Three years ago, the Seattle Seahawks had lost their first two games of the season by a combined score of 57-17. With current Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson serving as a pretty obvious placeholder while the braintrust of Pete Carroll and John Schneider slowly worked on building a dynasty, it became clear that the season at hand was less important than the draft that would follow. With such generational QB talents up for grabs such as Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, and Merv Griffin, a weekly column was created to track where the Seahawks' first-round draft pick would end up.
Thus, The Watch was born. (And eventually rendered moot, as the 'Hawks found their stud QB in the third round and rode him to a Super Bowl title.)
Each week, I'll be breaking down three things: the overall playoff picture for the entire NFC, the order for the first round of the NFL draft next year, and the upcoming games on the schedule and which team would benefit us most by winning. It's a modest service that I'm all too happy to perform during the season - it makes me feel like I'm actually contributing something worthwhile to a community that I've enjoyed being a part of since the era of lime green jerseys.
So enough jabbering, let's get to it.
With just two games under the belt, the conference standings are bound to get messy. Only three NFC teams have managed to escape the first 1/8th of the season with a perfect record intact, and they are certainly not the teams everyone envisioned being at the top. (Well, two of the three are surprises, at least.) If I were to tell you at the beginning of the year that the Cardinals would have the top seed in the NFC after two weeks, you probably would've said something like, "that's highly unlikely." Well, look where they are right now:
1. The Golden Rules of Tiebreakers are as follows: First, if two division rivals are tied, you take care of that first, even if a non-divisional team is also tied. Second, once you cut a tied team out of the tiebreaker sequence, you start over with whichever teams are left. It'll make more sense as the season moves along, trust me.
2. Divisional tiebreakers are handled in the following order: head to head outcomes, divisional record, record against common opponents, conference record, strength of victory (total W-L record of all teams you've beaten), strength of schedule (total W-L record of all 13 teams on the schedule, with divisional opponents counting double), combined conference rankings in scoring offense and defense, combined league rankings in scoring offense and defense, point differential against common opponents, point differential against all opponents, and touchdown differential against all opponents. If somehow every single one of these categories are evenly matched, it comes down to a coin flip.
3. Conference tiebreakers are handled thusly: head-to-head outcome (and if more than two teams are tied, they must all have played each other with a clearly superior or inferior team at the end), conference record, record against (a minimum of four common opponents, strength of victory, strength of schedule, conference scoring offense and defense ranks, league scoring offense and defense ranks, conference point differential, league point differential, league touchdown differential, and finally coin toss.
What this all means is the following:
- Arizona, Philly, and Carolina all tie for the top spot with a 2-0 record. The Eagles have not played a conference opponent yet, so they drop to third place. The Cardinals beat a Chargers team that are now 1-1, while neither of Carolina's opponents have won a game yet, thus giving Arizona the top spot and Carolina #2.
- All four NFC North teams are tied with a 1-1 record. Chicago and Minnesota are 1-0 in the conference while Detroit is 1-1 and Green Bay is 0-1, so the division lead is between the Bears and Vikings. Both tie for strength of victory and strength of schedule, so it comes down to scoring ranks, and the Bears beat out the Vikings in both categories. ("2T-4" indicates that there was a two-way tie for fourth place in scoring offense.) Obviously with each of the other division leaders being at 2-0, the Bears have to settle for the fourth seed.
- Seattle, Atlanta, and Minnesota make up the next tier, as they're all 1-1 with a perfect conference record. The Falcons' one win are against the winless Saints while the Seahawks and Vikings have beaten opponents that won in week 2, which drops Atlanta to #7. The Seahawks enjoy a slightly harder schedule than the Vikings, which is what puts them at #5 and the Vikings at #6.
- The next group of teams are 1-1 both overall and in conference play: the 49ers, Lions, and Rams. Thanks to their win being against the Cowboys (who somehow managed a victory against the Titans last week), San Francisco gets slotted eighth by virtue of strength of victory. That leaves the Lions and Rams to fight it out all the way to scoring ranks, which Detroit wins handily on the basis of being tied for fifth in scoring defense while the Rams are dead last in scoring offense.
- Dallas, Green Bay, and Washington represent the last batch of teams with a win, as their victories all came at the ends of AFC opponents, leaving their conference record cupboard bare. The Cowboys and Packers have beaten teams that one, compared to Washington's win againt a hapless Jacksonville squad, thus the R'skins are dropped to 13th. Both Dallas and Green Bay have the same strength of schedule currently, so it again comes down to scoring ranks. Dallas is tied for 10th in scoring offense but tied for 5th in defense, giving them a composite total of 16; Green Bay is in a 3-way tie for 6th in offense but a 2-way tie for 14th in defense, for a composite total of 21.5. This gives the Cowboys the edge over the Packers.
- That leaves us with the winless Giants, Saints, and Buccaneers. With no victories to speak of, the first tiebreaker that even applies would be strength of schedule. This gives the Giants the #14 seed because they get to play the inherently awesome NFC West, while New Orleans and Tampa Bay get stuck with the middling NFC North. Tied for schedule strength, it comes down to scoring ranks yet again - and despite ranking at the bottom in scoring defense, the Saints are the second-best team in offense, while the Bucs are unable to rank any higher than 7th in either category.
The original part of The Watch has also become its least important. Seattle hasn't drafted an impact player in the first round since 2010, and as the past has shown us they're just as likely to trade out of the first round to draft another bunch of world-beaters in the 5th round again. But still, this gives us a chance to point and laugh at the Raiders, so why the hell not.
Much like the conference standings, there are a lot of ties in the draft order as well. They're handled a bit differently than a conference ranking: namely, strength of schedule is the primary tiebreaker. For the purpose of the order shown below, I use the records of all 13 opponents on the team's schedule, whether they've played that opponent or not. It saves me the hassle of recompiling the statistics every week, plus they'll have played everyone by the time it truly matters anyway. If there's a tie for strength of schedule, divisional record is the secondary tiebreaker, and and ties that remain are decided by coin toss.
Here is how the draft order currently shakes out:
Thanks to winning their first two games and having a pretty decent schedule, the Texans have gone from picking first in the last draft to being at the back of the line in the current order. Meanwhile, the Jaguars, Raiders, and Giants are already in midseason form. Please note that the Bills traded their first round pick to the Browns next year so they could move up in the draft held this year. If other trades involving first-rounders are made during the season, they will also be reflected on the chart.
WHO TO ROOT FOR
So with the NFC hierarchy is still in a serious state of flux, it poses some interesting dilemmas as to which teams we should be supporting so as to give the Seahawks the best shot of claiming a prime playoff spot. Especially since the team that currently sits above us in the division is playing the team that posed the biggest threat last year. Here are the pertinent games for next week, and who we want to win:
Thursday night: Buccaneers (0-2) @ Falcons (1-1)
Atlanta figures to be the bigger long-term threat of the year; while I expected the Bucs to improve under Lovie Smith, I would've thought we'd see some results already if that were the case. Since Tampa Bay is less dangerous, Go Bucs.
Sunday morning; Lions (1-1) @ Packers (1-1)
Green Bay still looks to be the class of the NFC North despite all four teams having identical records right now. Last year, the inordinate amount of churn caused by all Northern competitors beating each other bloody made the conference essentially a two-horse race between the West and South representatives. Preferably, that will happen again this year, and since I think the Packers are the better team of the two, I'm naturally rooting for them to lose. Go Lions.
Sunday morning: Cowboys (1-1) @ Rams (1-1)
OK, show of hands - who thought either of these teams would have a win two weeks into the season? (Put your hand down, Jerry.) Obviously, having a divisional opponent in this game makes this pick pretty simple. Go Cowboys - and if you must lose, please do so in the most Romoesque way possible.
Sunday morning: Vikings (1-1) @ Saints (0-2)
Have the Saints fallen from grace or was this just a matter of getting nicked at the post twice? They're already two games behind the team that they yakked the division to last year, so while I'm not going to call them out of the running, I will be looking for them to play spoiler here. Go Saints.
Sunday morning: R'skins (1-1) @ Eagles (2-0)
Washington looks to be the second-best team in the NFC East this year, which would amount to something if it weren't the NFC East. Still, the fewer 2-0 teams in the picture, the better. Go Skins.
Sunday afternoon: 49ers (1-1) @ Cardinals (2-0)
This game poses a major quandry for Seahawks fans: do we root for the hated 49ers to even up the standings and give Seattle a chance to pull even with both of them... or do we root for the hated Cardinals to keep our fiercest rival down but maintain a 1-game lead on the division? It really comes down to how much confidence you have in the 'Hawks running the Cards down over the remaining 14 games - and personally, I think that's a pretty safe bet. Go Cards.
Sunday night: Steelers (1-1) @ Panthers (2-0)
So do we still hate the Steelers with the same fervor now that we have a ring? It's tough - I know that they were the beneficiaries of a game I promised people I'd stop bitching about, but not being in the same conference and only ever seeing them every four years means I can't seem to muster more of a "meh" reaction to Pittsburgh anymore. They're like the Jets now - I still know them as the team that scored the Phantom Touchdown, but I don't hate them any more than the rest of the league does now. I think once they find a way to get rid of Roethlisberger I can fully accept them as Just Another Team, but for now I'm only supporting them because their opponent is in the NFC and has a 2-0 record. Go Team That Isn't Carolina.
Monday night: Bears (1-1) @ Jets (1-1)
The general rule is that when an NFC team plays an AFC team, root for the AFC, since that reduces the pool of wins that the NFC has and thus makes it easier for Seattle to move up. But having just brought up one of the more ignominious moments in Seahawk history has me wondering if I can support both teams that shattered Seahawk dreams in the same week. Not like I expect the Bears to get much of a sniff at the postseason anyway. And hell, after they did a number on the 49ers (no doubt as 49er fans were likely celebrating our demise) they deserve a little residual cheering. Go Bears.
That'll do it for the premiere episode of The Watch. As I like to do at the start and end of every season, I like to take this opportunity to thank Danny and the rest of the Field Gulls crew for allowing me to be a part of the craziness that is the NFL season. The Watch will be up every Wednesday, as the season progresses and the current 10-team traffic jam in the middle of the conference slowly spreads itself out. If you're interested in more of my blatherings, I do have a personal blog at www.the-bloog.com for you to peruse. It has nothing to do with football and everything to do with game shows, old video games, and whatever else gives me the inspiration. Feel free to check it out whenever the mood strikes you.
Until next Wednesday, GO HAWKS!