In their second MNF thriller this year, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Minnesota Vikings 37-30, generating loud cheers, wide smiles, and spectacular consequences for the rest of the NFC.
With this win, the Seahawks’ record climbs to 10-2 on this spectacular season. Additionally, when combined with the San Francisco 49ers taking their second loss on Sunday (now also 10-2) to the Baltimore Ravens, the lead of the NFC West transfers to the Hawks, who possess a critical tie-breaking win.
Looking ahead to Sunday, the Seahawks will travel south to face the Los Angeles Rams, who at 7-5 are desperate for a keep-any-wildcard-hopes-alive win. Earlier in the day, the 49ers will fly cross-country to play the current NFC #1 seed New Orleans Saints (also 10-2) in what is an almost-assured playoff preview matchup.
For both the Seahawks and the 49ers, this week’s matchups are the toughest of their remaining games until week 17 when they face each other in Seattle. After the Rams, the Seahawks will play the recently decapitated (head coach Ron Rivera was fired) Carolina Panthers in week 15 and the Arizona Cardinals in week 16. During that same stretch, the 49ers will play the Atlanta Falcons and the Rams.
The question becomes whether either team will lose a game before that final week 17 showdown.
For example, if the 49ers were to drop their upcoming game against the Saints—which I personally believe they will—the Hawks would enjoy a small, but significant separation from their closest rival. Conversely, if the Hawks were to break their five-game winning streak, the 49ers would immediately reclaim a divisional lead in the ultra-competitive NFC West.
As I said here and have said before, I think the 49ers are going to fall this weekend to the Saints, furthering a cascade of doubts about their ability to truly succeed in the playoffs. They did enough early in the year to guarantee a seat at the postseason table, but a week 4 BYE and a tough slate of late-season opponents may have left them too tired and/or injured to enjoy more than a bite or two of their playoff cake for dessert.
On the contrary, I believe the Seahawks are going to defeat the Rams, smoke the Panthers, and trounce the Cardinals. If so, and if the 49ers take at least one loss on their way to week 17, the teams will enter their final regular-season game with nothing to gain. The playoff brackets will be set and both teams will likely rest key starters to avoid injuries.
I could be wrong, of course, and both teams could go win-for-win until their fateful showdown on December 29th, making that the single most important game of the season for the entire NFC. If that’s the way it goes, and the whole postseason hinges on that one game’s outcome, I’m still picking Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to get the win, obviously.