At least for the next 48 hours or so, the Seattle Seahawks are the top team in the NFC West standings. If the Jacksonville Jaguars do us a solid and beat the Los Angeles Rams, then Seattle will remain in first heading into next week’s game at the New York Giants.
We obviously want the Seahawks to win the #1 seed in the NFC, but Seattle doesn’t have a lot of room for error to get there. At best, they can afford two more losses and still claim the top spot (as was the case when the 2014 squad started 3-2). Seattle’s next four games are at Giants (0-5), vs. Texans (2-3), vs. Redskins (2-2), at Cardinals (2-3). Two road games against bad teams plus two home games against good opponents should yield at least three wins.
That’s when things get interesting.
In five weeks, the Seahawks host the 3-1 Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. Atlanta is one of only three NFC teams with just one loss, although they also didn’t play last week. If we go by DVOA, they’re ranked one spot below Seattle, and it’s largely because their defense is near the bottom of the league. On offense, Matt Ryan has thrown for as many touchdowns as he has interceptions thus far, but they’re #3 in rush DVOA, are 1st in yards-per-drive, and 4th in points-per-drive. Seattle scraped by Atlanta at home last season, only to be summarily blown out in the rematch at the Georgia Dome in the playoffs.
Atlanta’s next five opponents before Seattle: vs. Dolphins (2-2), at Patriots (3-2), at Jets (3-2), at Panthers (3-2), vs. Elliott-less Cowboys (2-3). You definitely have to favor them over Miami and Dallas, so that three-game road stretch is going to provide the most intrigue.
After a road game at San Francisco (which may be as tricky as last season’s was), the Seahawks are back in primetime for a Sunday Night Football matchup against the 5-1 Philadelphia Eagles. Having suffered a 1-6 record in games decided by seven points or less in 2016, they’re already 3-1 this year, and are one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. You can only imagine how much better the defense will be now that Fletcher Cox is healthy again. The upgrades at wide receiver have benefited Carson Wentz, who’s thrown for 13 touchdowns to just 3 INTs through six games. Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor (!) each have four TDs, and LeGarrette Blount is averaging about 5.6 yards per rush.
Philadelphia’s next five opponents before Seattle: vs. Redskins (2-2), vs. 49ers (0-5), vs. Broncos (3-1), at Cowboys (2-3), vs. Bears (1-4). That Washington game is vital, as Philly would own the season sweep with a win next Monday night, and it’d be hard to see the Skins contending for the NFC East under that scenario.
The other one-loss NFC team is the Green Bay Packers, whom the Seahawks already lost to, so there’s nothing more that can be done there except hope that the Packers don’t keep winning because of Aaron Rodgers’ heroics. Seattle currently does not hold tiebreakers against either the Eagles or Falcons, as they’re both undefeated against NFC opposition. If we are to assume that the Seahawks will go on a hot streak, and that the Eagles and Falcons will remain division leaders well into the second-half of the season, then these contests are almost certainly must-wins. Seattle has the benefit of both games being at home, and their record is 22-3 in their last 25 primetime outings at CenturyLink Field. It’s looking like November 20th and December 3rd will go a long way towards deciding who’s getting home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.