It's 9:56 PM. The World Series of Poker final table is on TV, and it's just as riveting to watch now as it was when the poker boom hit 10 years ago. (Just don't expect me to play any time soon.) And the Seattle Seahawks are 6-3.
Looks like it's time for Week 11 of The Watch.
Last week was another one of those "Seahawks win, fat lot of good it did" weeks. While the win did bring the Seahawks to a record where historically they've never missed the playoffs, the other matchups on the schedule failed to give Seattle any additional ground against their nemeses in the standings. The Saints had the 49ers dead to rights with a 4th & 10 deep in Niners territory until Sonny Vaccaro herped the derp. The two teams that are contending for the NFC East both won, meaning that Seattle is still on the edges of the playoff picture. And the Cardinals lost their starting QB for the year (if not longer) which would mean curtains for any other team, but since logic is optional in Arizona they just wheel another dude in behind the center and go right on winning without even breaking stride.
The bottom of the standings is where the real fun is, a point made only more evident by the following chart.
(Division tiebreakers are handled first, and go in the following order: head-to-head, division record, common opponents, conference record, strength of victory, strength of schedule. After that, conference ties are handled in this order: head-to-head, conference record, common opponents, strength of victory, strength of schedule. Ties are counted as half a win for percentage purposes.)
Most of the same tiebreakers are in play as last week, but with a few extra participants this time around. Here's how everything works out:
1. Detroit and Philadelphia tie for the #2 seed at 7-2, where the Lions win the tiebreaker on account of conference record, 5-1 vs. 4-2.
2. The Seahawks and Packers tie for the last Wild Card spot with a 6-3 record, but thanks to the head-to-head win in week 1, Seattle maintains the advantage in the tiebreaker.
3. Since ties count as half of a win, Carolina's 3-6-1 record comes out to a .350 win percentage, which is slightly better than all of the teams that are at 3-6.
4. The big traffic jam comes with five teams all crammed together with a 3-6 record. Divisional tiebreakers go first, and the Giants' week 3 win over the Redskins gives them the advantage and boots Washington to the sidelines until the Giants get slotted in. The bad news for the G-Men (and Redskins) is that conference record serves as the next tiebreaker (as there's no head-to-head sweep involving the Giants, Falcons, Bears, and Rams all together). Atlanta gets top billing at 3-4, followed by the Bears at 2-3, then the Rams at 3-5, and the Giants are the lowest of the bunch at 2-5. (Incidentally, even if the division tiebreak wasn't done first, the Redskins' abysmal 1-5 conference record would put them at the bottom anyway.)
5. LOL Tampa Bay.
Starting next week we'll be paying more attention to the standings, in particular tracking who has the upper hand in each of the potential tiebreakers that come down the pike.
The Raiders are still the lone winless team in the league, and are still sitting pretty(?) at the top spot in the draft order. But there is a bit of a shakeup in the top four, as the Jets defeated the Steelers on Sunday, giving the Jets their second win and the Steelers their second WTF Loss of the season. Whether the Steelers have a vested interest in making sure that either the Raiders or Jaguars get the first pick remains to be seen, but the win by the Jets knocks them all the way down to fourth.
Nobody has locked up a playoff spot just yet - no team has more than a two-game lead on their division - so all 32 teams are still viable. Even the Bucs are only three games back in the division. Here's how everyone looks as of Week 10 in the NFL:
(Strength of schedule is found by calculating the win percentage of all 13 opponents on a team's schedule. Divisional opponents get double weight. In the event of a tie for strength of schedule, divisional record is used. Beyond that, it goes to a coinflip.)
We're going to separate the games out this week into two categories. Low Priority games are the ones that affect things like potential postseason matchups and putting teams in position for us to perhaps overtake if they continue their winning streak. Those are the games where you're free to disagree with whichever team I picked; chances are it won't even matter in the long run. High Priority games, however, are the ones where the outcomes will seriously influence the Seahawks' chances going forward. It should be pretty obvious who to root for in those situations, but it does bear repeating that we're only interested in the result that benefits the Seahawks the most regardless of how much we "like" the team in question.
Sunday morning: Broncos (7-2) @ Rams (3-6)
Honestly, the only reason I didn't just leave this off altogether is because it involves a division rival. You could really go either way on this one, as I'm sure there are plenty of people who have already been forced to root for Denver through clenched teeth. A Rams win doesn't really hurt us, but the objective here is to make sure that St. Louis doesn't win any more games than we need them to. For that reason, Go Broncos, but I won't be losing any sleep if they don't win.
Sunday morning: Falcons (3-6) @ Panthers (3-6-1)
Somehow the Falcons have managed to climb within one game of the Saints for the NFC South lead. The goal here is not to end up going to the Superdome for a playoff game, so if either one of these teams could knock the Saints off, that'd be terrific. The Falcons beat the Saints in week 1, giving them the head-to-head advantage, plus a perfect 3-0 divisional record so far. The Panthers, meanwhile, are only 1-1 in the division and already have a loss against the Saints. Looks like all Atlanta needs to do is make up that one game over New Orleans and they'll inexplicably be in the driver's seat. Go Falcons.
Sunday morning: 49ers (5-4) @ Giants (3-6)
Even though the Seahawks are a game ahead of San Francisco, the 49ers have the divisional record tiebreak over us if we give up that game. A little extra breathing room would come in handy. Go Giants.
Sunday afternoon: Eagles (7-2) @ Packers (6-3)
This one threatens to be incredibly confusing unless you boil it down to what would happen if either team won.
If the Packers were to win, they would be 7-3, as would the Eagles, Cowboys, and hopefully the Seahawks. The Eagles would maintain possession of the NFC East thanks to divisional record. That would mean Dallas, Green Bay, and Seattle would all be tied for the three Wild Cards, and since none of these teams have either swept or been swept by the others, it would go to conference record to initially break the tie. Green Bay with a 5-3 conference record would take the top spot, and with them out of the picture, head-to-head would be taken back into account, putting Dallas in the #6 spot and leaving the Seahawks out in the cold.
If the Eagles win, they maintain a one-game lead over Dallas in the NFC East, the Packers drop to 6-4, and the Seahawks keep the #6 seed even if they lost the morning game.
Obviously, the second choice is the better one, at least in the short term. Go Eagles. (That said, there is a silver lining if the Packers win, as it would give the Seahawks the chance to leapfrog all three teams the following week.)
Sunday afternoon: Lions (7-2) @ Cardinals (8-1)
In contrast, this game is very easy to pick. If the Seahawks are going to win the division, they're slowly starting to run out of time. Yes, there are seven games still left on the schedule, and yes, five of them are divisional games that might as well be worth twice as much as the others, and yes, we're only down two games against the Cards with both games left to play, but considering how well Arizona's played (and how shaky the Seahawks have been at times), we can't just readily assume that both games are going to bounce our way - especially since they didn't last year. The Lions have easily been the most controversial team in this series of articles for a variety of reasons (namely my irrational fear of Ndamukong Suh stomping on Russell Wilson's head and crushing it like a canteloupe), but this is about as straightforward a pick as you're going to see here. Go Lions.
It may not feel like the Seahawks have been especially dominant, but they have managed to put together a three-game winning streak after looking very listless seven weeks into the year. They'll be travelling to Kansas City for an early game this week, where the homefield advantage gets just as much hype as both ours and the one in the Big Easy. It's not going to be a pushover by any stretch (especially after the news about Brandon Mebane), but if they find a way to pull this one out it will be four straight wins, a chance to gain ground and/or breathing room in the division, and just as important another opportunity to get some of that championship swag back. The Seahawks have never missed the playoffs after starting 6-3 or better (going 7 for 7 when they've reached or surpassed that record), but considering the teams circling around us in the standings we can't expect history to repeat if the Seahawks drop a game right now, even against an opponent outside the conference.
That'll do it for Week 11 of The Watch. I'll see you guys next Wednesday. GO HAWKS!!