Thanksgiving has come and gone, and for the next six weeks we will be surrounded by holiday spirit, cheer and more Christmas songs than most people prefer to hear. And the Seattle Seahawks are right in the middle of a fantastically close playoff race in the NFC. As I noted Tuesday, all three of the Thanksgiving Day games had playoff implications in the NFC, and for the most part things went well for the Seahawks.
In the opening game of the day the Detroit Lions had the ball late with a chance to take the lead on the Chicago Bears, but a pick-6 on a pass to the left flat all but ended the game. A strangely familiar sight against the Bears for Hawks fans, but the loss dropped Detroit to 4-7 and all but ends any hopes of the postseason for the Lions as the Lions can only hope to reach nine victories on the season. While nine victories may be enough to make it to the postseason in the NFC, the Lions are in last place in the NFC North and would need to leapfrog at least one of the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers in order to have a shot.
The Bears, meanwhile, tightened their grip on the NFC North with the victory. They are currently 2.25 games up on the Vikings and 3.25 games up on the Packers. Chicago certainly has a tough task going up against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 13, but follows that with games against the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers over the final five weeks of the season. Thus, they probably only need to win one of the two games against Minnesota and Green Bay in Weeks 16 and 17 to take the NFC North title.
Meanwhile, the NFC East has been thrown into chaos. The Washington Redskins had staked an early lead in the division while the other three teams floundered. However, with quarterback Alex Smith out for the season, Washington has dropped two straight games to teams from the Lone Star State. With the victory by the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, Dallas is now in first place in the division thanks to holding a better division record than Washington.
The win not only puts the Cowboys in front of the Hawks in the playoff picture, but it also removes the tiebreaker that Seattle holds over Dallas from the equation as long as the Cowboys remain in first place in the NFC East. Of course, we’ll see how long Dallas is able to stay in front of the division, because their next three games are against the New Orleans Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts. The Eagles play Washington and the New York Giants in their next two games, so it would not be unreasonable for the Week 14 game between Dallas and Philly to be for the division lead.
In the final game of the day, the New Orleans Saints did what the New Orleans Saints do, and dispatched the Atlanta Falcons without too much trouble. The victory puts the Saints at 10-1, and back into the number one seed in the fight for home field advantage through the playoffs. With the Los Angeles Rams on a bye this week, the Saints slide back into the NFC’s top spot thanks to their tiebreaker as a result of their victory over the Rams in Week 9.
On the other side of the night game the Falcons now sit at 4-7, and much like the Lions, have only the slimmest of playoff hopes remaining. Absolutely everything would need to break Atlanta’s way for the Falcons to reach the postseason, so while they aren’t dead dead, odds are they will be soon.
The way things have turned out makes the Seahawks game Sunday against the Carolina Panthers extremely critical to the team’s playoff chances any way one looks at things. The Panthers and Vikings are likely the Hawks’ stiffest competition for the playoffs, and with both those teams on the schedule over the final six games, things are certainly going to be interesting down the stretch. According to the New York Times Playoff Machine, the Hawks have a 68% chance of making the postseason with a win Sunday, versus a 26% chance if they lose.
Brian Burke of ESPN has the team’s playoff leverage at a similar level, as seen in the following tweet.
NFL PLayoff leverage, headed into week 12. The NFC picture is just amazing. pic.twitter.com/RsDXWo3WSW— Brian Burke (@bburkeESPN) November 21, 2018
The ESPN numbers were from before the Thursday games, but they clearly demonstrate the importance of the showdown in Charlotte on Sunday afternoon. It’s a huge game. Hopefully the Hawks don’t perform as poorly as they did Thanksgiving weekend in 2016, when they traveled cross country to Tampa and played one of the worst games of the Pete Carroll era.