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Updated NFL Playoffs picture and rooting interests guide: The Watch, Week 14

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The Seahawks did all they could to maintain their position in the NFC Playoff picture. It's just a shame that the teams we're trying to catch didn't cooperate with us. With only four weeks left in the regular season, the opportunity for the Seahawks to improve their fates are dwindling to the precious few.

Welcome to week 14 of The Watch.

NFC STANDINGS, WEEK 13

The good news heading into this week's contests is that the Seahawks not only held on to the #6 seed in the NFC on the back of their imposition of will in Minnesota, but they now have a one-game lead over the two teams that are trying to chase them down in Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Better still, they have a tiebreaker over one of those teams, so they find themselves with a little bit of a cushion coming into their game against the Ravens. So even if disaster strikes, there's still a decent chance of the Seahawks staying on the right side of the velvet rope at the end of the week.

The bad news is that the teams that the Seahawks are trying to chase down themselves are not doing us any favors. The Cardinals blew out the hapless Rams on the road, keeping a three-game lead over Seattle with only four left to play. If the Seahawks are going to leapfrog Arizona for the division title, the Cards are going to have to forget how to play football in these last four games. And even though the prospect was far-fetched to begin with, the Panthers have officially slammed the door shut on any hopes of somehow usurping the #1 seed from them by virtue of their pinballesque victory against the Saints on Sunday.

Here are the standings after 12 games have been played:

1

Division tiebreakers take precedence, and go in the following order: head-to-head, division record, common opponents, conference record, strength of victory, strength of schedule. Conference tiebreakers are then handled in the following order: head-to-head sweep, conference record, common oppnents (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.

Obviously, there are a lot of ties to talk about, particularly in the quagmire that is the NC East. Here's a recap of how everything shakes out.

  • The Packers' win over the Vikings in Week 11 gives them the head-to-head tiebreaker for the NFC North lead.
  • The Buccaneers' victory over the Falcons this week gives them the head-to-head tiebreaker at 6-6.
  • The NFC East is a mess. Three teams at 5-7. Nobody has a sweep over the other two tied teams, so division record becomes a factor. Philadelphia and Washington are both 2-2 while the Giants are 2-3, causing New York to drop out of consideration for the division lead. The 'Skins beat the Eagles way back in Week 4, so that means Washington has the division lead. The Giants re-enter the tiebreaker picture here, and their Week 6 win over the Eagles gives them second place.
  • Meanwhile, all of the 5-7 NFC East contestants have a better conference record than the Bears at 2-6, so that results in Chicago being ranked at the bottom of the 5-7 logjam.
  • Even more convoluded is the five-way fiasco at the bottom of the conference, with a quintet of teams tied at 4-8. Division takes precedence, so the Rams' win over the 49ers in Week 8 gives them top billing of the NFC West representatives. There's no outright sweep of any one team in this group, so it goes to conference record next - and the Rams and Lions find themselves knotted at 3-5 there. Common opponents is your next tiebreaker, and since these teams are scheduled to face each other later on in the year (next week, in fact), there's a lot of overlap in the schedule. In all, there are five common opponents between St. Louis and Detroit - the Cardinals, Seahawks, Bears, Packers, and Vikings - and while the Rams are 2-4 against those teams, the Lions are merely 2-5. That gives the Rams the top spot out of all of the 4-8 teams, but the Lions' relatively strong conference record allows them to settle in just behind St. Louis at #13.
  • That leaves the Saints, 49ers, and Cowboys battling over the cellar. New Orleans has the better conference record at 3-6, so they get the #14 spot. San Francisco and Dallas don't play each other, tie for conference record at 3-7, and don't have enough common opponents to use that criterion, so it goes down to strength of victory. The Niners' opponents (ATL, BAL, CHI, MIN) have won a total of 23 games, which is three games better than the Cowboys' opponents (MIA, NYG, PHI, WAS)

HOW THE WEST CAN BE WON

We already know that the Seahawks are down three games to the Cardinals for the NFC West title with four games to play. The two teams face off in the season finale - obviously the 'Hawks have to win that one or else the division is completely off the table. The other obvious reality is that the Seahawks win their four remaining games, while the Cardinals drop their last four, the Seahawks will snatch the division out from under the Cards' beaks with an 11-5 record against 10-6.

But if there's a tie between both teams, that would mean both teams would finish either at 11-5 or 10-6, have a season split between them, and assuming the Seahawks beat the Rams in Week 16, they would tie for divisional record at 4-2. (If the Seahawks lose the Rams, then all of this is for naught, since the Seahawks' division record would be no better than 3-3.) For this reason, not only is it important that the team catch up to Arizona, but it also makes a difference which games each team wins and loses.

First off, it's important to know what both team's schedules are to finish out the year. The Seahawks' remaining schedule is: @BAL, vs. CLE, vs. STL, @ARI. The Cardinals' remaining schedule is: vs. MIN, @PHI, vs. GB, vs. SEA. On that note, there are six potential ways the two teams tie at the end of the year. Here's how the tiebreakers are currently shaping up:

Seahawks win out, Cardinals beat PHI but lose to GB and MIN: In this case, the Seahawks would have 10 wins against common opponents against the Cardinals having only 9. Seahawks win the NFC West.

Seahawks win out, Cardinals beat MIN but lose to GB and PHI: The record against common opponents would be tied at 10. Thus, we would go to strength of victory. In either case, the Cardinals currently lead that statistic by three games, 49-46. For the Seahawks to overtake the Cardinals in this category, the Cowboys and Steelers would have to outpace the Saints and Bengals by at least three games.

Seahawks win out, Cardinals beat GB but lose to MIN and PHI: Same deal as the previous tiebreak - Cards are three games stronger in strength of victory - but this combination would make Viking wins favor the Seahawks and make Packer wins favor the Cardinals.

Cardinals lose out, Seahawks beat STL and BAL but lose to CLE: Both teams would tie with 9 wins against common opponents, and it would go to strength of victory. In this situation, Seattle has a three-game lead over Arizona at 44-41, with the Cowboys, Steelers, and Vikings favoring the Seahawks and the Saints, Bengals, and Browns favoring the Cards.

Cardinals lose out, Seahawks beat STL and CLE but lose to BAL: Same as above, but the lead in strength of victory narrows to just one game, 42-41, and the Browns and Ravens would switch allegiances. (Meaning the loss to the Ravens would effectively tie that statistic up, because that's another win in Arizona's favor).

So to sum things up:

  • If Seattle wins out and Arizona loses out, the Seahawks win the NFC West outright.
  • If Seattle wins out, and Arizona wins one more, Arizona has to lose to the Packers and Vikings in order for the Seahawks to win the division without having it go to strength of victory, which currently favors Arizona.
  • If Seattle wins 3 out of 4, Arizona has to lose out. In that case, we'd rather the loss be against the Browns to keep a strength of victory advantage over the Cardinals.
  • If Seattle loses two, Arizona wins two, or Seattle loses to the Rams in Week 16, game over.

It's just that simple.

WHO TO ROOT FOR

Even though the Seahawks are a game in front of the peloton for the last Wild Card, that doesn't necessarily mean we're not going to be doing some scoreboard watching around the league - especially after all of the machinations we just went through to find a way back into the NFC West throne. Here are the important games on next week's schedule, and what outcomes we're looking for. Remember, personal grudges and other assorted sports hate need to be set aside if you're going to root effectively here.

Thursday night: Vikings (8-4) at Cardinals (10-2) If Arizona's going to start coming crashing back down to Earth, this Thursday as good a time as any to start. Go Vikings!

Sunday morning: Steelers (7-5) at Bengals (10-2) It's a pretty obtuse reason, but if things are going to come down to the strength of victory tiebreakers, any win that Pittsburgh picks up will help us while any win by Cincinnati will help the Cards. Go Steelers! (Yes, I just said "Go Steelers". I stand by it.)

Sunday morning: Falcons (6-6) at Panthers (12-0) Carolina can go ahead and run the table at this point, as long as it keeps the Falcons behind us in the standings. Go Panthers!

Sunday morning: Saints (4-8) at Buccaneers (6-6) If the Falcons and Buccaneers both lose on Sunday, then the #6 seed is safe regardless of our own outcome. Go Saints!

Sunday morning: Cowboys (4-8) at Packers (8-4 ) Once again, we're trying to bolster our strength of victory resume here. Also, if the Seahawks do win the division, we'll want the Vikings as a fellow division champ so the potential to get a first-round bye is better. Go Cowboys!

That'll finish things off for The Watch this week. Hopefully we'll have some better news coming out of this Sunday - not just with another Seahawks victory, but maybe a few other teams will want to play ball with us. Until next Wednesday, be sure to carry with you those two little words: GO HAWKS!!