The Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks are both 9-4 and in the thick of the NFC playoff race. LA currently holds the tiebreaker over Seattle, and therefore the lead in the NFC West. Whichever team wins the division is guaranteed a playoff spot as well as the right to host at least one playoff game, while the other will be at the mercy of the other teams in the hunt for the three wild card slots. While it’s not likely a team at 9-4 with three games remaining misses the playoffs, the possibility does exist and cannot be ruled out. Here’s the deal – both teams control their own playoff destiny, but we’ll get into that in a minute.
This week, Seattle travels to their final game in the early time slot on the east coast, of the regular season anyway. They will be facing the NFC East leading Washington Football Team, who appear to be much better than their 6-7 record have turned into one of the more talented teams since turning to Alex Smith at QB. Smith injured his calf and exited the game last week, so it remains to be seen if he will be starting this Sunday. If he can’t go, this whole team goes down a notch, if he does take the field however, this team absolutely cannot be overlooked. Seattle most likely needs to win out the rest of the way to take the division, they can’t count on other teams to do the work for them, so they shouldn’t be overlooking any team the rest of the way no matter who is or isn’t on the field. In a nutshell, they can’t have any more trap games like they did against the Giants when they were upset after overlooking a team with a losing record fielding a backup QB.
Upsets can happen every single game. Washington was the first team this season to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers, beating them on the road in a very strange Monday afternoon game broadcast to an audience that most of us weren’t a part of. To be fair, the Steelers have not looked like the mid season balanced juggernaut they once were in recent weeks, but a win is a win. Washington followed that up with a road win in San Francisco, and now play host to Seattle.
Russell Wilson has not faced a healthy Alex Smith in a conference game since week seven of the 2012 season, Wilson’s rookie year as well as Smith’s final season in San Francisco before moving on to Kansas City. Wilson lost to Smith in their only meeting that year, and although Wilson got his revenge against the 49ers in week 16, yet Seattle ended up losing the division by half a game. So we have in essence a rematch eight years in the making, and both QBs at the opposite end of the spectrum from when we last saw them. Wilson is now established as one of the best QBs in the game and in the thick of his prime, while Smith is trying to hold off retirement for another year or so and perhaps go on another playoff run while earning the respect of fans and players everywhere with his very unexpected comeback campaign. For those not aware, Smith suffered a near life threatening leg injury two years ago, and if you’re interested in more details, I’ll just direct you here (be warned, graphic images await).
The Washington defense is legit, which will be another good chance for Seattle to prove how good they are as they prepare to go on a playoff run. While their end of season schedule was originally thought to be one of the easier finishes compared to other teams in the conference, it may actually end up being one of the tougher ways to go out. After losing 17-12 to the New York Giants at home two weeks ago, Seattle hosted the Jets and made a mockery of the other New Jersey football club in a 40-3 rout. This week they have the Football Team, and a chance to either pick up a game, or at least keep pace with the Rams. Washington is currently one of the best defenses in the league, and their offense is consistent enough to score with the teams they are holding back. Smith’s athleticism isn’t what it used to be, but he still has a strong accurate arm and doesn’t make many mistakes. It might be boring, but it gets the job done.
Next week, Seattle hosts the Rams for what could be the game that locks up the division. If both teams win this week, the only way the division would be settled is if the Rams win as they would then have a 1.5 game lead with only a game remaining and therefore would win the division with a game to spare. They could rest their starters in week 17 if they wish, although they should only do that if the top seed is already decided or out of reach. If Seattle loses this week it would take a bit of help to get the division lead, but not impossible. If LA somehow loses this week, Seattle would have a half game lead in the division and if they were to beat LA, that would cement the division for them and they could also take week 17 off, assuming homefield isn’t up for grabs any longer.
If there is a chance to earn homefield advantage, although that hasn’t meant much this season, any team within reach should fight for it. Even if you can’t have fans in the stands, the ability to practice and sleep at home is ideal and worth the effort. If Seattle wins this week and next week, they would still need to either win the following week or hope for the Rams to slip against Arizona for the division to be theirs. The concept is simple – if Seattle wins the rest of their games, the division is theirs, and they are only a game behind the leaders for the conference’s top seed, so all hope isn’t lost there either. They only need the Packers and Saints to lose a game each and then it would fall to conference record which we won’t know which team has the edge there until the time comes with a lot of conference games remaining.
In week 17, San Francisco hosts Seattle and it will be the only day of the season that all 16 games are on the same day, and will also be the first games to be played in the new calendar year. While Seattle is visiting the 49ers, the Rams will be hosting the Cardinals and for all we know neither game will have any playoff implications, although both could be very important. If Seattle and LA both enter their game next week with identical records and Seattle wins, if the Rams were to defeat Arizona and Seattle loses to the 49ers, there is a chance Seattle would lose the division depending on how the tiebreakers shake out as their head to head and overall records would be identical. The league would then look at both teams and their division records where they would both be identical again. It would then fall to conference record, which if my math is right would land LA the division crown by their one game lead.
So even though it looked like a lot of filler to end the season, it does actually all matter somehow. Every play, every week, for the next three weeks. The Seahawks cannot let off the gas, even if the Rams somehow drop one and Seattle doesn’t, they need to treat each week like it’s a playoff game. For many teams, the playoffs don’t start until the second weekend of January, but for Seattle, the playoffs start this Sunday, and if things go well, they won’t end until the first weekend in February.
If Seattle wants to play in the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay on February 7th 2021, they need to treat each of their next 5-6 games as their own personal Super Bowl. Each game very well could be win or go home, the final 2-3 absolutely will be so they need to treat the next three the same way. 9-4 is a great record to enter week 15 with, but 12-4 would be the ideal record to end week 17. After that, everyone has the same record, and what really matters is where the games are played. We know the Super Bowl will be in Tampa Bay, what we don’t know is who will host most of the games played in the meantime.
If Seattle wants to host games during the first 2-3 rounds of the playoffs, they will need to play with the same intensity and focus we expect to see from them in the postseason, but they need to start now. They can’t wait to get to the playoffs to play like it’s the playoffs, that time starts now.
It starts with one game. If they win that game, then they get another. Win that one, and maybe things start getting interesting around here.