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NFL playoff picture: Cowboys can clinch, Seahawks on the edge

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There are five weeks left in the regular season, but playoff clinching scenarios are starting to happen as soon as this weekend. The Dallas Cowboys beat the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night, bringing them to 11-1, meaning that if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Washington Redskins lose this weekend, the Cowboys can do no worse than a wild card berth.

There’s also some good news for the Seattle Seahawks.

Now at 7-3-1 with a three-game lead over the Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks can get a four-game lead with four games to go if they beat the 4-7 Carolina Panthers on Sunday night and the Cardinals lose to the 6-4-1 Washington Redskins. Then even a tie over the next four weeks by either team means that Seattle has clinched the NFC West and a home game in the playoffs.

That’s even better than the Seahawks’ wild card chances since the New York Giants are 8-3 and the Redskins are only one game back of Seattle. (Thankfully since the Seahawks tied Arizona and Washington happened to tie Cincinnati, these aren’t as complicated to figure out.) Either way, if the Cardinals did catch Seattle and win the NFC West, it would be perhaps the greatest comeback in NFL history. With a Seahawks win this weekend over Carolina, they’ll probably be 99.9 percent to win the division. They’re currently just 98%.

Arizona plays the really hot 7-4 Miami Dolphins next week, winners of six straight going into their game against the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday.

The LA Rams are not yet eliminated from winning the division, but will be if they lose and the Seahawks win this weekend. The Rams are at New England Patriots this week. Which brings up some other points:

  • Rob Gronkowski is basically out for the rest of the season after it became apparent that the hit from Earl Thomas did more damage than they suspected. The Patriots are a better team with Gronkowski, probably by a lot, but certainly still a strong Super Bowl contender. It’s good news for the Oakland Raiders, Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, and the like.
  • Seattle’s chances of catching Dallas for the one seed are difficult but far from impossible. The Seahawks don’t have another game left against a team that is likely to make the playoffs. The Cowboys don’t have another game left against a team that isn’t in the playoff chase: at Giants, Bucs, Detroit Lions, at Philadelphia Eagles. The team most out of it is the Eagles, who is third in DVOA. Use ESPN’s playoffs machine, it could happen by Week 16 without doing anything weird.
  • The Chiefs could take over a top-two seed in a heartbeat, which is just a little surprising given that people don’t talk about them in that respect very much. It’s not unlike the Broncos a year ago, who I think went from out of the playoffs to the two-seed in a day and then won the Super Bowl.
  • The race in the AFC South is going to be ridiculously back and forth with every team besides the Jacksonville Jaguars probably leading the division at some point between now and the end of the year.
  • Tampa Bay is just one game out of the lead in the AFC South and my preseason pick, the New Orleans Saints, are two games out and not out of it either. Both of them beat the Seahawks though so is it better if they do? Would you rather rematch against the team Seattle beat (Atlanta Falcons) or a team that they didn’t?
  • The Seahawks chances at a bye week are 59% right now, per FO. If they win, they’ll improve to 8-3-1. They’ll need to hold off the other division winners. If Atlanta wins the South, then Seattle holds the tiebreak. So absolute best case scenario there is that the Falcons lose (They host Kansas City) and for the Bucs (at San Diego) to lose, dropping Atlanta to 7-5 but still in first place. You can read plenty more about this with Seahawks Semantics. In this case, and if the Lions lose and drop to 7-5 (they’re at the Saints, meaning New Orleans would gain a game on Atlanta), Seattle would hold a two-game lead in the loss column with four games to go. They could then not only win the division next week but also might be able to clinch a top-two seed — though that may need a little more math due to the tie. If any readers out there have a thought on this, let us know.
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Posted by Field Gulls: For Seattle Seahawks News and Analysis on Friday, December 2, 2016