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NFL Playoffs picture, Draft order & rooting interest guide: The Watch, Week 9

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Streeter Lecka

It's 10:01 PM. Last night's pub trivia almost descended into a fistfight between myself and my roommate over a question about David Seville. And the Seattle Seahawks are 4-3.

This is Week 9 of The Watch.

STANDINGSWATCH

One of the drawbacks to being ranked in the middle of the conference with a .500 record is that even with a win, and even with a decent amount of help from other teams, the Seahawks were unable to climb over anyone in the rankings. What they have done, however, is draw even with a division rival and get within half a game of another team that they own the tiebreaker for (and who's on a bye next week). Arizona now is the only team in the conference with only one loss, and they still lead the NFC West by two games, although they have five more division games looming in the second half of the season. Philadelphia and Dallas both took a step backwards (which means Dallas is still in front there), while the NFC South continues to be the division that nobody wants to win.

Here's a quick look at the standings after eight weeks of football:

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(Divisional tiebreakers take precedence, and are handled in the following order: head-to-head, division record, common opponents, conference record, strength of victory, strength of schedule. Conference tiebreakers are handled in the following order: head-to-head, conference record, common opponents, strength of victory, strength of schedule.)

A more detailed explanation of how everyone ended up where they are goes thusly:

1. Detroit gets the #2 seeding over Dallas thanks to the Lions' 5-1 conference record, versus the Cowboys at 4-2.

2. Because ties count as half a win for the purposes of determining win percentage, the Panthers maintain the lead for the NFC South with a percentage that amounts to .438, while the Saints are only at .428.

3. The 49ers and Seahawks are tied with a 4-3 record, but since the 49ers are 1-1 in the division and the Seahawks are 0-1, San Francisco takes the tiebreaker... for now.

4. It's another three-way tie involving the Saints and Vikings, this time with the Giants getting involved as well at 3-4. Once again, both Minnesota and New Orleans have a better conference record (both at 3-3 while the Giants are 2-4), leaving New York on the bottom. And once again, the head-to-head win by the Saints over the Vikings gives them the top ranking between the three.

5. Although the Redskins finally defeated a conference opponent on Monday, that gives them a 1-4 conference record while the Bears are 2-2, thus Chicago is ranked the better of the 3-5 teams.

6. LOL Tampa Bay.

As it stands, there are five teams we really need to keep our eye on: Arizona, San Francisco, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Green Bay. The first two should be obvious, as they're the two teams that currently rank ahead of Seattle in the NFC West. The Cowboys and Eagles look to be the two main contenders for the NFC East, and whichever one doesn't get the division is going to be contending for one of the two wild card spots. Green Bay is currently second place in the NFC North, a game and a tiebreaker behind Detroit but currently occupying the #6 spot in the conference.

The Packers and 49ers are the most immediate concerns; Green Bay's on a bye, and the 49ers host the Rams. If the 49ers win, then they'll freeze Seattle out regardless of the fact that the Seahawks have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay because division tiebreakers take precedence and the Niners are going to have the divisional record tiebreaker over us for at least three more weeks. A Seahawks win and a 49ers loss, however, would vault Seattle no less than two spots in the rankings and put us back on the happy side of the red line.

(A Seahawks win plus losses from both the 49ers and Eagles - at Houston - means that Seattle and Philly would tie with a 5-3 record and a 3-2 conference record, meaning it would depend on Strength of Victory, where the Eagles would prevail, 15-9 vs. 17-17-1. The Seahawks picked the wrong week to play a winless AFC opponent, in other words.)

DRAFTWATCH

The Raiders continue to keep their reverse perfect season alive thanks to their 23-13 loss to the Browns. The Jags, Jets, and Bucs continue to lie in wait for the lone winless team in the NFL to stumble. And with no major activity before the trade deadline (at least, none involving first-rounders), the Bills-to-Browns trade from this year's draft remains the only pick that will be changing hands next year.

This is how the draft order looks as of Week 8:

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(Strength of schedule is found by totalling the win-loss records of all 13 opponents on a team's schedule. Divisional opponents are given double weight. Ties count as half a win for SOS purposes. Divisional record breaks any ties, followed by a coin flip.)

ROOTING INTERESTS

I mentioned it eariler in the article, but it does bear repeating: the Seahawks have an opportunity to move back into the playoff picture if a couple of games break in our favor. Beyond that, it's all about positioning and making up ground in the division. And as always, these picks are made completely regardless of our past history with the teams involved; if a win from a team you don't like means the Seahawks are better off, that's the outcome we want. There are a lot of teams on a bye this week, so there aren't too many games we're concerned with, but nonetheless here's what we're hoping to see in next week's games:

Thursday night: Saints (3-4) at Panthers (3-4-1)
Whoever wins the NFC South this year is almost certainly going to end up with the #4 seed, considering that we're nearly halfway into the season and nobody out there is even at a .500 record. Which means a home playoff game for whichever team ends up winning the division, and if that's the case then I'd much rather fly out to Charlotte again where the team has already shown they can win than going to the Superdome where the Saints' homefield advantage is just about as mythical as ours (twice finishing 8-0 at home in the last 3 years). Go Panthers.

Sunday morning: Cardinals (6-1) at Cowboys (6-2)
It's hard to say to what degree the Cardinals' success this year has been on account of smoke and mirrors. They're 30th in total offense, 14th in total defense, but 2nd in turnover ratio. Meanwhile, Tony Romo went down with a back injury on Monday night, because of course he's going to get injured the game before they play the Cards. I don't know if you'd call what Arizona's on a lucky streak, but whatever it is it needs to stop at some point. Go Cowboys.

Sunday morning: Eagles (5-2) at Texans (4-3)
Even though it wouldn't be enough for the Seahawks to overtake Philly if they were to lose (along with the Niners) and the Seahawks won, that doesn't mean we wouldn't want to have the chance to pass them the following week. Go Texans.

Sunday afternoon: Rams (2-5) at 49ers (4-3)
I know some of us are still a little bit sore about how the Rams pulled a couple of fast ones over on the 'Hawks a week and a half ago, but we're going to have to brush those off at this point. St. Louis still has three games against non-Seattle divisional foes, and we're going to need them to be just as gimmicky and spoilerific in those games as they were on week 7. So dial up a few more fake punts, Jeff Fisher. Maybe run a flea-flicker or two. Hell, see if the hidden ball trick will work. Because until we meet again at the end of the year, we're going to be pulling for these guys quite a few times. Go Rams.

The statistic that's been bandied about recently is the fact that since realignment, a team that starts 4-3 makes the playoffs about 51% of the time. The Seahawks, however, have proven to be quite the resilient team after a 4-3 start, as they've had that mark five times since 2002 and made the playoffs in all five of those instances. Winning on Sunday would put them at 5-3, where they're 2-for-2 since realignment on reaching the postseason with such a start.

This is where history might be a red herring, though, as they've actually made the playoffs each of the three times they started 4-4 as well, but two of those occasions came during a time when the NFC West was weak, and 10 wins was considered plenty enough to take the division. With Seattle already sitting in third place, a loss is something the team could ill afford. Especially against a team like the Raiders where a win could all but be taken for granted - if not for us, then certainly for the other teams in the division.

It should also be noted that it was at this precise moment in the season that the Buccaneers came into town with an 0-7 record, and gave us an unexpected fight. Clearly, no game can be taken for granted this year, so don't expect the Seahawks to come into Sunday's game with any degree of complacency.

Next week's edition of The Watch will be coming a day early, to account for possible schedule conflicts with work and other outside interference. Thus, I'll see you guys next Tuesday. GO HAWKS!!