Lost in all the commotion over the Seahawks’ quarterback situation these past few days was the oddity that came out of this past weekend for Seattle.
The Seahawks, despite losing their sixth game in eight weeks – all by 15 points or more, mind you – have a clearer path to the playoffs following their eighth loss of the season than they did heading into the weekend. Because the NFC West went oh-for-Sunday, the playoff picture became a little bit more clear, and there are a few different ways in which the Seahawks, yes, the 6-8 Seahawks, can still make the playoffs.
The fact that the Seahawks still have realistic playoff aspirations is in all likelihood the biggest reason you will see Matt Hasselbeck back under center this week and not Charlie Whitehurst.
“We’re at the precipice of accomplishing something we wanted to accomplish when we started this season and I want to make sure that we keep that in focus,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday. “I’m not worried about down the road right now. Right now we’re just trying to get this week put together so when we take off and get out of here, we’re ready to go win a football game.”
Ah yes, win another football game. That’s something the Seahawks haven’t done a lot of since October, and while they have managed to stay in at least a tie for first place despite their two-month tailspin, the Seahawks will have to win at least one more football game to be playoff bound.
Depending on how things shake out over the next two weekends, Seattle may only need one win. Be it Seattle, St. Louis or San Francisco, this division may very well crown a 7-9 champion, which would be a first since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Only twice since then—San Diego in 2008 and Cleveland in 1985—has an 8-8 team made the playoffs, which is the best-case scenario this year for the division the rest of the country is calling the NFC Worst.
But while no team is going to turn down a playoff appearance just because it was earned with a mediocre record, the Seahawks are aware that they’re lucky to still be in the hunt despite their poor play of late.
“Looking at our situation and where we are, it’s somewhat fortunate,” Carroll said. “It’s fortunate that we’re in the race that we’re in, fortunate that we have a chance to battle for our division title, and that’s what we’re going after. That means all of our focus needs to go directly to this week and to Tampa. … We’ve set out from the beginning to try and get all of our focus on winning the division and that’s what is still at hand, and we’re going to go for it.”
Carroll harps on the importance of Tampa Bay this weekend, but in yet another strange twist of the NFC West, the Seahawks’ game at Tampa may not mean a thing by the time it kicks off.
Before the Seahawks and Buccaneers kick off at 1 p.m. PST, San Francisco is playing an early game at St. Louis. If the Rams win that game, that would be loss No. 10 for the 49ers, eliminating them from playoff contention since Seattle and St. Louis already both have six wins and play each other in the season finale.
Since Seattle has the better conference record (the first tiebreaker after head to head, which in the case of a Seattle win over the Rams would not break a tie since the teams would be 1-1 against each other), a game between a 6-9 Seattle and a 7-8 St. Louis or a matchup of 7-8 teams would still be for the division crown.
Still, don’t expect Seattle to coast through the Tampa Bay game even if it is meaningless from a playoff perspective; playing well and beating a good team would be worth more to the Seahawks than would resting some starters.
So what happens if San Francisco beats the Rams Sunday? Then we’re back to a three-team race. Since San Francisco would be assured the best conference record with that win (again, the season series is even between Seattle and San Francisco, so we go to the next tie breaker), Seattle would have to finish ahead of the 49ers in the standings.
That means Seattle would either need to beat Tampa Bay and St. Louis, or get some help from Arizona, which plays at San Francisco on Jan. 2.