The playoffs begin Monday vs. Atlanta

atlanta-logoAs banged up as the Seahawks suddenly are after that Arizona bloodbath last week, they have to find a way to beat Dan Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons on Monday if they want to have a shot at a first-round bye — and possibly if they want to win the division.

With 10 teams over .500 in the NFC, every game is basically a playoff game from here on out. Each loss will cost something — home field, a bye, a division, a home game, a playoff spot. (And the Hawks have to hope that horrendous home defeat to Washington does not come back to bite them.)

The Seahawks (6-3) have about an 11 percent chance of snagging a first-round bye, according to an aggregation of projections by Five Thirty Eight, the New York Times and Football Outsiders. They have a 61 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 38 percent chance of winning the NFC West.

Monday is the first huge game in a difficult finish for Seattle that is the fourth-toughest among the NFC’s 10 plus-.500 teams.

After Atlanta, the Hawks are at San Francisco, vs. Philadelphia, at Jacksonville, vs. the L.A. Rams, at Dallas, vs. Arizona. Those seven teams are an aggregate 36-28 (.562) — putting Seattle’s remaining schedule strength right behind Atlanta’s (.652), L.A.’s (.609) and Carolina’s (.564).

The Seahawks are in the No. 6 playoff position right now, which would send them to New Orleans for the wild-card round if the playoffs started this week. The Saints (7-2) and Eagles (8-1) are the hottest teams in the NFL — with seven straight wins — and beating either at their place would require a miracle of Beast Quake proportions.

The No. 1 seed seems out of reach. The Eagles’ worst record will be 11-5 and they look like a 13-win team; their final seven foes are just 26-28 (.481). The Hawks would need to go 7-0 to get to 13.

The next three weeks will show whether Seattle has a shot. If the Hawks can beat Atlanta, San Francisco and Philly, and if the Eagles lose in Dallas this week, the Hawks would be back in the hunt for the top seed as they head to Jacksonville in Week 14.

Of course, the Saints and Vikings would have something to say about it, too.

However they look at it, the Hawks are going to have to hit 12 wins to have a shot at a first-round bye.

While that seems a bit of a long shot, the Hawks have a much more realistic chance at winning the division.

The Rams (7-2) have the second-toughest finishing slate among the NFC’s top 10, with games at Minnesota, vs. the Saints, at Arizona, vs. the Eagles, at Seattle, at Tennessee and vs. the 49ers. Those teams are 39-25 (.609), and the Rams could easily lose four.

The Hawks basically have to match the Rams while beating them in Week 15 to win the West. To do any better than the fourth seed, Seattle would need to overtake the Vikings, Saints and/or Eagles.

It’s entirely possible seven NFC teams will finish with 11 wins and/or eight will win 10 — meaning one or two might not make the postseason.

Here’s a look at the final schedule for the 10 NFC contenders:

EAGLES (8-1)
Schedule: @DAL, CHI, @SEA, @LAR, @NYG, OAK, DAL
Strength: 26-28 (.481)
First-round bye: 66% (via 538, NYT & FO)
The finish: It’s the second-easiest slate among the top 10 NFC clubs, and the worst the Eagles should do is 3-4, which would net an 11-5 record. But they seem more likely to win at least four — Chicago, New York, Oakland, Dallas — and end up with at least 12 wins. The NFL’s No. 2 scoring offense and No. 1 rush defense give the Eagles a good shot at 13 wins.

SAINTS (7-2)
Schedule: WAS, @LAR, CAR, @ATL, NYJ, ATL, @TB
Strength: 30-26 (.536)
First-round bye: 44%
The finish: With four home games and one at Tampa, the worst the Saints will do is 10 wins. A 5-2 finish looks very possible for a team whose No. 5 scoring defense has complemented a very balanced offense — No. 2 overall, No. 3 in rushing, No. 3 in scoring. New Orleans is trying to follow the 1993 Dallas Cowboys, who also won seven straight after a 0-2 start — and finished that season with a Super Bowl title.

VIKINGS (7-2)
Schedule: LAR, @DET, @ATL, @CAR, CIN, @GB, CHI
Strength: 35-29 (.547)
First-round bye: 31%
The finish: The Vikings have a tough four weeks upcoming, but the final three look pretty easy — especially if Aaron Rodgers is not back for Green Bay in Week 16. The Vikings are very capable of 11 wins (or more) behind the No. 3 run defense, a top-five scoring defense and a surprisingly potent offense (10th at 24.1 ppg).

RAMS (7-2)
Schedule: @MIN, NO, @ARI, PHI, @SEA, @TEN, SF
Strength: 39-25 (.609)
Win division: 61%
The finish: Four of the next five games will decide the Rams’ fate, with the Seattle game the big one. The Rams cannot be taken lightly. They have the top scoring offense (32.9 ppg) and the No. 3 scoring defense (with Carolina, 18 ppg). Despite the tough finish, they seem destined for at least 10 wins.

PANTHERS (7-3)
Schedule: BYE, @NYJ, @NO, MIN, GB, TB, @ATL
Strength: 31-24 (.564)
Make playoffs: 62%
The finish: The Panthers seem likely to split their final six, although they could sneak in four wins to finish 11-5. They have a strong defense, No. 2 vs. the run and No. 3 in scoring, but an inconsistent offense.

SEAHAWKS (6-3)
Schedule: ATL, @SF, PHI, @JAX, LAR, @DAL, ARI
Strength: 36-28 (.562)
Make playoffs: 61%
The finish: The Hawks look like a 10-win team, but they could put together a better finish behind the No. 5 scoring defense (tied with Minnesota and New Orleans) and the league’s No. 2 passing attack — if they improve their scoring (23.4 ppg).

FALCONS (5-4)
Schedule: @SEA, TB, MIN, NO, @TB, @NO, CAR
Strength: 30-16 (.652)
Make playoffs: 30%
The finish: The Falcons still have a chance to catch the Saints in the NFC South, facing them twice. But even 10 wins look like a challenging chore for Atlanta, which has the toughest finish among NFC contenders. It certainly would help for them to beat the Seahawks this week.

COWBOYS (5-4)
Schedule: PHI, LAC, WAS, @NYG, @OAK, SEA, @PHI
Strength: 26-28 (.481)
Make playoffs: 26%
The finish: The Cowboys have almost no hope of catching Philly for the NFC East title, so it comes down to battling for a wild card against the runners-up in the NFC West, South and North. The Cowboys have the second-easiest finish, with three straight home games coming up. And they will get Zeke Elliott back for the Christmas Eve game against Seattle. So they could win the five games they will need to be in the hunt.

LIONS (5-4)
Schedule: @CHI, MIN, @BAL, @TB, CHI, @CIN, GB
Strength: 25-29 (.463)
Make playoffs: 37%
The finish: The Lions have the easiest road in the final seven and could put themselves in the mix if they win five of them. Detroit has the No. 6 scoring team (27.1 ppg), which could get them to 10 wins. If they can go 6-1, they could even win the North.

PACKERS (5-4)
Schedule: BAL @PIT, TB, @CLE, @CAR, MIN, @DET
Strength: 33-31 (.516)
Make playoffs: 23%
The finish: The Packers have lost three of the past four games since Rodgers went down, and they might be lucky to get to 8-8, with four tough games remaining.

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2 thoughts on “The playoffs begin Monday vs. Atlanta”

  1. It’s going to be tough without Sherman and Chancellor, although at least they are better positioned to ride this out compared to last year.

    On an unrelated note, Ray Roberts has an interesting critique of Seattle’s version of zone blocking. According to Roberts, zone blocking can be relatively easy to defend — it’s repetitive, and all the defender has to do is figure out the pattern and get to a spot. Since these guys are pros, this isn’t a big ask.

    The way to combat this, Roberts says, is through pre-snap motion, which can confuse the issue. He points to both Kansas City and Texas as teams that do this well. The problem with the Hawks is that they don’t do this at all — they line up and run play sin a predictable manner. Hence, it’s hard for the running game to get any rhythm The RB by committee approach doesn’t make this any easier.

    Roberts is not a Tom Cable fan — what’s useful is that he can articulate why at an informed level that anyone can follow.

    Like

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