The Seahawks are nearly a lock for the playoffs, but they have their sights set on bigger goals — and those might be easier to attain than you think.
The Hawks can clinch a playoff spot Sunday night by beating the Rams, but — believe it or not — that game is not nearly as crucial as it once seemed.
Sure, it would be great for Seattle to run the table against Los Angeles, Carolina, Arizona and San Francisco. But the Hawks probably won’t — and they probably don’t need to.
The Seahawks have about a 60 percent chance of holding the playoff bye they just took control of, according to Football Outsiders and FiveThirtyEight. But we’d put it at more like 75 percent.
Let’s assume the Hawks win their Week 15-16 games, against clearly inferior foes (Carolina just fired coach Ron Rivera and Arizona is 3-8-1). That would put Seattle at 12 victories, needing probably only one win against either the Rams or 49ers to secure a playoff bye — and maybe even the top seed.
The easiest way to the No. 1 seed, of course, is to win out and get a loss out of New Orleans. It’s certainly possible, but you have to think the Hawks are going to get knocked off by either the Rams or 49ers — their earlier meetings could have gone either way, after all. Although, Russell Wilson has never lost at home to the 49ers, going 7-0 with all but one win by double digits. So maybe this weekend is the last possible loss for the Hawks.
To get the top seed with a 3-1 finish, the Seahawks (10-2) basically would need to root for New Orleans (10-2) and San Francisco (10-2) to lose at least once and Green Bay to run the table if the Saints lose just one.
Why do the Packers matter? Because they can create a multi-team tie that gives the top seed to Seattle, based on common game and conference tiebreakers.
The Packers (9-3) have winnable home games against Washington (3-9) and Chicago (6-6), then a huge Week 16 game at Minnesota (8-4), before finishing at Detroit (3-8-1). If the Packers lose any of those, Seattle would need to out-win New Orleans the rest of the way to avoid losing the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Saints have a good shot to drop at least one more game. The biggest chance might be this weekend as they host San Francisco. But they also play at Tennessee (7-5), which is in the AFC playoff race, and finish at Carolina, which lost a 34-31 shootout in New Orleans in Week 12 and surely would love to play spoiler to its division foe, even with the coaching change.
The 49ers have a tough finish: At New Orleans, vs. Atlanta, vs. the Rams, at Seattle. There are three losable games there.
The Week 17 finale between the Seahawks and 49ers seems likely to mean something, but there is a chance it won’t. If the Hawks beat the Rams, Panthers and Cardinals, the rematch with the 49ers won’t matter if (1) the Niners drop a game before then, (2) the Saints lose once and (3) Green Bay wins out. That would set up, for Seattle, no worse than a four-way tie at 13-3, which the Hawks would win.
The Hawks still could earn a bye with a 12-4 record — if Green Bay and San Francisco also finish 12-4. If the 49ers lose at New Orleans and against the Rams and the Packers lose at Minnesota, Seattle would beat out both clubs based on win percentage in common games.
Of course, the biggest drama would come if the 49ers beat the Saints, Falcons and Rams ahead of Week 17 and the Hawks also go 3-0; that finale then would be for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. So, if the 49ers beat the Saints on Sunday morning, the Seahawks will entirely control their destiny for home field as they prepare to play in L.A. on Sunday night.
And, if they sweep December and earn home field, you can book them to Miami for Super Bowl LIV.