In the history of their franchise, the Seattle Seahawks have earned a number one seed only twice. In both of those seasons, they reached the Super Bowl, and sources close to the team say that last year, they even won the Super Bowl. So yeah, maintaining their lead for the number one seed is going to feed their chance to succeed.
The most important thing you need to know, and that you probably already do, is that if the Seahawks beat the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, they're almost assured homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. If they lose, there are still plenty of favorable avenues. That's not ideal (losing, that is) but why shouldn't we as fans be like an arranged marriage?
Here's a look-ahead to all the games that affect Seattle this weekend.
Want to lose: Rams
Something tells me that if the Rams lose to the Seahawks, it'll be a good thing for Seattle.
The Seahawks have won 16 of their last 19 games against the Rams, but all three of those losses have come in the Pete Carroll era. Carroll is 2-3 against them in St. Louis, but 4-0 against them in Seattle. The last time the Rams won in Seattle was in the 2004 playoffs.
Several things have changed since then.
Quarterback Shaun Hill has a passer rating of 98.3 over his last four games, with six touchdowns, two interceptions, 7.96 Y/A and one rushing touchdown. His favorite target has been Kenny Britt, who has resurged to put up 710 yards this season, including nine catches for 103 yards against the Giants on Sunday. I'm not sure if New York has the Legion of Boom, but let me check.
In his last game against the Seahawks, Britt had two catches for three yards.
They had more of an issue with rookie Tre Mason, who had 18 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown in Week 7 against Seattle. Overall, along with the contribution of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who might be the Defensive Rookie of the Year, the Rams have had a phenomenal rookie class. They might be without one of their starters though.
Rookie EJ Gaines is doubtful for the game with a concussion. Gaines has 60 tackles, two interceptions, and 15 pass deflections, making him an incredible steal for the sixth round. In his first game against the Seahawks, he had six tackles and a pass deflection. He's not the only corner that's on the injury report: Janoris Jenkins is probable with a back injury. Jenkins is a Pro Bowl alternate.
One rookie who has struggled (to no one's surprise, really) is Greg Robinson. The second overall pick was pushed into starting at left tackle after Jake Long was injured. Long had one penalty on 449 snaps, per ProFootballFocus. Robinson has played 501 snaps, and has 10 penalties. He has allowed three sacks and eight QB hits. Long was the starter at LT the last time St. Louis played Seattle.
The Seahawks are 12.5 point favorites over the Rams. They are 14-2 in their last 16 home games against NFC West teams. By all accounts, this should be an easy win for Seattle. They are playing like the best team in the NFL, and they are 8-1 since losing to St. Louis, including five straight wins in what felt like "must-win situations," helping to knock the Eagles and 49ers out of the playoff races. The Seahawks have allowed three touchdowns over the last five weeks, one of which was heavily-aided on a mishandled punt by Jon Ryan.
The Rams pitched back-to-back shutouts against the Raiders and Redskins, winning 76-0, but have since lost two straight home games against the Cardinals and Giants. They gave up 514 yards to the Giants. You want to look at St. Louis and say "Hey, lots of young talent, they should be better!" but they are every bit of their 6-9 record. This should be an easy win for Seattle.
But it never really seems to be when it's the Rams, so we'll see what happens Sunday. Just in case they don't though, they can still win the division.
Want to lose: Cardinals
If the Seahawks lose and the Cardinals win, then Seattle will drop to a wild card position. But how good are Arizona's chances in San Francisco?
Well, Ryan Lindley has the NFL record for most pass attempts without a touchdown pass and it's not even close. Bruce Arians hinted that it might be "Logan Thomas time!" but that's not going to happen. Despite being a fourth round pick this year, Thomas is clearly nowhere near ready to play regular NFL downs. I mean, even down 35-6, with Lindley looking awful, Arizona still kept him out there for the final two drives of the game.
Do the Cards have a quarterback this week? No.
Arizona is last in yards per carry and 30th in rushing yards. Andre Ellington is on injured reserve and Kerwynn Williams had two carries for four yards against Seattle. Arians said that Williams is not a good enough pass blocker to be out there on non-running plays, basically blowing the cover of every play before the ball is snapped and eliminating his usefulness unless the Cardinals are leading. Stepfan Taylor is averaging 3.3 yards per carry and has 31 carries for 99 yards over the last three games.
Do the Cards have a running game? No.
But they can lean on the defense, right? Well, Arizona has given up 500 or more total yards (including Seattle's franchise record of 596 on Sunday) four times this season. The Seahawks haven't allowed 500 total yards since November 28, 2010. Even though the Cardinals are fourth in points allowed, they are 30th in passing yards allowed, 19th in yards per carry allowed.
At full strength, Arizona's defense is good. Given the constant state of injuries, especially for the Cards this year and especially for players in the final week of the season, their defense might just be "okay" at the moment. Calais Campbell was upgraded to Probable with a hip injury and had a limited practice on Friday. Deone Bucannon had a limited practice on Friday and is listed as Questionable. Inside linebacker Larry Foote, who has started every game this season, sat out Friday practice and is Questionable with a knee injury. Nose tackle Dan Williams, who has also not missed a game this season, is Questionable with a foot injury.
Do the Cards have a defense? TBD.
Want to win: 49ers?
Let us all pray it doesn't come down to this.
The Cardinals are down Ryan "But I'm Tryin'" Lindley but San Francisco has their own injury concerns this week: Carlos Hyde, Eric Reid, and Stevie Johnson are all ruled Out; Perrish Cox, Ahmad Brooks, and Tramaine Brock are all Questionable.
Even if this really is Jim Harbaugh's last game for the 49ers, he doesn't strike me as the type that likes to lose. Ever. Even if that loss could be his final screaming, spitting, spinning aroun, Jerry-Maguire-on-crack "F%$# YOU" to Pete Carroll. The Niners are going to try and salvage a .500 season with a win over a playoff team and go into the offseason with positive vibes, especially if it's about to get really ugly on Black Monday.
San Francisco is coming off of an embarrassing 38-35 OT loss to the Chargers in which they were at one point 99.6% favorites to win. But once you get past their epic collapse, remember that Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore both rushed for over 150 yards and the defense intercepted Philip Rivers three times. The 49ers aren't in a good place right now, but neither are the Cardinals.
It might not be a very pretty game but if the Rams manage to get the better of Seattle, you best be hoping that Harbaugh avoids going 7-9 this year. If you care more about the 49ers losing than the Seahawks winning the division, you're like Droopy Dog catching ebola.
One sick puppy.
Want to lose: Cowboys
By now you should know that the only way that the Cowboys can get a higher seed than Seattle, should both teams win on Sunday, is if the Lions-Packers game ends in a tie. Assuming that doesn't happen, let's ask ourselves another question:
What if the Seahawks and Cardinals both lose?
Then Seattle would win the division at 11-5, but then you have either Green Bay or Detroit going 12-4 and if Dallas beats the Washington Redskins and goes 12-4, the Seahawks aren't going to get a bye week. What if instead, you have the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Cowboys all at 11-5?
Then Seattle is still the three seed because even though there are multiple 11-5 teams, they aren't all division winners. Dallas's head-to-head victory will give it the nod at the two seed, pushing Seattle to a potential matchup against the Packers or Lions next week. The reality of the situation is that there really isn't a whole lot of reason to root against Dallas this week, but there's absolutely no reason to root for them either.
So let's assume there is some crazy tie in Green Bay this week.
The Cowboys injury situation is that there isn't much of a situation. Tackle Doug Free won't start and may be ruled out completely. Tony Romo (back) and DeMarco Murray (hand) should both be fine. That's good for Dallas because they actually managed to be one of the few teams to lose to Washington this year.
Remember this was back when they were the "class of the NFC."
Want to win: Washington
The Redskins are going to start Robert Griffin -- they previously beat the Cowboys with Colt McCoy -- who is 34-of-50 for 456 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and 9.1 Y/A in his last two games. That includes last week's 27-24 upset win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
They aren't incapable of beating Dallas, if that wasn't obvious already.
If the Seahawks fall to the five spot, then obviously this game becomes very important. The only question is: Which shitty team would you rather face in the playoffs? It's not as easy of a decision as it seems.
Atlanta is 1-9 outside of the NFC South. On the other hand, if they win, they'll finish 4-4 at home. It's the same site where Seattle last lost a playoff game, in excruciating fashion. And the Falcons just seem like the more talented team.
However, Carolina did go 4-4 at home this season. They will have won four straight games if they win on Sunday. The defense has allowed just 40 points over the last three weeks. They hosted the Seahawks in Week 8 and Seattle need a touchdown pass to Luke Willson with under a minute left in order to win the game.
Even if the Seahawks win the division and don't have to go on the road in the Wild Card round, the winner of this game may very well be the team coming to Seattle in the Divisional round. So it does matter, but trying to choose which team is less crappy, probably does not matter.