We’re entering the final 25% of the 2017 NFL regular season, and only two division races are realistically over (AFC and NFC East), which makes for great drama down the stretch. The Seattle Seahawks’ upset win over the Philadelphia Eagles boosted their playoff chances significantly, especially on the heels of the Atlanta Falcons losing to the Minnesota Vikings. On Thursday night, Atlanta toppled the New Orleans Saints 20-17 to keep themselves very much alive in the NFC South race. Here are the updated NFC standings as we approach Sunday:
#1 - Minnesota Vikings (10-2)
#2 - Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)
#3 - Los Angeles Rams (9-3)
#4 - New Orleans Saints (9-4)
#5 - Seattle Seahawks (8-4)
#6 - Carolina Panthers (8-4)
#7 - Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
#8 - Detroit Lions (6-6)
#9 - Green Bay Packers (6-6)
#10 - Dallas Cowboys (6-6)
#11 - Washington (5-7)
#12 - Arizona Cardinals (5-7)
#13 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8)
#14 - Chicago Bears (3-9) - Eliminated
#15 - San Francisco 49ers (2-10) - Eliminated
#16 - New York Giants (2-10) - Eliminated
Carolina’s loss to New Orleans means that Seattle has the #5 seed based on a superior record vs. NFC opponents (6-3 compared to 4-4). I don’t know about you, but the Saints look like the worst case matchup for the Seahawks in the postseason. We can have that discussion for another day.
You can look at the Atlanta win over New Orleans either positively or negatively. The good news is that the Seahawks can pull level with the Saints in terms of W-L record (but New Orleans has the tiebreaker), and thus inch closer to potentially getting a first-round bye. The bad news is that a Seahawks loss could take them right out of a wild card spot again.
Consider this a “Choose your own adventure” style rooting guide.
Rooting option #1: Go for the first-round bye!!
I say the first-round bye because the #1 seed is just too much wishful thinking. You want the #1 seed? Uh...well this is going to take a lot of help.
This means that Atlanta winning is a good start, and you should go for Carolina over Minnesota, as well as (gulp) the Rams over the Eagles. A Seahawks win would put them just one game back of both the top two seeds, but they have the tiebreaker on Philadelphia.
Minnesota’s remaining schedule after Sunday is as follows: vs. Cincinnati, at Green Bay, vs. Chicago. I fail to see them dropping two of these three games, and Seattle cannot win any tiebreakers if their records are the same at end of season.
Philadelphia’s remaining schedule after Sunday: at NY Giants, vs. Oakland, vs. Dallas. Not a particularly difficult stretch, but if they lose to the Rams, then all it takes is one more slip-up and as long as the Seahawks win out, they’ll overtake the Eagles in the playoff standings.
Rooting option #2: Forget the bye, focus on just getting into the playoffs
In this case, Philadelphia over the Rams is preferable, as is Minnesota knocking off Carolina. That way, should the Seahawks lose to the Jaguars, they’ll remain the #5 seed over the Panthers and Falcons in a three-way tiebreaker, and just a game back of the Rams.
Rooting option #3: Mix it up!
Rams over Eagles plus the Vikings over Panthers provides a potential best of both worlds. A Seattle win still puts them within reach of a first-round bye via the #2 seed, as well as a full one-game lead over the Panthers, who don’t have a tiebreaker on the Seahawks. At worst, a Seahawks loss badly hurts their NFC West chances but they still don’t drop off in wild card seeding. Like I said earlier, I’m not banking on a Minnesota collapse, so the only way Seattle can over take the Vikings is to go 4-0 while the Vikes go 1-3.
Ideal under any rooting option: The pesky wild card teams must go
For the wild card race, Buccaneers over Lions, Browns over Packers, and Giants over Cowboys are all unlikely, but if they do happen, those are three NFC teams with feint wild card hopes who can kiss their seasons goodbye. Those are the only teams other than the Falcons who have even a slight hope of overtaking Seattle.
Truth be told, I’m in the option #2 bucket. Granted, if the Seahawks were 9-3 and thus in first-place in the NFC West, then I’d be all for rooting for the bye, and presumably the odds would be higher. At 8-4 and still not actually ahead in the division, it’s good to dream, but greediness can backfire in a big way. Please consider that a Seahawks loss and a Rams win over the Eagles means that the Rams can clinch the NFC West outright with a win over Seattle next week. Compare that to an Eagles win + a Seahawks win, and then if Seattle beats the Rams the following Sunday, then Seattle just needs to win one of its final two games to capture the division.
Teams to definitely root for: Buccaneers, Browns, Giants
Teams to root for under option #1: Rams and Panthers
Teams to root for under option #2: Eagles and Vikings
Teams to root for under option #3: Rams and Vikings