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Updated NFL Playoffs picture, Draft order & rooting interests guide: The Watch, Week 13

The Seahawks can still get the #1 seed in the NFC, in theory. Here's how.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

With five weeks left in the regular season, and the Seahawks hanging on for dear life in the playoff picture, it's time to see exactly where the team stands.

Welcome back to The Watch.

Introduced in 2011, The Watch was originally devised to keep an eye on the draft prospects of a team that didn't look playoff-ready. In ensuing years, the column oversaw a team blossoming into a championship-caliber squad, and kept track of how all 16 teams in the NFC jockeyed for playoff positioning and the brass ring of homefield advantage. This year, the Seahawks have had some major struggles, losing games that might come back to haunt them as they come down the homestretch. Let's take a look at where they stand in the playoff picture.



Ties within a division take precedence, and are broken in the following order: head-to-head, division record, common opponents, conference record, strength of victory, strength of schedule. Ties outside a division are broken in the following order: head-to-head, conference record, common opponents (minimum 4), strength of victory, strength of schedule.If three or more teams tie for the same record, tiebreakers are used until one team either succeeds or fails outright, at which point the tiebreakers start over for the remaining teams.

As you can see, Seattle sits in the #6 spot after offing their SB40 nemeses, enjoying an over-.500 record for the first time this season. Obviously, with three games to make up against the Cardinals and only one matchup left between the two teams, they do not control their destiny when it comes to recapturing the division. But, there is still the opportunity if the Seahawks win out - and with some help - that they may win the division. Nay, they can still snatch homefield advantage.
Preposterous, you say. Look at the Panthers. They can do no worse than 11-5 at this point, and the Seahawks can do no better than same. With the loss to Carolina in Week 6 giving them the tiebreak, there's no way Seattle can rank ahead of them.

But remember last year. In 2014, the Seahawks were in a similar position with losing the head-to-head matchup against Dallas and both teams finishing the year at 12-4. Dallas should have taken the #1 seed over Seattle by virtue of winning their game head-to-head. But luckily for the 'Hawks, a third team - the Packers - also ended the year 12-4, which meant that there was a three-way tie for the top seed. Head-to-head only works in a three- or four-way tie if one team has either swept or been swept by everyone else with the same record. The Cowboys and Packers never played each other, so that neutralized the head-to-head tiebreaker. Instead, the tiebreak went to conference record, where Dallas was worse off at 8-4 than either Green Bay at 9-3 or Seattle at 10-2. That dropped the Cowboys to the #3 spot, and with the Seahawks beating the Packers at the start of the year, head-to-head reared its ugly head for the Packers to give Seattle the top seed.

That's essentially what needs to happen again: a third team short-circuting the head-to-head tiebreaker to send it to a conference record comparison. And fortunately, there are still two teams that have that power - one of whom the 'Hawks are playing this Sunday.

Here's the roadmap to the #1 seed:

  • Seattle wins out, and Carolina loses out. Both of these have to happen, or else there's no way the two teams will be tied in the first place.
  • Minnesota loses to Seattle this week, but wins the division with an 11-5 record. Minnesota's record needs to match Seattle's and Carolina's record for the three-way tiebreak to work. (Note: If Green Bay wins the division, even if they also finish 11-5, this won't work. Seattle will lose the head-to-head regardless for losing to both the Panthers and Packers.)
  • This would put all three teams at 11-5. The head-to-head should come into play here, but since the Vikings and Panthers don't play each other, that tiebreaker gets skipped.
  • Conference record would be used then, and with five conference games left on Carolina's schedule (four of which are divisional games), losing out would leave them with a 7-5 conference record. Meanwhile, Seattle is currently 5-4 with three conference games left to play; if they win out, they'll be at 8-4. Minnesota is currently 8-3 overall and 5-2 in the conference with five left to play; if they go 3-2 the rest of the way, that puts them at 11-5 overall, 8-4 in the conference. The Panthers would drop out of the race due to the weaker conference record.
  • With Carolina out of the picture, the tiebreakers start over - and with a head-to-head win over the Vikings, the Seahawks would be back on top.

It's just that simple.

Of course, if the #1 seed is just a bit outside your ability to suspend disbelief, the #2 seed is a fair bit more realistic. As long as it's Minnesota winning the NFC North and not Green Bay - and of course assuming Seattle wins on Sunday to nab that tiebreak - the Seahawks would be in front of the Vikings for a first-round bye. If the Seahawks lose this week, not only would it just about drive a nail in the coffin to win the division depending on how the Cardinals do, but it would also mean that the #3 seed is probably the best they could do even if they win the NFC West. (Although considering how the East is looking this year, I think the #3 seed would pretty much be a lock.)

Also note that there's an outside chance the the Falcons could still win the NFC South. The Falcons and Panthers are five games apart with five to play, but both Falcons-Panthers games are still on the schedule. If the Falcons win out and the Panthers lose out, they'll both finish 11-5, at which point Atlanta's season sweep would give them the division title. That wouldn't help the Seahawks very much, though - with or without Minnesota being in the mix, a Seahawks-Vikings-Falcons tie at 11-5 would skip the head-to-head (Atlanta and Seattle never play each other), conference record (everyone would be 8-4), and common opponents (they wouldn't have four common opponents between them). This would take it down to strength of victory, and if Atlanta wins the division they would by necessity have to beat an 11-win team twice. That would likely put them ahead of both the Vikings and Seahawks in that metric. So we still want the Panthers to win the South - we just want them to go in a tailspin on the way there.


It's certainly not the outcome we're hoping for, but it's probably a good idea to keep an eye on our draft stock, just in case things go pear-shaped down the stretch. Also, it gives us an excuse to laugh at the teams that suck.


Teams are ranked by win-loss record, with ties broken by strength of schedule (computed across all 16 opponents whether they've played them or not, division opponents counting twice). If there's a tie for schedule strength, divisional record is the final tiebreaker. If a tie persists, a coin toss determines the order. Not pictured are the Patriots, who were naughty and don't get a pick this year.

Last year, I had an error in the spreadsheet giving the Titans the #1 pick when it should have been the Buccaneers. Well, it's totally legit this time. Meanwhile, Cleveland has a stronger conference to blame for its positioning, keeping them from their first #1 pick since they had the top pick back-to-back in 1999 and 2000. (Hard to believe it's been that long, really.)
As you can expect, the Seahawks are in that quagmire of the late-teens - if they miss the playoffs, it won't be by much, meaning that they're not going to get a particularly high pick. So let's not do that.


As always, we finish The Watch with a look forward at the upcoming games, to determine which ones are most influential to our playoff hopes and which outcomes we really want to see. It is imperative that you put aside whatever sports hate you have for these other teams - considering where we are right now in the standings, we can't really afford to let grudges get in the way. If Voldemort gives us a better chance of making the playoffs and getting a better seeding, you are obligated to root for Voldemort.

Also, it needs to be stressed that the priority is getting into the postseason regardless of seeding. Thus, some matchups might give us a better chance of getting in with one outcome, but the other outcome might give us a better seeding down the road. In those cases, we always go for the single rather than swinging for the fences.

Thursday night: Packers (7-4) at Lions (4-7): Go Lions. Vikings need to win the division fur us to aspire for the #1 or #2 seed, so the Packers need to start losing.

Sunday morning: Cardinals (9-2) at Rams (4-7): Go Rams. With three games to make up and only five left to play, Arizona's wings need to get clipped, and fast.

Sunday morning: Falcons (6-5) at Buccaneers (5-6): Go Bucs. A loss by the Falcons would lock up the South for the Panthers, which means maybe they start taking their foot off the gas. Plus, it keeps the Seahawks from losing a game in the standings to whoever wins this matchup. (If Buccaneers win and the Seahawks lose, TB would move into the #6 seed at 6-6 but with a better conference record. If the Falcons win and the Seahawks lose, we're a game behind.)

Sunday afternoon: Panthers (11-0) at Saints (4-7): Go Saints. It's the only way the #1 seed remains a mathematic possibility.

That'll do it for our first Watch column of the year. My Tuesdays are opening up again, so we'll be able to resume these columns on a weekly basis for the rest of the season. As always, thanks for reading, and GO HAWKS!!