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NFL Playoffs picture, Draft order & rooting interest guide: The Watch, Week 12

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It's 10:54 PM. In the week leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, I have both a root canal and a new brake job for the car to look forward to. And the Seattle Seahawks are 6-4.

Looks like it's time for Week 12 of The Watch.


Remember the old "loser's curse?" You know, the one where the team that lost the Super Bowl would have a bad season the next year? Well, somewhere along the way, that turned into a winner's curse. Since 2006, no defending Super Bowl champ has won a playoff game, and five of the eight champs missed the playoffs entirely. Such a fate looks like it may be repeated once again, as the Seahawks find themselves seeded eighth in the conference, a game out of the wild card picture with six left to play, all of them high-leverage games against either divisional rivals or a potential Wild Card contender.

This isn't to say that the Seahawks are hopelessly out of it; not in the slightest. If the team can overcome the injuries and whatever else has been plaguing their performance so far this season, they can propel themselves right back into contention. But they'll need to start rattling off quite a few wins at this point, and in the case of the NFC West, they'll need some outside help as well.

Here's how the conference looks as we enter Week 12 of the season:


(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.)

Obviously, there's a couple of big tiebreakers in there, one with some serious playoff implications. Here's how they end up the way they ended up:

1. The first four-team pileup takes place towards the top of the standings, as Philadelphia, Green Bay, Detroit, and Dallas all have a 7-3 record. In the NFC North, the Lions still has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Packers on account of their win in Week 3. In the NFC East, the Eagles have the tiebreak over the Cowboys due to a perfect divisional record vs. the Cowboys at 1-1. The Lions then get the tiebreaker over the Eagles with a better conference record (6-1 vs. 5-2), while the Packers earn the tiebreaker over the Cowboys for the same reason (5-3 vs. 4-3).

2. The 49ers and Seahawks are tied with a 6-4 record, but since the 49ers have won a divisional game and the Seahawks haven't (yet), San Francisco gets the edge and drops Seattle to 8th.

3. The other big logjam takes place at 4-6, where five teams are tied, and once again divisional tiebreakers (as well as a division lead) come into play. We start in the NFC South, where 4-6 is somehow a good enough record to be in first place, and Atlanta's opening-week win over the Saints makes their 4-6 record better than New Orleans'. The NFC North also has two teams tied at 4-6 in the Bears and Vikings, and the win that the Bears just got over the Vikings this week proves to be the tiebreaker.

As both the Bears and Saints are .500 in the conference (the Vikings are too, but they don't get to play until the Bears are seeded), it goes to record against common opponents. That consists of games versus Atlanta, Carolina, Green Bay, Minnesota, and San Francisco. The Saints are 3-2 in that group; the Bears are 3-3. (The Saints and Bears play each other in Week 15, so this tiebreak will get a lot simpler once that happens.) From there, the Vikings get back in the mix, and their 4-4 conference record beats out the last remaining 4-6 team, the Rams with a 3-4 conference record.

4. Finally, another divisional scuffle happens at 3-7, with the Giants and Redskins at 3-7. The Giants win the tiebreaker with a Week 4 head-to-head win over Washington.

5. They may have won this week, but they're still a game behind the rest of the conference, so I'll say it again: LOL Tampa Bay.


With six weeks in the season left for every team in the conference except the Panthers (who have a tie on the record, so they'll be standing out anyway), and with tiebreakers already making a mess out of the standings, it's time to start paying closer attention to who has the advantage between the various matchups both within the divisions and in the playoff seedings. There are still ten teams with semi-realistic chances of reaching the postseason - we're ruling out the Bears, Vikings, Rams, Giants, Redskins, and Buccaneers - and here's how each of them look going into week 12.


Status: #1 in the NFC West with a 3-game lead on SF and SEA, #1 in the conference with a 2-game lead on DET and PHI.
Remaining schedule: @SEA, @ATL, KC, @STL, SEA, @SF
Head-to-heads locked up: DET, DAL, PHI
Head-to-heads lost: None
Head-to-heads TBD: SEA, SF (+1), ATL
Conference record: 7-0
Prognosis: The Cardinals have officially become frontrunners to lock up homefield advantage. The combination of a 2-game cushion and tiebreakers locked in against anyone else who might win their division makes it so that the only way they won't finish the season at #1 is if they lose enough games between now and the end of the season to actually drop a game behind someone else.

LIONS (7-3)

Status: #1 in the NFC North due to a head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay, #2 in the conference due to a conference record tiebreaker over Philadelphia.
Remaining schedule: @NE, CHI, TB, MIN, @CHI, @GB
Head-to-heads locked up: None
Head-to-heads lost: ARI
Head-to-heads TBD: GB (+1)
Conference record: 5-2
Prognosis: The biggest problem with the Lions is that they don't play anyone important in the NFC East, who looks to be their biggest competition for a first round bye. They hold a one-game lead in conference record over both the Eagles and Cowboys, though, and as long as they hold on to that - and hold off the Packers - they should have the #2 seed safely under control.

EAGLES (7-3)

Status: #1 in the NFC East due to a division record tiebreaker over Dallas, #3 in the conference due to losing a tiebreaker to Detroit.
Remaining schedule: TEN, @DAL, SEA, DAL, @WAS, @NYG
Head-to-heads locked up: None
Head-to-heads lost: GB, ARI, SF
Head-to-heads TBD: DAL, SEA
Conference record: 4-3
Prognosis: The two games against the Cowboys are going to go a long way in determining not just which team represents the East in the playoffs, but what seed they'll have getting there. If the series is split between them, you can probably crown the Eagles the champs but they'll have practically no shot at anything better than the #3 seed.


Status: #1 in the NFC North due to a head-to-head tiebreaker over New Orleans, #4 in the conference.
Remaining schedule: CLE, ARI, @GB, PIT, @NO, CAR
Head-to-heads locked up: None
Head-to-heads lost: None
Head-to-heads TBD: NO (+1)
Conference record: 4-3
Prognosis: It's #4 seed or bust for the NFC South. The week 16 game in New Orleans could decide the division.


Status: #2 in the NFC North due to losing a tiebreaker to Detroit, #5 in the conference due to a conference record tiebreaker over Dallas.
Remaining schedule: @MIN, NE, ATL, @BUF, @TB, DET
Head-to-heads locked up: PHI
Head-to-heads lost: SEA
Head-to-heads TBD: DET (-1)
Conference record: 5-3
Prognosis: The season finale at home against the Lions looms large. Win that, and they likely take the division and maybe even the first-round bye. Problem is if they lose, it would render just about anything they do in these last six weeks irrelevant - at least in terms of winning the division. For the Wild Card, they're in pretty good shape with their conference record as long as they're not tied with Seattle.


Status: #2 in the NFC East due to losing a tiebreaker to Philadelphia; #6 in the conference due to losing a tiebreaker to Green Bay.
Remaining schedule: @NYG, PHI, @CHI, @PHI, IND, @WAS
Head-to-heads locked: SEA
Head-to-heads lost: ARI, SF
Head-to-heads TBD: PHI
Conference record: 4-3
Prognosis: Barring one of their trademark December implosions, the Cowboys are in relatively good shape to snatch up a playoff spot even if they don't win the division. They'll certainly be rooting for the Seahawks over the 49ers going forward, given their head-to-head status against both teams. The trouble is they're half a game behind the Packers in the conference record category with a decidedly tougher conference schedule left.

49ERS (6-4)

Status: #2 in the NFC West due to a division record tiebreaker over Seattle, trailing Arizona by 2 games; #7 in the conference due to a division record tiebreaker over Seattle, 1 game out of the playoffs.
Remaining schedule: WAS, SEA, @OAK, @SEA, SD, ARI
Head-to-heads locked: DAL, PHI
Head-to-heads lost: None
Head-to-heads TBD: ARI (-1), SEA
Conference record: 5-3
Prognosis: Having already lost a game to the Cardinals makes their prospects of winning the division rather grim unless they can combine a big winning streak with a big losing streak from the Cards. Their wild card hopes are much stronger, provided they can make up that one game - they've got the edge over whichever East team ends up on the outs.


Status: #3 in the NFC West due to losing a tiebreaker to San Francisco, trailing Arizona by 2 games; #8 in the conference for the same reason, 1 game out of the playoffs.
Remaining schedule: ARI, @SF, @PHI, SF, @ARI, STL
Head-to-heads locked: GB
Head-to-heads lost: DAL
Head-to-heads TBD: ARI, SF, PHI
Conference record: 4-2
Prognosis: The fact that we're eight deep into this section and finally seeing the Seahawks is not a good sign (especially since the last two teams are NFC South teams which are pretty much competing for the JV title). The three monumentally big games are the two games left against the 49ers in order to gain the upper hand over them in the division, and the Week 14 game against the Eagles to pick up another potential head-to-head tiebreaker. Win those three, and they'll have a really good chance to sneak in as a Wild Card. Lose even one of those games, though, and their path into the playoffs gets very, very messy.

SAINTS (4-6)

Status: #2 in the NFC South due to losing a head-to-head tiebreaker to Falcons, #9 in the conference.
Remaining schedule: BAL, @PIT, CAR, @CHI, ATL, @TB
Head-to-heads locked: None
Head-to-heads lost: None
Head-to-heads TBD: ATL (-1)
Conference record: 4-4
Prognosis: As mentioned above, the Saints pretty much have to beat the Falcons in Week 16 or else they can kiss whatever hopes they have of stumbling into the playoffs goodbye.

PANTHERS (3-7-1)

Status: #3 in the NFC South, 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta; #13 in the conference.
Remaining schedule: Bye, @MIN, @NO, TB, CLE, @ATL
Head-to-heads: Not applicable, seeing as they have a tie on their record.
Conference record: 3-5
Prognosis: Winning the games against the Saints and Falcons might be all these guys need to do in order to end up at the top of the stack. I personally would love to see a 6-9-1 team win a division, just to see the analysts have one big collective brain aneurysm.


The Buccaneers joined the ranks of the 2-win teams last week after soundly beating the Redskins, which likely means that they've seen their chances of ending up with the #1 pick slip away. The top spot has now essentially become a two-horse race between the Raiders and Jaguars. Of course, the Raiders will continue to hold on to the first pick until and unless they win a game, at which point the Jags would take over with their inferior schedule.

Since we are starting to look at a possible reality where the Seahawks miss the playoffs, they're currently sitting at the #21 spot. Of course, that position is usually reserved for the lowest-seeded playoff team, so expect that placement to change in the coming six weeks. We're obviously not giving up on the season just yet, but it's probably a good idea to prepare for what may happen if the 'Hawks miss the cut.

Here's the full rundown on the draft order this week:


(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.)


The upcoming game against the Cardinals is important enough, as it will help shape the destiny of both teams in the remaining weeks, but with the Seahawks on the playoff bubble there are a lot of games that could have serious ramifications on the team's chances. Needless to say, getting into the postseason is top priority, regardless of where the 'Hawks get seeded or who they end up facing. Also, given the possibility of missing the playoffs, AFC games now get more consideration as they have the potential to affect our draft position. (You will notice, however, that no picks are made to help the Seahawks in the draft at the expense of their playoff hopes.) Here's where your rooting interests need to lie for Week 12:


Thursday night: Chiefs (7-3) @ Raiders (0-10)
To keep the Kansas City behind us in the order, Go Chiefs.

Sunday morning: Browns (6-4) @ Falcons (4-6)
The teams that end up not winning the NFC South are going to pick ahead of the Seahawks regardless of who wins that division. Meanwhile, Cleveland has the same record as Seattle. Go Browns.

Sunday morning: Jaguars (1-9) @ Colts (6-4)
Of the seven teams in the league with a 6-4 record, the Colts have the second-weakest strength of schedule and the Seahawks have the strongest, meaning the Colts need to be a game better than us if we want to pick ahead of them. Go Colts.

Sunday morning: Bengals (6-3-1) @ Texans (5-5)
Cincinnati is half a game better than Seattle, Houston's a full game worse. Both have weaker schedules. To that end, the Colts are probably going to win the AFC South, so making the Texans better will be more helpful to our cause. Go Texans.

Sunday afternoon: Rams (4-6) @ Chargers (6-4)
It's the game you've all been waiting for - you FINALLY get to root against the Rams! The philosophy for picking winners for draft purposes is about the same as doing it for playoff positioning - when NFC plays AFC, root for the AFC. Go Chargers.

Sunday afternoon: Dolphins (6-4) @ Broncos (7-3)
And now for an extra treat, you get to root against the Broncos too! It's another case of rooting for an AFC team with the same record as us to get them behind us in the order. Go Dolphins.

Monday night: Ravens (6-4) @ Saints (4-6)
Go ahead and read what I just said about NFC vs. AFC games again. Go Ravens.


Sunday morning: Lions (7-3) @ Patriots (8-2)
Seeing as we know that we have the head-to-head over the Packers already, we're better off with the Lions winning the North rather than hoping we can overcome the one-win deficit in conference record we have against Detroit and then hoping that our record vs. common opponents or strength of victory can get us in. Go Lions.

Sunday morning: Titans (2-8) @ Eagles (7-3)
The weaker the NFC East is overall, the better our chances of overtaking whichever team loses out. Go Titans.

Sunday morning: Packers (7-3) @ Vikings (4-6)
The only way that head-to-head tiebreaker over the Packers makes any difference is if we make up the one-game difference over them. Go Vikings.

Sunday afternoon: Redskins (3-7) @ 49ers (6-4)
It really, really sucks that when we really need the Niners to lose, they always seem to be matched up against a very weak opponent. The Redskins have all but given up on their season, but if there's one game where we want the old "Any Given Sunday" adage to play out, it's this one. Go Redskins.

Sunday night: Cowboys (7-3) @ Giants (3-7)
It would be preferable for us - at least for now - that Dallas wins their division. They already have the tiebreaker over us, so there's no sense in them freezing us out. That said, Dallas and Philly still have both their games left against each other, so that would be a better time for the Cowboys to pull ahead. Right now, we'll just take the added attrition in the division. Go Giants.

That'll do it for this edition of The Watch. Next week we'll have a much better idea of where our playoff chances stand, and whether we're still in the thick of things or if we're doomed to carry on the streak of defending champs having lackluster follow-up seasons.

Due to issues regarding my work schedule and the upcoming holidays, The Watch will be moving back to Tuesdays starting next week. I'll see you all then. GO HAWKS!!