After a week when just about everything went the way of the Seahawks, the NFL football gods turned against them just a bit while they were off Sunday.
Down 16-0 midway through the second quarter, the 49ers rallied for a 36-26 win over Arizona to keep their lead in the NFC West at 9-1 and keep the 8-2 Seahawks as the No. 5 seed in the playoffs if the season ended today. Had the 49ers lost, Seattle would have officially moved into first place in the NFC West due to currently holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.
But the season, of course, does not end today, and while Seattle remains in second place in the NFC West, the Seahawks also still control their destiny. If the Seahawks win out they’d be division champs, since doing so would mean a second win over San Francisco and getting the tiebreaker on the 49ers.
Running the table would also assure Seattle of at least the No. 2 seed since the Seahawks have the tiebreaker on the Packers due to a better record in conference.
Two other teams Seattle would have liked to have seen lose each won— the Saints, who are 8-2 and have a head-to-head tiebreaker on Seattle, and the Vikings, a team the Seahawks play in two weeks.
And like the 49ers, Minnesota emerged victorious in comeback fashion, overcoming a 20-point halftime deficit and then holding off a late Denver drive inside the 5 to improve to 8-3 (the first team since 2014 to trail by 20 at the half and win).
That keeps the Vikings as the No. 6 seed in the NFC race for now, and Minnesota has a bye next week before playing the Seahawks in Seattle on Dec. 2.
To recap, the current NFC postseason playoff seedings look like this after Sunday (the top four seeds go to the four division winners, with the last two spots going to the teams with the next two best records):
1, San Francisco, 9-1
2, Green Bay, 8-2 (Packers have the tiebreaker on the Saints at the moment due to a better conference record)
3, New Orleans 8-2
4, Dallas, 6-4
5, Seattle 8-2,
6, Minnesota, 8-3
If the season ended today, that would mean the Seahawks would head to Dallas in a wild-card playoff game, the same scenario as last season, and then would play at either the 49ers or Packers in the divisional round.
After the games of Sunday afternoon, only one other NFC team had fewer than five losses — the Rams, 6-4 after beating the Bears.
And that means that with six regular-season weekends remaining, the NFC playoff picture appears to realistically include just eight teams — the six seeds, the Rams, whose win Sunday night keeps them alive for a wild-card spot even if the division seems a reach, and the Eagles, who remain in contention for the NFC East title even if their wild-card hopes are increasingly distant.
And if it seems like the NFC is particularly top-heavy, you are right. According to NFL analyst Scott Kacsmar, there has never been more than three NFC teams with eight or more wins through week 11 since 2002 (when the conferences and divisions were realigned).
Carolina, right smack in the race the first half of the season, lost its second straight game at home to Atlanta and is now 5-5.
Also falling to 5-5 were the Eagles, who dropped a 17-10 decision at home to the Patriots and now host Seattle next Sunday in a game that’s even more of a must-win for Philly than it was before Sunday.
But if Seattle didn’t get the results out of the 49ers and Vikings that were favorable, the losses at home by both the Eagles and Panthers at least seemed to indicate that maybe the Seahawks’ remaining schedule isn’t going to be quite as daunting as it appeared a few weeks ago.
In fact, Seattle now appears to have a little bit of an edge over the 49ers in terms of its remaining schedule, and not just because the Seahawks have the ace in the hole of a home game against San Francisco to end the season Dec. 29.
After the games of Sunday afternoon, the won-loss record of Seattle’s remaining opponents is 36-25-1.
The 49ers, meanwhile, now head into what is the toughest remaining schedule of any team in the NFL with San Francisco’s remaining six opponents a combined 41-19, a slate that includes four teams that are currently 8-2 including the next three — Green Bay (next Sunday night), and then at Baltimore and at New Orleans — the other being Seattle.
Not that Seattle’s next three games are easy — at Philly, Minnesota and then at the Rams.
But if the Seahawks can take care of business, the opportunity they didn’t get Sunday to move into first in the NFC West may well present itself again.