Twelve down, four to go. Seventy-five percent of the NFL season is behind us and the Seattle Seahawks are making a push for their sixth straight playoff appearance. After defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 24-10 at Century Link last Sunday night, the Seahawks inched back into playoff contention with some assistance from the surging Minnesota Vikings, who knocked off the Atlanta Falcons 14-9. The Seahawks currently sit at the five seed and would play at New Orleans against the Saints in their first playoff game. Ideally, the ‘Hawks would like to play at home, even despite two losses in Seattle this year. What exactly are the odds that happens?
Football Outsiders, an advanced football statistics website, currently projects the Seahawks with a 45.1% chance of securing a wild card by season’s end and an additional 23.7% chance of winning the NFC West outfight, for a combined 68.8% chance of making the playoffs. Of all the NFC teams not currently in first place, the Seahawks odds of getting to the post season only trail the Carolina Panthers with a 69.5% shot.
The Los Angeles Rams, who the Seahawks are chasing for the division title, are 9-3, one game ahead of the 8-4 ‘Hawks, with a 76.3% chance of winning the division and an additional 28.4% chance of grabbing a wild card, placing their overall playoff odds at 98.5%. The key tiebreaker between the Seahawks and the Rams is, of course, the fact that the Seahawks own a victory over the Rams 16-10 in LA back in week five. The two meet again on December 17th in Seattle.
Who do the Rams Play?
The Rams last four games include the Eagles at home this week, the Seahawks on the road next week, at the Tennessee Titans on Christmas Eve, and they finish up with the San Francisco 49ers at home on New Year’s Eve. Three of those games are problematic – Eagles, Seahawks, and Titans – all currently slotted into playoff spots with a combined 26-10 record, or a .722 winning percentage. And, who knows, in four weeks Garoppolo and the 49ers might be not be a cupcake win after all.
It’s not inconceivable that the Rams lose at least one, if not two, of the three coming games. One loss going forward would put the Rams at 12-4. Two losses would put them at 11-5. Either 12-4 or 11-5 may very well include two losses to the Seahawks.
Who do the Seahawks Play?
Before the season started, most Seahawks fans probably had penciled in W’s for at the Jacksonville Jaguars and home for the Rams. It turns out, these will be pivotal games in the pursuit of the playoffs.
The Jags rank second in overall defensive efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. And if the 12’s have been encouraged by the development of the passing game in the absence of reliable run blockers, do note that the Jaguars rank 1st in defensive efficiency against the pass. Throw in west coast team travelling east, and Vegas has the Seahawks as anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5-point underdogs. A letdown this weekend would severely hamper any chances of capturing the division, but the ‘Hawks can lose one of their final four as long as the Rams lose two.
The re-match against the Rams at home on 12/17 speaks for itself. To quote the late Oakland Raiders owner, Al Davis, “just win, baby.” But, the Rams are tough on both sides of the ball, ranking 4th in defensive efficiency, 8th in offensive efficiency, and 1st overall. This season’s Rams highlight every week how terrible Jeff Fischer has been for about a decade. The homefield should give the Seahawks the advantage, but don’t be surprised if the Rams open as the favorites, depending on the outcomes Sunday.
Then the ‘Hawks travel to Big D to take on a Cowboy’s team that may or may not still be playing for something. Conventional wisdom has it that 10-6 is the worst record that can make the playoffs in the NFC. The Cowboys currently sit at 6-6 with games at the New York Giants and at the Oakland Raiders before hosting Seattle. Eli Manning may have something to prove post-benching and the Raiders are in the hunt for the AFC West. It seems likely the Cowboys are out of the hunt by this game and the Seahawks can steal a win on the road.
The season closes at home against the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals rank 6th defensively, but 25th on offense, and 23rd overall. Division games should never be taken lightly, but the last game of 2017 is about as winnable as they get.
Given the next four games for the Seahawks and the Rams, I’m going to tentatively take the “Hawks to go 3-1 and the Rams to go 2-2. One of the Rams losses is going to be in the Emerald City, leaving both teams at 11-5, with the tie breaker going to the Seattle Seahawks. Of course, all of that could change in Florida on Sunday.