Unlike last season, when the Seahawks were 9-1 at this point and pretty much assured of a playoff spot, they are fighting for their playoff lives as they enter a brutal six-week stretch to finish the season.
Some think the Hawks are in must-win mode the rest of the way, starting vs. Arizona, but the fact is they need just five wins in the final six games to make the playoffs. And they could make it with a 4-2 finish if other teams scuffle toward the end.
The Seahawks have a steep upward climb to catch Arizona for the NFC West title, trailing by three games and facing the toughest remaining slate in the NFL: Arizona (9-1), at San Francisco (6-4), at Philadelphia (7-3), vs. San Fran, at Arizona, vs. St. Louis (4-6).
Just to make the playoffs, the Hawks almost certainly will have to sweep either Arizona and/or San Francisco, plus win the finale at home vs. the Rams. Basically, they need to go at least 4-1 in their division games and perhaps win in Philly.
The Hawks could win the division with five wins if the Cardinals dropped four of the final six. It’s possible, as the Cardinals face Seattle twice, host Kansas City and have road games vs. Atlanta, St. Louis and San Francisco.
The Hawks could even claim the No. 1 seed if Arizona went on an end-of-season skid, Green Bay lost a couple of games and Philadelphia edged Dallas for the NFC East after losing to the Hawks.
OK, so maybe that scenario is a pipe dream, but the fact is the Hawks’ season will be determined in the next six games — and all kinds of things could happen.
“I think there’s so much at stake coming up here in the next month and a half that everything’s still out there and everybody’s got to win,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Every game will be so crucial and everybody has a chance to do it. Everybody is feeling like that. The Rams feel it, too, and the Niners — we’re all feeling the same thing. There’s a lot out there.”
Many want to lament that the Hawks are 6-4 rather than 9-1. But the Hawks have not gotten the same bounces — in turnovers, injuries, penalty calls — and have lost four close games rather than winning them.
Last year, the Hawks were 5-3 in close games and 8-0 in blowouts. This year, they are 4-4 in close games and 2-0 in blowouts. They are unlikely to blow out anyone (or be blown out) in the remaining six games, but that doesn’t mean the Hawks can’t put together a run to the Super Bowl.
“I think we have that same resilience, that same championship mindset,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “To think about last year and some of the games we won, even though we were 9-1, we had to come back from behind against Houston and we had to do some miraculous things. And that’s what it calls to now, this week and the weeks to come — just playing big-time, championship football and having that championship mindset like we always say.
“The story isn’t told yet,” Wilson added. “We’re going to have to write our own story, and we will see what happens.”
Here’s a look at how the story unfolds for the NFC contenders in the final six weeks (with some help from ESPN.com’s Playoff Machine):
Schedule: at SEA, at ATL, KC, at STL, SEA, at SF
The story: The Cardinals have a tough road, too, as their slate is the fifth-toughest at .550. Five of the six teams are playoff contenders, and the Rams are playing like one, with wins over Seattle, San Francisco and Denver in the past month. The Hawks can catch Arizona if they sweep and the Cardinals lose a couple other games. All quite possible with that tough schedule.
SAN FRANCISCO (6-4)
Schedule: WASH, SEA, at OAK, at SEA, SD, ARI
The story: The 49ers have two games they should win and four against contenders that could go either way. They have an easier road than Seattle, especially with the last two games at home and the last five all on the West Coast. If they are 9-5 heading into the final two games, they have a decent shot — albeit against two tough playoff contenders. The Hawks need to sweep the 49ers if they want to avoid any messy tiebreaker situations with them.
Schedule: TEN, at DAL, SEA, DAL, at WASH, at NYG
The story: The Eagles have a very similar schedule to the Hawks, with the Seattle game sandwiched between their big NFC East battles with Dallas (Seattle plays the 49ers on either side of the Eagles). Both teams play at their division rivals on a short week on Thanksgiving and get a 10-day break before facing each other Dec. 7 and then having home games against their division foes. The SEA-PHI game looms large in the wild-card race and seeding, and it is quite possible they could meet again in a 3-6 seed matchup in the first round.
Schedule: at NYG, PHI, at CHI, at PHI, IND, at WASH
The story: The Cowboys have a tough finish, with four road games and the stale end of the sandwich series with the Eagles as they go to Chicago and Philly in back-to-back weeks. Seattle loses any head-to-head tiebreaker with Dallas, but the Hawks would do well in multiple ties.
GREEN BAY (7-3)
Schedule: at MIN, NE, ATL, at BUF, at TB, DET
The story: The Packers seem to have a pretty easy path to the NFC North title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. If the Hawks get hot, they could challenge for the No. 1 seed. Seattle beat Green Bay in the season opener and would fare well in many 11-5 ties; e.g., the Hawks would get the No. 1 seed if they tied at 11-5 with Detroit, Green Bay, Philadelphia and Arizona.
Schedule: at NE, CHI, TB, MIN, at CHI, at GB
The story: Outside of road games against New England and Green Bay, the Lions seem to have a pretty easy schedule — three straight home games and four in a row against struggling teams. But it would help the Hawks a lot if the Lions split their final six and finished 10-6. If the Hawks sweep the 49ers, Seattle would be the top 10-6 team in any kind of multiple tie with the 49ers, Lions and Dallas or Philly.
Now let’s take a look at what needs to happen for the Hawks to achieve each seed (with Football Outsiders odds included):
No. 1 SEED
Ways to get it: If the Hawks win out and the Packers, Cowboys and Lions each lose at least once, Seattle would win a multiple tie. The Hawks can get it at 11-5 if the Pack and Lions go 4-2, the Hawks beat Philly, which wins the NFC East at 11-5, and Arizona goes 2-4 to finish the season.
Football Outsider odds: 1.3%
FO favorite: Cardinals 58.2%
No. 2 SEED
Ways to get it: If the Hawks win five games to finish 11-5, they have a shot at the No. 2 seed. This assumes that only one of the 7-3 teams (Green Bay, Detroit, Philadelphia and Dallas) gets to 12 wins. The Hawks could win the NFC West at 11-5 (the only loss being at San Francisco), with the Cardinals and 49ers both making it as wild cards at 11-5 as well.
Football Outsider odds: 3.2%
FO favorite: Packers 24.7%
No. 3 SEED
Ways to get it: If the Hawks win five more games and the Packers and NFC East winner each finish with 12, the Hawks would be the No. 3 seed. They also could get it at 10-6 if they sweep Arizona and finish in a three-way tie with the Cardinals and 49ers. All three NFC West teams could make it at 10-6 in that scenario.
Football Outsider odds: 6.8%
FO favorite: Eagles 35%
No. 4 SEED
Ways to get it: The fourth seed almost surely will go to the NFC South winner, which could be an 8-8 team. What a flip it would be to see Seattle at New Orleans, eh? Shades of 2010.
Football Outsider odds: 0.1%
FO favorite: Saints 58.5%
No. 5 SEED
Ways to get it: The Hawks’ best chance is probably going to be as a wild-card team, and there are plenty of ways they can do it. If they have 11 wins, they could be the second or third seed if Arizona ends up 11-5, but they also could end up fifth if Arizona wins the NFC West. That would put the Hawks at Atlanta or New Orleans for the wild-card round.
Of course, 10 wins is more realistic — and also requires more help. If they sweep the 49ers and finish 10-6, they would make it if Detroit and Philly or Dallas also finished 10-6.
Here’s a bizarre scenario: If Dallas, Detroit and all of the NFC West teams finished 9-7, with Green Bay, Philly and New Orleans taking the top three seeds, the Seahawks could play at St. Louis in the wild-card round.
Football Outsider odds: 15.8%
FO favorite: 49ers 23.5%
No. 6 SEED
Ways to get it: If Seattle sweeps the 49ers and finishes tied with Detroit and the 49ers at 10-6, the Hawks would get the No. 6 seed. They likely would face Arizona, Philadelphia or Dallas in the wild-card round. The Hawks could still be the sixth seed with 11 wins, if Arizona wins the division and Dallas ends up a wild card at 11-5 as well.
Football Outsider odds: 16.4%
FO favorite: 49ers 19.8%, Lions 17.7%