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NFC playoff picture at midseason: Seahawks almost sitting pretty

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I mean, 6-2 is 6-2... or is it?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
big game in the background there
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

First, the facts:

On June 12, 2019, the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA title in team history.

The very next day, the St. Louis Blues decided that sounded fun, so they won their first-ever Stanley Cup.

Not to be outdone, the Washington Nationals won their very first World Series championship on October 30. Yeah, like, this week.

Seven NFL teams that have never won a Super Bowl are at .500 or better as the 2019 NFL season reaches its midpoint: the Buffalo Bills (5-2), the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4), the Detroit Lions (3-3-1), the Carolina Panthers (4-3), the Houston Texans (5-3), the Tennessee Titans (4-4) and the Minnesota Vikings (6-2). They’re your best shots to continue the pattern, but of course the New England Patriots will find a way to muck it up for the rest of us. It’s what they do, right?

To the NFC rundown, which is what this column does, right?

Three conference teams have already crested past 90 percent in playoff odds, as measured by footballoutsiders.com, which uses DVOO and DAVE to calculate their probabilities. Do we think all three will hold on to reach the postseason, or will one of them Coug it? And if so, how can we make sure that team is the San Francisco 49ers?

Week 9 Playoff Odds (FO)

Team Record Playoff odds Last week
Team Record Playoff odds Last week
SF 7-0 98.1 2nd
NO 7-1 96.5 1st
GB 7-1 90.4 3rd
MIN 6-2 73 5th
DAL 4-3 69.7 4th
SEA 6-2 53.9 6th
PHI 4-4 38.2 9th
LAR 5-3 35.3 7th
CAR 4-3 24.5 8th
DET 3-3-(1) 12.4 10th
CHI 3-4 4.9 11th

The Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears both lost to fall under .500. Their postseason chances took a corresponding gut punch, naturally. Arizona’s fell from 3.2 percent to 0.6, so they’re dead(er) in the water. Chicago’s plummeted from 11.5 percent to 4.9. Pro tip: don’t be last in your division, even if the division is really good.

I’m reprinting the graphic I used in this space last week, because it’s important to note the gap between how the folks at FO and the raw historical numbers are treating the Seattle Seahawks.

Going off the last 17 years of data, a 6-2 team reaches the playoffs 80 percent of the time. Going off the adjustments made by FO, the 6-2 Seahawks reach the playoffs only 54 percent of the time. First reason the advanced analytics don’t favor Seattle: the Seahawks haven’t wowed anyone with big wins, they’re beating bad teams by single digits, and their two losses have been by two touchdowns apiece, if you remove a garbage time touchdown to Will Dissly, may god rest his soul and his precious, fragile legs.

Yes, point differential matters — until it doesn’t, like after a close loss and big win restores order to the world. Let’s say the Seahawks take care of business at home vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along the lines of 34-17, then fail to win in San Francisco Nov. 11, something like 20-18. Seattle would move to 7-3 with a +27 differential, which is not so far out of the norm as to invite derogatory comments.

Second reason is the frightening one for Seahawks fans, however — it’s the remaining slate of games. As measured by Super Bowl odds, Seattle has the 5th hardest schedule left, while the team they’re chasing in the NFC West has the 32nd hardest. About time the Niners caught a break, amiright?

Premature Playoff Picture

If the playoffs started today, yada yada yada. Also, that would be great. Shorter seasons, fewer injuries, mock drafts right around the corner...

Wild-card round

(5) Seattle at (4) Dallas

(6) Minnesota at (3) Green Bay

No change from last week. The Green Bay Packers are 7-1 but the New Orleans Saints edge them on tie-breakers. The battle for a bye will get heated in November, especially if the Seahawks can somehow wedge their beaks in. Love the spice factor in both those wild-card games.

Divisional round

Better remaining seed at (2) New Orleans

Worse remaining seed at (1) San Francisco

Tell me you don’t relish the chance to win a rubber match with the Niners in the divisional round. Against Richard Sherman.

Team Tiers

Legit Contenders

49ers (7-0), Saints (7-1), Packers (7-1)

Need a Break or Two

Seahawks (6-2), Vikings (6-2), Dallas Cowboys (4-3), Los Angeles Rams (5-3)

Next Loss Stings

Carolina Panthers (4-3), Philadelphia Eagles (4-4), Detroit Lions (3-4-1), Chicago Bears (3-4)

Don’t get that fifth loss. With the NFC looking like its wild cards will have 12 and 11 wins apiece, that fifth defeat this early is like a death knell. Good thing the Seahawks aren’t near that threshold.