The knee-jerk reaction as a Seahawks fan to Monday night’s Rams-Tampa Bay game may be to root for Tom Brady and the Bucs.
And it’s true, if the Bucs win then the Seahawks retake sole possession of first place in the NFC West at 7-3, a week after they were technically in third.
But while the West still needs to be won, the real prize this year is the No. 1 seed in the conference.
With the new format allowing seven teams in each conference to make the playoffs, only the top seed gets a bye and a route to the Super Bowl that would require winning just two home playoff games.
With that in mind, figuring out which teams to root for — especially when two conference contenders are playing each other — can be tricky.
Here’s the simplest way to think of the big picture at this point: if Seattle wins out, it is assured of being the No. 2 seed. After getting some help Sunday from the Colts, who beat the Packers to knock them behind Seattle at 7-3, the Seahawks would need the 8-2 Saints to lose at least once, and to an NFC team, to get the top spot.
As noted, Seattle’s immediate rewards are easier to determine with a Rams win or loss Monday.
If the Rams lose to fall to 6-4, the Seahawks will be first in the NFC West and hold the second seed in the NFC behind only the (thanks Taysom Hill) Saints.
If the Rams win to go to 7-3, Los Angeles will still be first in the NFC West with the Seahawks sitting in the fifth seed in the NFC. But Seattle hosts the Rams on Dec. 27 and winning out would assure the Seahawks finish ahead of Los Angeles, so a Rams win over the Bucs — giving 7-3 Tampa Bay a fourth loss — would also help Seattle.
What we know for sure is that Seattle’s playoff positioning is much better after Thursday’s win over the Cardinals.
Per Five Thirty Eight, Seattle has a 95% chance to make the playoffs and 53% chance to win the division, up from 87% and 38%, respectively, before Thursday night.
And the Seahawks now enter the favorable part of their schedule with their remaining six opponents having a current won-loss record of 19-39-1. Of the six teams left, only the Rams have a winning record.
Next Monday’s game against the Eagles looms particularly large in terms of potential NFC tiebreaking procedures.
The conference tiebreaker begins with head-to-head, which, since Seattle doesn’t play New Orleans (8-2), Tampa Bay (7-3) or Green Bay (7-3), may not be a factor.
Next is conference record. Seattle is in decent shape there at 5-2 and with all but one game left coming against conference foes and very winnable. The Saints, however, are currently 7-1 against the conference.
Next is common games. The Seahawks are undefeated against the common opponents they share with the Packers and Saints (Falcons, Vikings, 49ers) with all three now oddly playing Philadelphia over the next three weeks. The situation is trickier with the Bucs, with the Rams game looming large there. But Seattle is in good shape when it comes to the Packers since Green Bay has a loss to Minnesota.
If the Seahawks beat the Eagles, they will be assured of winning the common-games tiebreaker with the Packers, and assured that they can’t finish worse than the Saints (they would be 5-0 against the opponents they share with the Saints).
So yes, this is the time of year when every game can hold even more meaning than might appear on the surface.
That makes it a good time to review Seattle’s remaining schedule, as well as that of the rest of the contenders in the NFC West and the NFC.
First, here is the rest of the Seahawks’ schedule:
Nov. 30, at Eagles: Philly is now 3-6-1 after a rain-soaked, offensive desultory loss to Cleveland on Sunday. The Eagles amazingly are still in the lead in the NFC East. But with once-wunderkind QB Carson Wentz struggling so much many in town want to try Jalen Hurts instead, Seattle could hardly pick a better time for another trip to Philly, where the Seahawks won two games last year.
Dec. 6, vs. Giants: The 3-7 Giants had a bye this week. They’ve won two in a row and three of five, though, and with Seattle coming off a short week, this one looms as maybe a little more dangerous than it appears on paper.
Dec. 13, vs. Jets: The 0-10 Jets are playing out the string, and one of the few interesting things about this one may be watching Jamal Adams and Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who infamously said Adams might be bored in Seattle) interact.
Dec. 20, at Washington: The Football Team is showing a few signs of life, as well, now sitting at 3-7 after its second win in four weeks against the Bengals. And, well, you never really know for sure what will happen on the road in the NFL.
Dec. 27, vs. Rams: Here is the only game left on the schedule against a team that currently has a winning record. But it’s one of four that the Rams have left, including the Tampa Bay game, three of which are on the road.
Jan. 3, at 49ers: The defending NFC champs are in a state of disarray as the season nears the stretch run, and it’s hard to know how competitive they’ll be by this point. Jimmy Garoppolo could be back by then, though who knows if that makes Seattle’s task easier or harder given what we saw in the first meeting. Division road games are always tricky, too, and Seattle figures to be the team with a lot on the line and the pressure to produce.
Now a look at the two other NFC West contenders.
Arizona: at New England, vs. Rams, at Giants, vs. Philadelphia, vs. San Francisco, at Rams. Just two games left against teams with winning records, both against the Rams, games that will help the Seahawks one way or the other.
Rams: at Tampa Bay, vs. San Francisco, at Arizona, vs. New England, vs. Jets, at Seattle, vs. Arizona. Four games left against teams with winning records, three on the road, give the Rams the toughest schedule remaining of the three contenders for the NFC West.
And if you’re wondering about the schedules of the three other most logical contenders:
Green Bay: vs. Chicago, vs. Philadelphia, at Detroit, vs. Carolina, vs. Tennessee, at Chicago. As noted, the game against the Eagles could be a big one if the Seahawks and Packers tie and it comes down to the common-games tiebreaker.
New Orleans: at Denver, at Atlanta, at Philadelphia, vs. Kansas City, vs. Minnesota, at Carolina. The Saints, as you can see, still have three games left against common opponents with Seattle, so that tiebreaker is really up for grabs.
Tampa Bay: vs. Kansas City, bye, vs. Minnesota, at Atlanta, at Detroit, Atlanta. The Bucs also have three games left against teams Seattle has also played, all of which could prove pivotal if the common-games tiebreaker comes into play,