It's 8:09 PM. My Christmas shopping was completed in about 30 minutes, thanks to my first time doing my shopping with this newfangled website named http://www.amazon.com that sells a bunch of things and lets you buy them online. I think the concept has legs. And the Seattle Seahawks are 10-4 - oddly enough, for the first time ever.
It's time for Week 16 of The Watch.
Last week, the NFC picture had stayed pretty much the same from the week before. The Cardinals hung on to the #1 seed, the Packers were running astride with them at 10-3, Philly still had control of the NFC East with a tiebreaker over the Cowboys, and the Seahawks and Lions still had the two Wild Card berths. Hell, even the Falcons were clinging to their NFC South lead at 5-8.
Then Week 15 happened, and all of a sudden the NFC standings got shaken up like a snowglobe.
The Packers dropped a game, the Lions won a game, and now Detroit is atop the NFC North. The post-Seahawks hangover did its thing on the Eagles, who lost to the Cowboys and ceded control of their division to them while heading to the playoff bubble. And in a stunner that no doubt shook the public's faith to its very core, the Saints managed to win a game and take over the NFC South lead.
Ironically enough, the only two teams that stayed put in the standings were the Seahawks and the Cardinals, as Arizona's poop stunk less than that of the Rams allowing them to maintain control of the West with the clash between Seattle and Arizona looming on the horizon.
Here's a detailed account of where everyone landed this week:
(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.)
New standings means new tiebreakers. Here's how everything works out this time around:
1. Detroit has a Week 3 win over the Packers to earn the head-to-head tiebreaker for the division, and a better conference record than the Cowboys to earn the #2 seed.
2. The Seahawks' opening night win over the Packers gives them the higher wild card.
3. With 9-7 as their best possible record and 10 wins required to earn a wild card, the 49ers have been eliminated from playoff contention. Let's have a moment of silence for our rivals okay that's long enough.
4. The Rams suffered the same fate once they lost to the Cards on Thursday. Meanwhile, a better conference record than the Packers, and head-to-head wins over the Eagles, Cowboys, and Lions means that the Cardinals have officially locked up a playoff berth.
5. The Vikings still have the head-to-head tiebreak over the Rams on account of their Week 1 victory.
6. Even though the Bears deserve to be ranked lower given the stinkbomb they put out on Monday night, they actually have the highest seeding of the three 5-9 teams, as the Falcons lost to both Chicago and the Giants, and Chicago has a better conference record than New York.
Unlike the AFC, where three teams have already locked up division titles, all four NFC divisions are tightly contested this year. That'll happen when six teams in three divisions are within two games of each other, and three other teams in another division are separated by a single game with three unique records.
This week, we'll take a look at each of the four divisions, the remaining games on the schedule, and what chances the contending teams have of winning their respective division, or at the very least snagging a wild card.
It's a two-horse race in the division, as the Seahawks (10-4, @ARI, STL) and Cardinals (11-3, SEA, @SF) both have control of the West in their hands. Obviously, the upcoming tilt this Sunday is going to go a long way in determining who comes out of the division on top. If the Cardinals win, they'll have a two-game lead over the Seahawks and lock up the division, as well as the #1 seed - even with a season-ending loss to the 49ers, the Cards have all the tiebreakers against the Lions, Cowboys, and Packers. If they don't win the division, they are essentially locked into the #5 seed unless the Lions and Packers tie in their season finale.
As for the Seahawks, next week's game is crucial if we want to win the division, but even if the 'Hawks win that game they can still lose the division if they lose to the Rams and the Cards beat the Niners. As we've seen for the past few weeks, the fact that Seattle is tied with both Detroit and Dallas with the same record allows us to ignore the head-to-head loss to the Cowboys and advance by virtue of better conference record than Dallas and better record against common opponents than Detroit. If the Lions separate from the pack (and the Packers don't come in to replace them), we're back to a two-way tie, which the Cowboys would win - and that is how, if the Seahawks lose their last two, they would find themselves outside the brackets. The good news? Win out, and a first-round bye is guaranteed, and a Dallas loss or two wins from either Detroit or Green Bay (who play each other in Week 17) would give the Seahawks homefield for the second straight year.
Dallas (10-4, IND, @WAS) is the other team with a full one-game lead over their rivals in Philadelphia (9-5, @WAS, @NYG). That said, if the Eagles manage to run the Cowboys down once more, they'd have a 5-1 division record to Dallas at no better than 4-2, giving the division back to the Eagles. With ten wins already, the Cowboys are still in contention for the #1 seed if they win out and find themselves tied with Seattle and only Seattle - as mentioned above, having a third team in the mix negates the head-to-head advantage and leaves them with a conference record that's already a game behind Detroit and Seattle and has been since the stretch run. If they lose the division, their only hope for a wild card would be the #6 seed - one win should be enough to lock it up.
Philly's currently out of the playoffs, and with an even worse conference record than Dallas (not to mention head-to-head losses against Seattle, Arizona, and Green Bay), one more loss will practically doom their season. Even if they win the division, they can't do any better than the #2 seed - and again, that's if the Packers and Lions end the season with a tie.
All of a sudden, the Lions (10-4, @CHI, @GB) find themselves ahead in the division against the Packers (10-4, @TB, DET). The problem is if the Lions slip up, Green Bay can run them down either with a better division record (DET is at 4-0 currently, GB at 4-1) or, since conference record would be tied between them, strength of victory (which the Packers have the Lions dead to rights, .439 to 386). Detroit can still get the #1 seed, but they'll need both NFC West contenders to falter - they trail the Cards by a game and a head-to-head, and have a worse record than the Seahawks against common opponents. If the Packers retake the division, they'll need the same help to get the #1 seed.
Of the two teams, Detroit has the softest landing spot if they don't win the division. A strong conference record gives them superiority over Dallas and Philadelphia, although they'd lose out to both contenders in the West (losing to Arizona head-to-head and the aforementioned common opponents vs. Seattle). Green Bay has no tiebreakers over anyone outside their division, save the Eagles with a better conference record - if they don't get in with a division title, they'd better hope that the Cowboys win theirs and the Eagles were unable to get into the mix.
The laughingstock of the NFC is also, ironically enough, the most hotly contested. Because of their Monday night win, the Saints (6-8, ATL, @TB) are all alone in the lead. The Panthers (5-8-1, CLE, @ATL) are just half a game back, and the Falcons (5-9, @NO, CAR) are one game back - but the Falcons own all the tiebreakers since they've won all four division games they've played so far, and nobody else has more than 3 wins.
Due to the incestuous nature of the last two weeks on the schedule, all three teams are in a position where they can win the division if they win out, and all games left on their schedules carry heavy consequences to all three teams. The matchup between the Falcons and Saints next week is pivotal, as whoever loses will be essentially out of the running. From there, the winner of that game will have to hope Carolina loses to the freefalling Browns, or else the Panthers would be the frontrunners in week 17. Obviously, there is no consolation prize for those who miss out on the division: it's the #4 seed or bust.
Nothing encapsulated the concept of "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" like the game between the Titans and Jets on Sunday. Both teams sat at 2-11 going into the matchup, and Tennessee found themselves up 11-10 midway through the fourth quarter and their #1 overall pick in the draft in peril. Luckily for them, the Jets drove 76 yards in over five minutes to score a go-ahead touchdown with 3:09 left to play, and managed to hold on, giving the Jets and not the Titans their third win of the season and effectively dashing their "Suck for a Duck" hopes. Reality TV podcaster and Jets fan Rob Cesternino called it "the worst win in Jets franchise history."
The Titans still have the schedule advantage over the rest of the 2-12 teams - the Bucs, Jags, and Raiders - although they have another "tough" matchup coming up this week as they travel to Jacksonville. The Buccaneers and Raiders remain in limbo, hoping that both teams pick up a win in the last two weeks to get back into the rotation.
Meanwhile, four teams have clinched a playoff spot, effectively removing them from the draft charts until their season officially ends next year. Here's the rundown of the draft order at this stage in the game:
(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, ties are broken in the same manner as they would be for conference or divisional seeding. If the teams are from different conferences, a coinflip is used. Playoff teams automatically draft in the bottom 12 picks of the round, based on where they finish in the playoffs.)
We got a huge gift from the Bills last week when they managed to dispatch the Packers and allowed the Seahawks to have an almost totally clear path to the #1 seed. This week will endeavor to pluck whatever obstacles might still be in our way. Bear in mind, the Seahawks must win on Sunday in Arizona for any of the upper-seed intrigue to be of any importance: if they lose, the Cardinals would win the division, meaning the Seahawks would be forced to play as a wild card (and they wouldn't be able to clinch that until the season finale). On that note, here are the games to pay close attention to this week:
Saturday afternoon: Eagles (9-5) at Redskins (3-11)
We were Eagles fans last week, as they represented an opportunity to push Dallas a game behind us and put a division leader in the NFC East that the Seahawks own a tiebreaker against. But since they lost, and now they represent the potential spoiler for Seattle's playoff aspirations, we want that torch snuffed. Go Redskins.
Sunday morning: Lions (10-4) at Bears (5-9)
Sunday morning: Packers (10-4) at Buccaneers (2-12)
Both NFC North matchups are tricky games, because we need at least one of these teams to keep pace with Seattle to neutralize Dallas' head-to-head advantage, but obviously we don't want either team overtaking the Seahawks outright and pushing us further down the playoff rankings. It depends on what scares you more - the prospect of travelling to AT&T Stadium for the NFC Championship, or the possibility of Seattle being pushed out of the playoff picture thanks to the NFC North loser having a better record and Dallas getting in on the tiebreaker. Personally, the first choice sounds more palatable. Go Bears, Go Buccaneers.
Sunday afternoon: Colts (10-4) at Cowboys (10-4)
Of course, if the Cowboys can go ahead and lose a game, that would make all of us breathe a hell of a lot easier about the whole situation. Go Colts.
The Seahawks can't clinch the division next week, but they can lock up a playoff berth if they win and any of the teams they hold a tiebreaker against (DET, GB, PHI) lose. They can even lose next week and get in if the Cowboys win and the Eagles lose. Clearly, there's a lot at stake this Sunday. Win, and they have the tiebreaker on the Cards, and can lock up no worse than the #2 seed at home against the Rams. Lose, and the division is out of reach, and the game against St. Louis will be all but mandatory to get in the playoffs at all. Arizona might be a wounded team fielding a third-string quarterback that's never thrown a TD pass, but we keep waiting for the house of cards (no pun intended) to come tumbling down, and every week we see them eke out a victory. The 49ers gave the Seahawks their desperate best last week, and you can expect the same out of the Cardinals on Sunday.
I'll see you guys next Tuesday for the final edition of The Watch for the year. Until then, GO HAWKS!!