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For Seahawks, a little schedule luck certainly wasn’t unwelcome in 2018

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Kansas City Chiefs v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

With the final games of the 2018 regular season on tap for NFL teams Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals get ready to face off in Week 17 at Century Link. The game will serve as a tune up for the playoffs for the Seahawks, while for the Cardinals it will determine whether they maintain their death grip on the top overall pick or not.

In any case, I’ve looked at how the Hawks may have had some favorable luck in terms of getting to face three key opponents from the central time zone in primetime games, but the schedule maker also didn’t hold back when handing out a golden opportunity to be successful. By this, I mean that one key point some will look at for analysis when the playoffs come is the schedule a team faced while making its way to the postseason. When the second round of the 2018 Beak Bowl comes to a conclusion Sunday afternoon, regardless of the outcome, it is likely to have been the sixth game the Hawks played against a team currently slated to choose in the top five of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Specifically the Hawks will have played the Cardinals twice, the San Francisco 49ers twice, along with games against the Detroit Lions and the Oakland Raiders. Now, I’m not blaming the Seahawks for playing such a soft schedule, the NFL’s schedule making system is completely formulaic, and the only control a team has over its opponents are where it finishes in the division this year to change two opponents next season. And the Hawks certainly won the majority of the games they have played, which means they certainly aren’t a bad team, but does their schedule stack up against other teams that are entering Week 17 with nine wins?

Which other teams have played six or more games against teams slated to draft in the top 5, and how should that help shape our expectations for the postseason? I mean, it’s fairly obvious that even if a team went undefeated during the regular season, if they did it by accumulating close victories over teams like Ball State, Vanderbilt and Pitt, they most certainly would get obliterated by real competition. Wait, that was the college playoffs, nevermind.

So, if the draft were to be held based on the standings through Week 16, here are the teams that would be drafting in the top five:

  • 1: Arizona Cardinals (3-12)
  • 2: San Francisco 49ers (4-11)
  • 3: New York Jets (4-11)
  • 4: Oakland Raiders (4-11)
  • 5: Detroit Lions (5-10)

In any case, here is a rundown of how many games every NFL team played against the current projected top five.

How many games each team has played against opponents slated to draft top five.

Team Games versus teams scheduled to draft top 5 Wins
Team Games versus teams scheduled to draft top 5 Wins
LAR 6 12
SEA 6 9
DEN 5 6
CHI 5 11
MIN 5 8.5
GNB 5 6.5
MIA 4 7
KAN 4 11
LAC 4 11
SF 4 4
ARI 4 3
NWE 3 10
BUF 3 5
DET 3 5
CLE 2 7.5
IND 2 9
OAK 2 4
NYJ 1 4
BAL 1 9
PIT 1 8.5
CIN 1 6
HOU 1 10
TEN 1 9
JAX 1 5
DAL 1 9
WAS 1 7
NYG 1 5
CAR 1 6
ATL 1 6
TB 1 5
PHI 0 8
NOR 0 13

Now that’s a lot of text, and most people are more visual, so here’s a chart of what the data looks like, with the playoff teams circled.

Yes, those are some crude circles and multiple designators, and yes I could have used different color dots, but it didn’t do much good with the dots that needed to represent multiple teams. Another illustration showing the benefit of getting to play a bottom heavy schedule is looking at the probability of a team making the playoffs based on the number of top five drafting teams they played, so this is that in data form.

Games against bottom five and probability of being in playoffs

Games against opponent scheduled to draft top five Probability of making playoffs (based on standings entering Week 17)
Games against opponent scheduled to draft top five Probability of making playoffs (based on standings entering Week 17)
6 100%
5 50%
4 40%
3 33%
2 33%
1 23%
0 50%

And for those who prefer a visual representation.

Again, I’m not saying the Seahawks are in any way a bad team. They played the schedule they were given, and they won enough of those games to make the postseason. And if they were good enough to be victorious in nine (or ten depending on how Week 17 turns out), then they were obviously good enough to be doing something right, because wins aren’t free in the NFL.

All I’m saying is that this is one tool that can be used to evaluate how strong the wins a team had over the course of the year are, and it’s a little telling that 67% of the teams that will have played five or more games against bottom competition are currently in a playoff spot. That said, it will certainly be interesting to see what happens with the final NFC Wild Card spot that is up for grabs today, and whether the Minnesota Vikings are able to hold on, or if the Philadelphia Eagles get a little help and squeeze their way into the playoffs.