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ESPN gives Seahawks 65 percent chance to make playoffs

Third-down conversion rates cited as the stat that ‘defined’ the first half of the season for Seattle.

Seattle Seahawks v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

As part of an article about “What we know - and what’s still a mystery” for each of the NFL’s 32 teams, ESPN used their Football Power Index (FPI) to handicap the division races.

To no one’s surprise, FPI favors the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West with a 95.6% chance of making the playoffs and an 82.1% chance of winning the division.

The Seattle Seahawks chances are obviously lower.

What’s interesting though, is that the Los Angeles Rams have a not-insignificant chance of winning the division as well.

How not-insignificant?

Two percent.

Given their 3-6 record and current 12th-place standing in the NFC playoff chase, 2% seems somewhat optimistic to me, but I’m not the FPI algorithm.

The Rams’ chances of making the playoffs currently sit at 15.4%, which also seems overly optimistic.

We’re not here to talk about the 49ers or the Rams though; we’re here to talk about the team that is actually going to win the NFC West, secure a first-round bye, and ride homefield advantage all the way to the Super Bowl where they’ll avenge the second-worst loss of Pete Carroll’s reign by giving the Baltimore Ravens the same butt-whooping they gave the Denver Broncos a decade ago.

Hmm . . . it appears that the FPI optimism might be a tad bit contagious.

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Here are the odds that the FPI algorithm currently gives the Seahawks to make the playoffs, win the division, et cetera . . . as of Wednesday afternoon:

  • Make the playoffs: 65%
  • Win the division: 15.9%
  • Make division round of playoffs: 24.5%
  • Make it to Conference Championship game: 7.9%
  • Make it to the Super Bowl: 2.6%
  • WIN the Super Bowl: 0.9%

Note: I feel like I should insert the classic “Dumb and Dumber” meme here. Especially after what we saw last weekend.

Chances aren’t the only thing covered in ESPN’s article though . . . they also identified something we know about each team, something that remains a mystery, and, as a bonus, one stat that has defined the first half of the season.

As always, Brady Henderson got to do the honors for the Seahawks, and I think that what he wrote was pretty spot-on:

What we know: Quarterback Geno Smith is not playing like he did during his brilliant first half of last season. It’s been more like a continuation of his shaky second half of 2022. He’s thrown nine touchdowns to seven interceptions and ranks 16th in Total QBR (56.2), with eight turnovers over his last four games. Not all of them have been Smith’s fault, and he’s played behind a handful of backup offensive linemen with a different combination of starters nearly every week. But he needs to eliminate a couple of bad plays each game.

What we don’t know yet: Where do the Seahawks rank in the NFC pecking order? Only the Eagles and Lions have a better record, and the Seahawks beat the Lions on the road. They also went toe-to-toe with the Bengals in Cincinnati, their only loss in a stretch of six games that included a win over the Browns. Then again, they were dismantled by the Ravens in a 34-point loss last week, and three of their wins have come against three of the NFL’s worst teams (Cardinals, Panthers, Giants). The defining stretch of their season is approaching, with two games against the 49ers and one apiece vs. the Eagles and Cowboys in a four-week span.

Stat that defined the first half: The Seahawks rank 30th in third down conversion rate both on offense and defense. They’re allowing opponents to convert 45.3% of the time, and after a 1-for-12 showing in their blowout loss to Baltimore, they’re converting on only 31.9% of their chances. The Seahawks are fortunate to be 5-3 despite being so poor on the money down, but that isn’t a sustainable trend.

The last line is pretty hard to read, and even harder to argue against.

The Seahawks are fortunate to be 5-3 despite being so poor on the money down, but that isn’t a sustainable trend.

Let’s not dwell on that though.

Instead, let’s look at the part about the NFC pecking order, which is particularly interesting if you cross-reference the NFL standings with the FPI rankings.

NFC pecking order by record:

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NFC pecking order according to the playoff chase:

  1. Philadelphia
  2. Detroit
  3. San Francisco - wins tiebreaker over Seattle based on division record
  4. New Orleans
  5. Seattle - wins tiebreaker over Dallas based on conference record
  6. Dallas
  7. Minnesota
  8. Washington - wins tiebreaker over Atlanta based on head-to-head matchup
  9. Atlanta
  10. Tampa Bay - wins tiebreaker over Green Bay based on record in common games
  11. Green Bay
  12. Los Angeles

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NFC pecking order according to FPI:

  1. Eagles
  2. Niners
  3. Cowboys
  4. Lions
  5. Saints
  6. Vikings
  7. Seahawks
  8. Falcons
  9. Buccaneers
  10. Packers
  11. Rams
  12. Commanders

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For those that don’t want to do the work, here’s the difference between each team’s current standing in the playoff chase and where FPI puts them in the NFC pecking order:

  • Philadelphia: same
  • San Francisco: plus-1 in FPI
  • Dallas: plus-3
  • Detroit: minus-2
  • New Orleans: minus-1
  • Minnesota: plus-1
  • Seattle: minus-2
  • Atlanta: plus-1
  • Tampa Bay: plus-1
  • Green Bay: plus-1
  • Los Angeles: plus-1
  • Washington: minus-4

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In his writeup, Brady Henderson points out that three of Seattle’s wins “have come against three of the NFL’s worst teams (Cardinals, Panthers, Giants).”

This is a fair point, but it’s not like Seattle gets to pick who they play (or when/where they play them) . . . and it’s not like the Seahawks are the only NFC team “padding” their record by beating bad teams.

Let’s look at the other teams in the playoff chase, shall we?

  • Philadelphia’s list of victories includes the Patriots (2-7), Buccaneers (3-5), and Rams (3-6), plus a pair of close wins over Washington (4-5) - and they end the season with a 3-pack of games against the Giants (Week 16 & 18) and Cardinals (Week 17).

  • Two of the Niners’ five wins came against the Giants (2-7) and Cardinals (1-8), and a third came against the Rams (3-6)

  • Half of Detroit’s wins came against the 1-7 Panthers, 3-5 Buccaneers, and 3-5 Packers (who they face again on Thanksgiving). The Lions still have two games against the 2-7 Bears (Weeks 11 & 14) and one against the 3-5 Broncos (Week 15).

  • Dallas has played the Giants (2-7), the Cardinals (1-8), and Patriots (2-7) . . . and they only won two of the three games (Ouch!). The Cowboys play the Giants and the Panthers the next two weeks, followed by a home game against Washington.

  • New Orleans is 5-4 with wins against the 3-5 Titans (by 1), the 1-7 Panthers (by 3), the 2-7 Bears (by 7), and the 2-7 Patriots (by a lot).

  • Minnesota got four of their five wins against teams that are under .500: the Panthers (1-7), Bears (2-7), Packers (3-5), and Falcons (4-5). Two of their next three games are against the Broncos (Week 11) and the Bears (Week 12).

  • Even the Commanders, who are currently below .500, have “padded” their record by beating bad teams, including the Cardinals (1-8), Patriots (2-7), and Broncos (3-5). And, after losing to the Seahawks this week, Washington will get to lick their wounds (at home) against the Giants.

Should any of these team apologize for their record?

Absolutely not!

Neither should the Seahawks.

The Seahawks should, however, figure out what ails them on third down (on both sides of the ball) and FIX IT.

Sweeping the Niners would also help.

Go Hawks!