Seattle fell 2.5 games behind Dallas in the battle for the top seed in the NFC playoffs Sunday. But the schedule the rest of the way is favorable for Seattle.
Last year proved that homefield advantage isn’t everything in the NFL playoffs.
For the first time ever, all four road teams won on the same weekend of the playoffs, that occurring during the wild card round, with the Seahawks contributing to that history by pulling out a victory at Minnesota.
But home field certainly means something, as the Seahawks’ own post-season history makes clear. That win at Minnesota was only the third road win in playoff history for Seattle, which is 3-10 all-time on the road in the post-season, 11-2 at home.
All three times Seattle has made the Super Bowl, it so did having won the No. 1 seed in the NFC, then winning a divisional and conference title game at home to advance.
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And with five games left in the regular season, trying to get the No. 1 seed becomes an even starker — and suddenly possibly harder-to-reach — goal.
Since the other three teams in the NFC West lost on Sunday — meaning Seattle still has a three-game lead on the rest of the division — the Seahawks’ statistical odds of both making the playoffs and winning the division improved despite the loss at Tampa Bay. According to the calculations of the website makeNFLplayoffs.com, Seattle’s odds of winning the division improved from 89.7 to 91.7 percent, and the odds of making the playoffs from 92.1 to 92.6 percent.
What the Seahawks are mostly playing for now is playoff positioning.
And that took a little of a hit with the loss Sunday.
Seattle is 7-3-1 and holding the second spot in the NFC Conference behind 10-1 Dallas, and just barely ahead of the other two division leaders — Detroit and Atlanta which each are 7-4.
Seattle is also behind the 8-3 Giants, but as a wild card team New York would be the fifth seed (the top four spots are reserved for the four division leaders. Washington at 6-4-1 would be sixth).
While catching Dallas and getting the No. 1 seed is the ultimate goal, maybe even more important is hanging on to the No. 2 seed and not falling to three or four, which means having to play an additional playoff game in the wild card round, and then going on the road in the divisional round.
What works hugely in Seattle’s favor is having the most advantageous schedule of any team remaining in the NFL, with no games remaining against a team that currently has a winning record, and only one against a team that has won more than four games.
What somewhat oddly also changes the dynamic this season is Seattle’s tie against Arizona, which will likely prevent any true deadlines in standing at the end of the year and will make it pretty clear where the Seahawks stand.
It also means, though, that Seattle likely needs three Dallas losses to overtake the Cowboys for the No. 1 seed (or two losses and a tie and then, well, we’ll worry about that later).
Here is a look at Seattle’s remaining schedule and how it stacks up with the other top four contenders in the NFC.
Remaining opponents: vs. Panthers (4-7), at Packers (5-6), vs. Rams (4-7), vs. Cardinals (4-6-1), vs. 49ers (1-10).
Combined won-loss record of remaining opponents: 18-36-1.
Schedule outlook: The Seahawks have by far the most favorable schedule left among not only the remaining NFC playoffs teams, but the entire league. And it’s yet another sign of how much a schedule can change from April to November. The final month appeared a potential killer when the schedule was announced with the three games against Carolina, Green Bay and the Cardinals in a span of four weeks. But three teams that all won 10 or more games last season (and were a combined 38-9) are all currently holding losing records and are a combined 13-19-1 leaving the door wide open for the Seahawks to run the table.
The big question: Can the Seahawks keep up their December magic? Seattle is 18-4 in the month of December since 2011.
Remaining opponents: at Vikings (6-5), at Giants (8-3), vs. Bucs (6-5), vs. Lions (7-4), at Eagles (5-6).
Combined won-loss record of remaining opponents: 32-23.
Schedule outlook: The Cowboys have the toughest remaining schedule of the top NFC teams. But splitting one of the next two would then mean Dallas could clinch the top seed by sweeping the last two home games.
The big question: Can Dak Prescott and the Cowboys really keep winning indefinitely? If you are looking for one stat to show that the Cowboys could indeed be vulnerable enough to lose at least three of their remaining games it’s Dallas’ yards allowed per play — 5.9 — which ranks 28th in the NFL.
Remaining opponents: at Saints (5-6), vs. Bears (2-9), at Giants (8-3), at Cowboys (10-1), vs. Packers (5-6).
Combined won-loss record of remaining opponents: 30-25.
Schedule outlook: Three of the next four, and two straight against the Giants and Cowboys, make this a schedule maybe as tough as Dallas’ considering the Cowboys get the Lions at home.
The big question: Can the Lions keep up their late-game magic? Detroit has trailed in the fourth quarter of all seven of its wins this season, already tying an NFL record set previously by the 2009 Colts.
Remaining opponents: vs. Chiefs (8-3), at Rams (4-7), vs. 49ers (1-10), at Panthers (4-7), vs. Saints (5-6).
Combined won-loss record of remaining opponents: 21-33.
Schedule outlook: If the Falcons can get past the Chiefs Sunday then they will become a legit contender for the No. 2 seed.
The big question: Can the Falcons overcome their defense? Former Seahawks defensive coordinator oddly has a team that is an offensive powerhouse that ranks 29th in points allowed per game, at 27.5. But three of last five at home means maybe the Falcons can keep it up.
NEW YORK GIANTS (8-3)
Remaining opponents: at Steelers (6-5), vs. Cowboys (10-1), vs. Lions (7-4), at Eagles (5-6), at Washington (6-4-1).
Combined won-loss record of remaining opponents: 34-20-1
Schedule outlook: With that schedule, 8-3 could turn into 9-7 quickly.
The big question: Will the Giants come back to earth? Having the 21st-ranked offense and 16th-ranked defense and a tough schedule indicates the balloon could pop at any moment.