Race for top seed: Dallas has tougher road

logo-philadelphiaThe Seahawks’ watershed win in New England largely has been interpreted as a sign the Hawks are ready to make their usual run through the second half of the season and deep into the playoffs.

But, because the offense has cost the team 2.5 games, the Seahawks find themselves in chase mode in the NFC — not yet in full control of their destiny, not yet the No. 1 seed.

Dallas, led by rookie QB Dak Prescott, holds that position right now — 1.5 games up on the Hawks thanks to an eight-game winning streak. But there is plenty of time to catch the Cowboys — and the remaining slates for each team make it seem very possible, if not likely.

At the moment, Dallas has a 63 percent chance to claim the NFC’s top seed, according to Football Outsiders simulations, while Seattle is at 21 percent. But that easily could change.

The Cowboys are in the very competitive NFC East, where every team is above .500. In fact, six of Dallas’ seven remaining opponents are above .500 now. Meanwhile, only one of Seattle’s future foes is — and that happens to be the team they play this week, the NFC East’s Philadelphia Eagles (5-4).

The Eagles, who have the best return teams in the NFL and a stout defense (and are Football Outsiders’ No. 1 team), won’t be a pushover. But rookie QB Carson Wentz has struggled on the road, where the Eagles are just 1-4, and the Hawks are favored by about a touchdown.

The Hawks probably will be favored in every game the rest of the way — at Tampa Bay, vs. Carolina, at Green Bay, vs. Los Angeles and Arizona, at San Francisco. They look good for six wins in the final seven games, which would put them at 12-3-1.

That would mean Dallas would need to lose three games from this slate: at Baltimore, vs. Washington, at Minnesota and New York Giants, vs. Tampa Bay and Detroit, at Philly.

The Cowboys are favored by 7.5 vs. the Ravens this week; but, the Ravens have the league’s top defense, so it is no gimme. Washington has the NFL’s No. 4 offense, and Minnesota and Philly also have top-10 defenses (first and third in scoring).

Prescott’s Cowboys have been outscoring teams by 10 points per game, so it could be pretty tough for one opponent — let alone three — to knock them off. But their road games could be challenging, and Washington could pose a threat.

If the Hawks can’t catch the Cowboys, they still are a strong bet (76 percent, per this projection) to end up as the No. 2 seed, which still would give them a first-round bye. Then, they would need to hope Dallas lost its divisional game, which would keep the Hawks at home for the NFC title game.

Right now, Vegas has Dallas at 11-5 to win the NFC title, the Seahawks at 5-2. That’s almost a dead heat.

The Seahawks overcame a much tougher obstacle in 2014. At 6-4, they trailed Arizona by three games entering Week 12 and ended up running the table and overtaking the fading Cardinals for the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

Prescott and the Cowboys have not shown any signs of slipping, but they have a slim 1.5-game lead on a Seattle team that is just heating up, and there is a lot of football to be played.


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