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NFC playoff picture solidifies with Seahawks in prime role

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Six true contenders remain for six spots, while in the background, two reeling teams cling to faint hope.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
mvp?
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Three teams in the Seattle Seahawks’ playoff crosshairs needed wins in Week 12 to keep their postseason hopes from cratering. They all lost. And the Seahawks helped!

Seattle’s convincing 17-9 victory in Philadelphia damaged the Eagles’ bid substantially, dropping them to 5-6; they survive only because the Dallas Cowboys also lost and lead the NFC East by a single, puny game.

The Los Angeles Rams might want to forget Week 12 altogether. As good of a week as it was for the Seahawks, that’s how bad it was for the Rams. They lost by 39, the biggest home defeat in franchise history, and Los Angeles continued a run of — no need to mince words — bad play in certain phases.

  • In their last three games, the Rams have 26 offensive points, for an average of 8.7;
  • In their last nine games, they’re 3-5;
  • In the month of November, Jared Goff threw zero touchdowns.

Somehow, either completely predictably or out of the blue, depending on how much credit you want to give Sean McVay for the once-fearsome Rams offense, Goff now has more interceptions (12) than touchdown tosses (11) this season. Anyone who wants to kill some time this afternoon could report back with the last team who made the playoffs on the back of a QB who threw more picks than scores. Not even Trent Dilfer in 2000 with the stacked Baltimore Ravens defense was guilty of that sin.

Oh, and the Carolina Panthers lost too, so they’re also 5-6 and officially on the brink of elimination. Unofficially, they’re cooked in a year where it’ll take at least 10 wins to get a wild card in the NFC. By the time the Seahawks roll into Raleigh shimmy into Charlotte for Week 15, Carolina could be mathematically eliminated, easy, with nothing left to play for besides draft position and Christian McCaffrey fantasy points.

Today in the playoff odds table I’m gonna do something slightly different — combining three different sources of data to spit out a composite playoff odds number. If you don’t like it, there is literally nothing you can do to stop me.

Playoff Odds, Week 13

Team Record Football Outsiders 538.com Historical odds Composite (unscientific)
Team Record Football Outsiders 538.com Historical odds Composite (unscientific)
SF 10-1 99.8 99+ 100 99+
NO 9-2 99.8 99+ 98 99+
SEA 9-2 98 97 98 97.7.
MIN 8-3 95.7 94 92 93.9
GB 8-3 91.8 91 92 91.6
DAL 6-5 77.4 65 46 62.8
- - - - - - - - - - - -
PHI 5-6 26 37 13 25.3
LAR 6-5 8.6 15 46 23.2
CAR 5-6 0.7 1 13 4.9

On a historical level, 6-5 teams make the playoffs almost half the time. The problem for the 6-5 Rams, however, is that seldom are the two wild-card teams at 9-2 and 8-3 after 12 weeks. The possibility exists of course that either the Packers, Seahawks or Vikings will hit a rough spell and drop to 9-7 or 10-6, allowing the Rams to sneak in. But then of course, I’d refer back to the part of the post where we established that LA isn’t exactly looking like a team about to win four out of five.

The Rams meet the Arizona Cardinals twice to bookend their final five games. In between there’s trips to Dallas and San Francisco, plus a revenge game against Seattle, for this:

If they can pull 4-1 out of their hat while another team goes 1-4, more power to them.

Few 5-6 teams make the playoffs. This is intuitive, but also leans on plenty of statistical evidence. The Eagles caught fire in December of 2018 to turn a 5-6 mark into a playoff appearance. If they’re going to do it again this season, it’ll be by overtaking the Cowboys for the East.

With the assumption that the NFCE winner will be the 4 seed, three other division winners will be fighting for a coveted bye and a home playoff game in the divisional round.

Wouldn’t you like to know where each team sits in that race?

Bye Odds (FO)

Team Record Bye odds
Team Record Bye odds
NO 9-2 67.3
SF 10-1 58.9
SEA 9-2 33.8
MIN 8-3 23.6
GB 8-3 15.5
DAL 6-5 0.9

The Saints have a four-game division lead so they’re given a two out of three chance to finish in the top 2. The tie-breaker is worth 8 percentage points to the Vikings, who host the Packers Week 16.

It’s a tired statement, but if it was offered to Seahawks fans before the season began, who among you wouldn’t take a one in three chance at a first-round bye with five games to play? That’s the beauty of close wins counting as much as blowout victories.

Game of the Week, non-Seahawks category

Ravens-Rams delivered everything a Seahawks fan could have hoped for last week, and now it’s the 49ers’ turn to take a crack at the best team in football, in Baltimore. (Look at the weighted DVOA, people.)

In a parallel universe, this matchup pits the wily vet Colin Kaepernick, one of the pioneers of modern mobile quarterbacking, winner of a Super Bowl, against the new kid on the block, the one-decade-younger Lamar Jackson, who’s shooting for his first ring. Does anyone have tickets to that universe?

Some will call this a Super Bowl preview, but a 49ers loss coupled with a Seahawks win puts Seattle in front of the NFC West with four games left. As always, go Ravens.

Pertinent Playoff Picture

The biggest change from last week, of course, is the Packers’ tumble, all the way from the 2 seed to the 6. Moral of the story: Don’t lose games.

Wild-card round

(5) Seattle at (4) Dallas

(6) Green Bay at (3) Minnesota

Divisional round

Worst remaining seed at (1) San Francisco

Best remaining seed at (2) New Orleans

The six teams above have been cruising toward the postseason, in some order or another, for four weeks now. With all of them at 8-3 or better, and only one wild-card contender at 6-5, and Carson Wentz looking like an uncertain rookie, it’ll take a couple surprising results to upset the fruit basket. But there are surprises every year, right?

Team Tiers

Legit Contenders

49ers (10-1), Saints (9-2), Seahawks (9-2), Vikings (8-3), Packers (8-3)

They’re all good (top ten in DVOA), all flawed in their own adorable way(s), and all perfectly capable of winning the conference. A lot depends on who gets home field, and it’s still way too early to settle on the 1 and 2 seeds.

Need a Break or Two

Dallas Cowboys (6-5)

The likeliest wild-card foe for a 5-seeded Seahawks squad. Much pixelated ink would be spread on that matchup for a second straight year, goodness.

Next Loss Is Fatal

Philadelphia Eagles (5-6), Los Angeles Rams (6-5)

Have they tried not throwing interceptions?

Goose/Turkey Is Cooked

Panthers could’ve maaaybe saved their season for another week with a little more kicking accuracy — instead, they fell 34-31 to the Saints after missing a 28-yarder at the two-minute warning. They lost their third in a row and will spend December awaiting a thrashing at the hands of the Seahawks, or another one-score affair. (You know it’s the latter.)

Football Outsiders odds here

Fivethirtyeight odds here