It's 10:59 PM. I'm now 17 seasons into the mission I started last year to watch every single episode of Survivor. (Which means I have 11 more to go until I'm caught up.) Jonathon Coulton has just put out a live album that I'm absolutely going to get the moment I have anything that even remotely resembles money. And the Seattle Seahawks are 3-1.
It is time for Week 6 of The Watch.
After what felt like an eternity of waiting, the Seahawks finally got on the field and played a game for the first time in 15 days. Call it bye week rust, call it inconsistent officiating, call it the byproduct of playing on a field that has the same composition as the surface of Mars, but the game ended up being a lot closer than what a lot of us expected. Nonetheless, a 27-17 victory over the Redskins coupled with a loss by the Cardinals means that the two teams are now tied for the lead in the NFC West. That's the good news. The bad news is that thanks to several tiebreakers, and another division in the conference being a hell of a lot stronger than any of us anticipated, Monday night's win did diddly-squat to improve Seattle's position in the conference standings, as they still cling to the second Wild Card spot.
The full NFC Standings are as follows:
(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.)
The teams are starting to separate just a bit, but there's still a lot of gridlock, particularly on the top half of the board. Here's how it all shakes out:
1. The Eagles and Cowboys - yes, the very same Cowboys who got pummeled by the 49ers in Week 1 and had some of us joking about whether they'd finish 0-16 - are tied for the lead in the NFC East. By virtue of the fact that the Cowboys are still without a divisional game and the Eagles still have that win over Washington in their favor, Philadelphia retains the division lead.
2. The Seahawks and Cardinals are both 3-1, tied for tops in the NFC West. Much like the Cowboys deferring to the Eagles on account of a single divisional win, the Seahawks have to take a step back to the Cards because of Arizona's win over the 49ers last week. And with the Cowboys at 4-1 in the first Wild Card, that leaves Seattle as the #6 seed once again despite having only one loss.
3. Detroit and Green Bay are tied in the NFC North with a 3-2 record, but the Lions' head-to-head victory over the Packers in Week 3 gives them the upper hand for now. It's not enough to take the #3 seed away from the Panthers, however, as Carolina has their own head-to-head victory over Detroit to break that tie.
4. That puts Green Bay in the same 3-2 melange as San Francisco and the Giants. No head-to-head matchups here, and all three teams are 2-2 in the conference, so Strength of Victory again comes into play - which the 49ers take in convincing fashion, as their opponents are a combined 10-4. The Packers and Giants both have an SOV of 5-10, so we have to go all the way into Strength of Schedule to determined who's better here. Extrapolated to the entire season, the overall strength of the NFC East gives the Giants a massive .082 advantage over the Packers to take the #8 spot away.
5. In the 2-3 department, NFC South rivals Atlanta and New Orleans find themselves tied for the #11 spot, and the Week 1 victory by the Falcons over Saints gets them the nod. Add in the Bears, who also are at 2-3, and it turns out that both South teams are better than Chicago on conference record, 2-2 against 1-2.
6. Remember a couple weeks ago when I said "LOL Tampa Bay"? Well, at least they beat a team that's currently over .500. The Redskins' only victory is against Jacksonville, who has fewer wins than them. Meaning zero. Meaning that the Bucs are out of the cellar thanks to Strength of Victory, and I now officially change my stance on this issue to LOL Washington.
Obviously, divisional records are going to resolve themselves as the season unfolds, but it is rather frustrating that the Seahawks are technically second in the division just because the schedule makers decided not to give them a divisional game until Week 7. That means that in order to take the divisional lead between now and then, we'll need to take it outright, without the help of tiebreakers. Arizona's next two games? Home versus Washington, then at Oakland. Sigh...
Looking elsewhere in the conference, nobody has emerged as a threat to take the top seed and homefield advantage yet. The Eagles are there right now, but they haven't really gotten their divisional hands dirty either and the NFC East looks like a good candidate for three of the four teams to beat each other into attrition. The Panthers already have two losses and have a pretty impactful part of the schedule coming up with games against the Bengals, Packers, and Seahawks. The Lions already have two losses, a giant vortex of suckage in the roster spot where their kicker should be, and haven't won a division since the Super Mario Bros. movie was out. That makes homefield advantage still very much up for grabs, and if the Seahawks can string a few wins together, they could emerge as a threat to snag the top spot once more.
Much like the season has been pretty tame from an undefeated standpoint - Mercury Morris already popped the champagne once the Bengals got thrashed on Sunday night - there are only two teams left in the league without a win to their credit. (By comparison, four teams were winless at this point in the season last year.) There is, however, a glut of 1-win teams that are ready to jump into the mix if our two hapless teams stumble ass-backwards into a win.
(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. Divisional record breaks any ties, followed by a coin flip.)
As mentioned last week, being in the AFC West where two teams each have only one loss is going to play havoc on Oakland's strength of schedule. That said, they have just unloaded their head coach, and I doubt that Tony Sparano is going to do much with the opposite of talent they have on that team. The Jaguars, despite ranking dead last in point differential, second-to-last in turnover ratio, third-to-last in total offense, and dead last again in total defense, at least have some measure of consistency. Plus they play in a division where they get to play the Titans twice, so there's that. The AFC East is shaping up to be the worst division in football, which will certainly help out the Jets if either the Jags or Raiders drop out of the top two.
Before I go into this week's rooting guide, I would like to point something out.
Last week featured two games in which current division rivals that look to be stiff competition this year were playing against teams that used to be division rivals when the Seahawks resided in the AFC West. Seeing as the current divisional situation is much more important, I advised to root for the AFC teams in both cases, and some people expressed reluctance in the comments to root for teams that used to kick us around prior to realignment.
It's here that I want to stress that I'm merely pointing out which result would be more beneficial to the Seahawks. I know there's a lot of us that still harbor some resentment to the Chiefs, Broncos, Raiders, and Chargers for their hands in what was 26 years of frustration and woe in the division, but since the NFC West is playing the AFC West this season, you're going to see a lot more instances where I'm telling you to root for what used to be our sworn enemies a while ago. We've already had instances where wins by the Steelers, Saints, Bears, and other Seahawks nemeses have helped out the Seahawks in this season and years past.
So while it may be a bitter pill for some to swallow, the reality is that we're all going to have to be AFC West fans this season in order to benefit the team we're really rooting for. You're more than welcome to stick pins in voodoo dolls next year, but for now we need the help of the teams that served as our obstacles back in the '80s and '90s. (Fortunately there are no such matchups this week, but be advised going forward that if you still have axes to grind with John Elway and Junior Seau, this is going to be a tough column to read.)
That said, here are the pertinent matchups heading into Week 6:
Sunday morning: Lions (3-2) at Vikings (2-2)
Because attrition is good and the Lions not being in the lead is better, Go Vikings.
Sunday morning: Panthers (3-2) at Bengals (3-1)
I have a feeling that the Panthers are going to win the NFC South much in the same way that the Seahawks won the NFC West during the mid-'00s: by stinking less than the other teams in the division. They're not going to need to beat the Bengals to take the title, so we don't really want it to happen. Go Bengals.
Sunday morning: Packers (3-2) at Dolphins (2-2)
Normally I side with the team that's not in the NFC, but I want the Lions away from the division lead here. Go Packers.
Sunday afternoon: Bears (2-3) at Falcons (2-3)
I thought both of these teams were fringe playoff contenders, but now that we're a quarter of the way into the season they're looking more like fringe playoff missers. Assuming you don't have any fantasy investment in the team, go with the one who'll cause more chaos in their division if they win. Go Bears.
Sunday afternoon: Redskins (1-4) at Cardinals (3-1)
This looks like a totally lost cause, but who knows. If they get Jeff Triplette to officiate this game, maybe they have a shot. Go Redskins.
Sunday night: Giants (3-2) at Eagles (4-1)
Ah, I remember the good old days when we could mock the NFC East for getting completely disproportionate amounts of media coverage when their teams ranged from passable to diaper-like. Time will tell if they can keep up the impressive performance, but if their second-place team is going to deprive us of even the #5 seed in the conference, then we need some churning action to happen. Go Giants.
Monday night: 49ers (3-2) at Rams (1-3)
I know the Cardinals are the ones with the same record, but everyone still looks at the 49ers as the main competition in the division - particularly since we've been waiting for this supposed team meltdown to happen and it hasn't yet. Meanwhile, I'm actually starting to feel a bit sorry for Rams fans. Every year they look like they're about to fight their way back into relevance, only for a bad break or two to submarine their season, in some cases before it even really got going. The least we can to is pull for them to play spoiler here. Go Rams.
That brings another week of The Watch to a close. The NFC is going to be a slugfest this year, and the only way the Seahawks are going to come out of this relatively unscathed is if they continue to go 1-0 each week like their coach's philosophy tells them. This week's game is against a Cowboys team that somehow has rattled off four straight wins after a Week 1 loss that had a lot of us giving them up for dead. After the disappointing performance they had on Monday, the Seahawks need to clean up their act if they want to keep pace with the big boys in the conference.
I'll see you guys next Wednesday. GO HAWKS!!