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Seahawks playoff picture: Who to root against this weekend

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

As you know by now on account of your hangover and the fact that you still have the box score up on your phone or laptop, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night and kept hope alive for a return trip to the playoffs after getting an earlier-than-expected offseason in 2017. The win pulled the Seahawks back to .500 and the schedule ahead gives Seattle plenty of chances to “decide their own fate.”

At 5-5, the Seahawks now only trail the 6-3 Carolina Panthers and 5-3-1 Minnesota Vikings in the wild card race. Seattle gets 10 days rest before facing the Panthers in Week 12, then two weeks and a day later they host the Vikings on Monday Night Football. So the Seahawks will directly get to face the two teams they need to catch up to and they have slight advantages to work with in both, though Carolina should still be favored given homefield and a scheduled 10 AM PT start.

If the Panthers lose this weekend though, it’ll give Seattle a clear shot at potentially being back in one of the wild card slots before December even gets here. And if Carolina wins this weekend, it’ll also be good for the Seahawks. Let’s see why and take a peek at the other key games to pay attention to.

4-5 Dallas Cowboys at 4-5 Atlanta Falcons, 10 AM

At 4-5, the Falcons can either tie up Seattle’s record or fall one game behind with six games to go. Despite another MVP-type season from Matt Ryan, Atlanta’s defense has fallen apart after injured reserve losses of safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones and the team is coming off of a 28-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The defense is 30th in passing yards allowed and 31st in yards per carry allowed and anything better than an 8-8 finish would be mildly shocking because they still have games at New Orleans, Carolina, and Green Bay on the schedule. They would need at least one notable upset to get to 9-7, and two to get to 10-6.

If they do win this Sunday, then it’ll at least send the Cowboys to two games behind the Seahawks given Seattle’s earlier win over Dallas in Week 3.

Since that game, the Cowboys have wins over the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Philadelphia Eagles. They have a much better defense than the Falcons do (third in points allowed) but the passing game has been non-threatening. The addition of Amari Cooper is helpful, but he’s still only averaging about 7.5 yards per target in two games with this offense.

The team to root for here is Dallas, since the Seahawks already have a win over them. This will keep both the Cowboys and Falcons to one game behind Seattle. If the Falcons win, then Dallas is two games behind the Seahawks, while Atlanta keeps pace. Unfortunately, the Cowboys are 1-4 on the road this season and also banged up, with center Travis Frederick on IR, Tyron Smith dealing with back spasms, Zack Martin playing through a knee injury, and Conner Williams sitting out the last game, which is 4/5ths of the o-line they expected to have before the season started. Defensively, Sean Lee and David Irving could miss the rest of the year, while Taco Charlton is listed as questionable after sitting out Week 10.

They’re depleted, which looks like good news for both Atlanta’s defense and Ryan, but even if the Falcons do win, it should cross out the Cowboys from contention and as mentioned before, Atlanta’s upcoming schedule is difficult.

6-3 Carolina Panthers at 3-6 Detroit Lions, 10 AM

We definitely want to see the Seahawks’ upcoming opponent drop another game and play like they did last Thursday when they lost to the Pittsburg Steelers, 52-21.

Earlier in the season, when I was asking people to name me one other good team in the NFC besides the LA Rams or New Orleans Saints, a lot of people answered, “the Panthers,” but I don’t think that has proven to be true. They’re decent, but this is nothing close to the Carolina defenses that propelled them to the playoffs in 2013, 2015, and 2017. The only team they’ve held under 17 is the Cowboys in Week 1. They’ve allowed 80 points in the last two games alone.

Offensively, while we may be seeing improvements in Cam Newton’s completion percentage (by far a career-high at 68.5) and interception rate, giving him a career-high 101.2 rating so far, he’s still averaging just 7.1 Y/A, and he lacks significant threats in the passing game besides the all those short passes to Christian McCaffrey; it’s McCaffrey’s 54 catches on 63 targets that really boosts Newton’s completion percentage to where it is anyway; Newton is also dealing with a shoulder injury.

They travel to Detroit, where the Lions at home are 2-2 with impressive wins over the New England Patriots and Packers, plus not-impressive losses to the Seahawks and New York Jets. Seattle beat them by 14, while the Jets won by 31. Detroit is coming off three straight Ls, none of them very close. The Lions fired Jim Caldwell for going 9-7 a year ago and under Matt Patricia they are noticeably worse. Players on the injury report include Darius Slay, Marvin Jones, A’Shawn Robinson, Damon Harrison, Ezekiel Ansah, Luke Willson, and punter Sam Martin. It’s not looking good, but at least the Lions are at home, where they have a shot.

4-5 Philadelphia Eagles at 8-1 New Orleans Saints, 1:25 PM

The Eagles are maybe the only key opponent in the race that the Seahawks will not play this season, but Philly could still get knocked further out of contention this weekend; the Eagles are the biggest underdog by a defending Super Bowl champion since the Pittsburgh Steelers in November, 2009.

Coming off of a 27-20 loss to the Cowboys last Sunday night, the Eagles have wins over the Falcons, Colts, Giants, and Jaguars. They’ve lost games to the Bucs, Titans, Vikings, Panthers, and Dallas. While the addition of Michael Bennett was a good one (a team-high 5.5 sacks and 20 QB hits), they are significantly worse and the defensive line is not nearly as impactful as they hoped. The Eagles just seem like a team with a lot of good players and not nearly enough great ones.

Should they drop to 4-6 on the road against the NFC’s best, Philly needs to catch up to Seattle over the final six. They’re remaining games are vs Giants, vs Washington, at Dallas, at LA Rams, vs Texans, and at Washington. Four of those games are against teams with a better record, and one of the others is a divisional road game against a Cowboys team that just beat them. Eagles look to be somewhere in the 6-10 range to me.

5-3-1 Minnesota Vikings at 6-3 Chicago Bears, 5:25 PM

After a 1-2-1 start, the Vikings have won four of five to get back into a wild card spot with seven games to go, but it’s all about how they handle the next four:

at 6-3 Chicago

vs 4-5-1 Green Bay

at 7-3 New England

at 5-5 Seattle

The Vikings also host the Bears in Week 17.

At this point, I think we all want to see Chicago run away with the NFC North, since the Bears already have a win over the Seahawks. Chicago is 4-1 at home this season, with the only loss being 38-31 to the Patriots. Their four wins were pretty convincing. The Vikings are 2-1-1 on the road, with wins over the Eagles and Jets, plus a tie vs the Packers. A loss keeps Minnesota only a hair ahead of Seattle at 5-4-1, but the Seahawks get to host the Vikings on Monday Night Football in three weeks.

I think 9-6-1 could be Minnesota’s expected outcome right now, meaning 10-5-1 with a mini-upset along the way, and 8-7-1 as a possibility. But the Bears have the defense that the Vikings thought they had and are at home, so right now we’re just looking for a bad game by Kirk Cousins and at least a decent one by Mitchell Trubisky.

My expectations for these four games:

Falcons win, Panthers win, Eagles lose, Vikings lose.

What those standings would look like afterwards:

Panthers, 7-3

Vikings, 5-4-1

Seahawks, 5-5

Falcons, 5-5

Cowboys, 4-6

Eagles, 4-6