It's 2:16 AM. I've bought exactly one Christmas present, and that was a for White Elephant exchange. And the Seattle Seahawks are 12-3.
It's the final week of The Watch.
Well, the hope was to bring you this final edition of The Watch with the news that the Seahawks had wrapped up the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs, and we could all sit back and watch the final week of the season without having to stress about any of the outcomes. Sadly, that is not the case. Because of their loss to the Cardinals, along with the 49ers beating the Falcons last night, a playoff spot of indeterminate position is still all that the Seahawks have in their possession right now. Destiny is still theirs to control, but they've been in control of that destiny for what feels like a month, and they have yet to reel it in. There's one more chance (well, two, if you want to count the 49ers-Cardinals tilt as a separate opportunity), and you have to figure that the team is not going to take anything for granted - especially against a Rams team that took them to the brink the last time they faced each other.
Elsewhere in the conference, the Detroit Lions have officially completed their fall from grace, as a cruel twist of scheduling has effectively eliminated them from a chance at the postseason. The Panthers, on the other hand, have completed their rise from the ashes, and wrestled control of the NFC South away from the Saints. The Eagles put a beatdown on the Bears, but the Cowboys have managed to stay in striking distance and can snatch the NFC East title away with a win against Philly in the finale.
Here's how everyone looks with one week left in the season:
(Division tiebreakers take precedence, and are handled in this order: head-to-head, division record, common opponents, conference record, strength of victory, strength of schedule. After that, remaining ties are broken in the following order: head-to-head, conference record, common opponents, strength of victory, strength of schedule.)
As for the tiebreakers and eliminations, here's how they play out:
1. The Saints get the #6 ranking over the Cardinals because of their head-to-head win in Week 3.
2. The fact that the Bears and Packers play each other in the final game of the season makes it impossible for Detroit to win the division, hence they are out of the playoff race. Even if the Lions win their last game, winner of the Bears-Packers game would have a record no worse than 8-7-1, beating out the Lions at 8-8.
3. The Falcons and Buccaneers are tied once again at 4-11. Once again, they split the season series between them, and are dead even in division record (1-4), common opponents (NFC-S, AFC-E, NFC-W, both at 2-9) and conference record (also 2-9). Tampa Bay finally triumphs in strength of victory, with wins over Buffalo and Miami (14-16) vs. Atlanta's wins over Buffalo and St. Louis (13-17).
WHAT IS DESTINY?
There are nine teams left in the hunt for a playoff spot. Granted, three such teams are guaranteed to be there, but at the moment nobody's clinched anything along the lines of a divisional championship, much less a first-round bye or homefield advantage. That means there's still a lot to be decided, but the strange part is, for many of the teams, they still have a fair amount of control in their quest to qualify for as good of a playoff seed as they can muster. To that end, let's review the nine teams still in contention, and what type of destiny they can control.
SEAHAWKS (12-3): Seattle has been in the driver's seat for homefield advantage since Week 13, and that really hasn't changed, bumps in the road notwithstanding. A win, or a loss by the 49ers, gives them the #1 seed in the playoffs, and the first-round bye and homefield advantage. A loss and a 49ers win, however, sends them all the way down to the #5 seed.
PANTHERS (11-4): Having seized control of their division, the Panthers control their destiny for the other first-round bye in the conference. If the Seahawks lock the #1 seed down, they can take the #2 seed with either a win or a Saints loss. Plus, if the Seahawks drop out of the top spot, the Panthers are in the front of the line to take it away if they can win their final game against Atlanta. If the Panthers lose the division title, they own tiebreakers against San Francisco and Arizona. Thus, they could easily claim the #5 seed over the Niners and Cards, but would drop to #6 if Seattle ends up a Wild Card, since they'd have 11 wins to Seattle's 12.
49ERS (11-4): San Francisco has clinched everything they can clinch without outside interference. Well, that's not true; a win against the Cardinals would guarantee no worse than the first Wild Card. But if the 49ers want to win the division and get a first-round bye, they'll need to win and the Seahawks need to lose. If they want homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, they'll have to win and both Seattle and Carolina will have to lose.
SAINTS (10-5): New Orleans is the first team on this list that does not already have a place reserved in the postseason. Fortunately, a win or a loss from the Cardinals is all it will take to clinch that. If they can combine a win with a loss from the Panthers, they'll snatch the NFC South right back from Carolina and pick up a bye in the process. What they don't want to have happen is a loss, plus a Cardinals win. If that happens, they're out of the picture.
EAGLES (9-6) vs. COWBOYS (8-7): Their Sunday night game constitutes a win-or-go-home scenario for both teams. Philadelphia would lock up the #3 seed if they were to win, while a Cowboys win gives them the division title and the #3 seed if the Packers advance or #4 if the Bears do.
BEARS (8-7) vs. PACKERS (7-7-1): If the Packers win, they'll have blundered their way into the NFC North championship, and would get the #4 seed no matter what. If the Bears win, they're in, and get a #3 seed against the Cowboys or the #4 seed against the Eagles.
CARDINALS (10-5): Of all the teams on this list, Arizona is the only one that's going to need outside help in order to get in the playoffs, and that comes in the form of a Cardinals win and a Saints loss. That would give Arizona the #6 seed over New Orleans (the 49ers would still get the #5 seed due to a better division record).
I don't want to alarm anyone here, but there is a chance that the Redskins may end up handing the #1 pick in next year's draft to one of our division rivals. And all it would take is a win by the Texans to do it.
Houston, whose schedule included last year's divisional champions in Baltimore and New England, not to mention the entirety of the NFC West, currently has a strength of schedule that's a good three and a half percent stronger than the Redskins, who's been contending with the thoroughly mediocre NFC North. That means if the Texans win and the Redskins lose (which is all but a foregone conclusion at this point), both teams would tie at 3-13, and Washington would be ranked first on account of the weaker schedule. That pick would be owned by the Rams, who traded away their #2 selection two years ago to the Redskins so they could draft Robert Griffin III. I swear, if I invent time travel, the second thing I'm going to do is kidnap Daniel Snyder and prevent him from making this deal.
(The first thing I'm going to do is travel back to February 5, 2006, and tie Ike Taylor's shoelaces together.)
As for the rest of the draft board, here's how it looks:
(Strength of schedule is found by totalling the win-loss records of all 13 opponents on a team's schedule, with double weight given to division rivals. Ties are calculated as half a win for SOS purposes. Division record breaks any remaining ties, followed by a coinflip. Teams that reach the playoffs are eventually ranked in order of their finish, and will pick no higher than 21st.)
WHO TO ROOT FOR
Seeing as it's the last week of the season, it should be pretty obvious what our rooting interests are. What complicates things is that many of the games that we'll be interested in will be played at the same time as our finale against the Rams. Of course, if the Seahawks take care of business then most of this will be academic. We can't take anything for granted, though, and judging by the draft order we're just as interested in what's happening at the bottom of the standings as we are at the top. Hoping for the best but planning for the worst, here's how we want the last week of the season to play out:
Sunday morning: Panthers (11-4) @ Falcons (4-11)
I stand by my statement that New Orleans is a much less threatening team than Carolina at this point. To that end, I would much rather see the Panthers have to fight their way through two road games before visiting us at the CLink, as opposed to the Saints who've proven to be sketchy on the road regardless of where that venue is. Go Falcons.
Sunday morning: Texans (2-13) @ Titans (6-9)
I'm really sorry, Houston. I'm sorry that this season wound up being such a disaster for you, and that a promising 2-0 start was followed by a nosedive the likes of which we haven't seen since the Panthers won their season opener and then lost the next 15 straight. I'm sorry that Matt Schaub went from an average QB to nearly lending his name to the new term for a pick six, and that Case Keenum has not been the answer for you. But I'm not sorry enough to root for a pity win that could potentially send Jadeveon Clowney to the Rams. Go Titans.
Sunday morning: Redskins (3-12) @ Giants (6-9)
Go Team that made quite possibly the single worst trade in professional sports history. I'd mention them by name, but that would give them respect that they clearly don't deserve. I mean, seriously - even least the Red Sox got a modicum of value out of Babe.
Sunday afternoon: Packers (7-7-1) @ Bears (8-7)
Go Bears, because I continue to believe they're less threatening than the Packers in the postseason. Better yet, Go Tie, because the Bears would still get in at 8-7-1, plus it would give Green Bay a hilarious 7-7-2 record to finish out the season.
Sunday afternoon: Buccaneers (4-11) @ Saints (10-5)
As explained with the Panthers game above, I would much rather see New Orleans win this division over Carolina. Go Saints.
Sunday afternoon: 49ers (11-4) @ Cardinals (10-5)
Even if you might be thinking that the Cardinals are a threat that should be extinguished before they have a chance to reach the playoffs, they're not the team that could swipe the division away from the Seahawks if they win. The 49ers are, and for that reason they must lose. Go Cardinals.
And with that, this season of The Watch has drawn to a close. Again, it's not the closure we were hoping for this year with one week to go, but come next Monday everything will be pretty much determined so there isn't much need for a column like this.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Danny Kelly and the rest of the Field Gulls staff for the tremendous job they do in maintaining this forum for our favorite team. The Watch began back in 2011 as a way to track the Seahawks' potential draft position when it looked early on as though Sucking for Luck might have been an option, and the amount of support I've gotten in writing this article as it slowly morphed into an all-encompassing snapshot of our status in the playoff and draft hunts has been extremely gracious. I'm glad I've been able to contribute to this site in a constructive manner.
I also thank everyone who's followed The Watch on a weekly basis, and have provided some lively debates on which teams we should be rooting for. (Not to mention catching the one typo I seem to make every single week - that was almost like an Easter egg unto itself.) Rest assured, The Watch will be back next year, and hopefully we'll be tracking another year of milestones and accomplishments. And of course, I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday. Here's hoping there will be plenty more to cheer about in the new year.
Me and a friend at the Seahawks-Jaguars game back in Week 3.