 49ers to be tied for second in the division, the way we turn our "stranglehold" on the division into a "death grip" is by having our competition start wilting a bit more. Go Colts.
Sunday afternoon: Cowboys (5-5) @ Giants (4-6)
OK Giants, it's really awesome how you guys have managed to rattle off four straight wins after your season started off so dreadfully. Now, if you could just cool off a bit before our Week 15 10AM road game against you guys, it'd be much appreciated. Don't worry; your division stinks so badly that even a divisional loss like this shouldn't set you back that much. Go Cowboys.
Monday night: 49ers (6-4) @ Redskins (3-7)
As explained in the Colts/Cards game, a loss by the Niners here would expand the division lead to four games, and most importantly, make the Week 14 game against them an opportunity to lock up the division. Go Redskins.
That'll do it for a very long edition of The Watch this week. There's a lot to keep track of even while our team of choice is resting up and getting ready for their homestretch. This is pretty much our one chance to watch the games without stressing so much about the outcomes, so relax and enjoy the football.
I'll see you guys next week. GO HAWKS!!