The Seahawks are suddenly back in control of the NFC West and, with an improving defense and rebalanced offense, have a fair shot at overtaking New Orleans and Green Bay for the top seed.
The Rams and Cardinals both lost on last-play field goals (against the 49ers and Patriots) on Sunday, so the Seahawks (7-3) can take a one-game lead on the Rams (7-4) and a two-game edge on the Cards (6-5) if Seattle wins in Philadelphia on Monday night.
Russell Wilson’s Hawks are 5-0 against the Eagles, including two wins in Philly last season, and this is lining up as win No. 6 – a great chance for the defense to look good against one of the league’s worst offenses while Chris Carson returns to help Carlos Hyde take pressure off Wilson.
The Eagles (3-6-1) kick off a four-game stretch in which the Hawks face three NFC Least teams and the winless Jets. The Hawks should go 4-0 against the Eagles, Giants, Jets and WFT to hit 11-3 as they face the Rams in Week 16.
That game will tell us everything we need to know about the Hawks’ ability to win in the playoffs. If the defense keeps improving and Wilson does not turn the ball over like he did last time, the Hawks have a good chance to even the season series against the Rams. The worst the Hawks should finish is 11-5, but they will need at least 12 wins to have a shot at the top seed – so beating the Rams and/or 49ers will be key.
A win Monday would keep the Hawks a game behind the Saints (9-2), who face only one winning team, Kansas City, the rest of the way. That possible Super Bowl preview in Week 15 could be a loss. The Saints face Atlanta and Philly the next two games and finish with Minnesota and Carolina. Figure the worst the Saints will finish is 12-4, so that is the Seahawks’ target.
Green Bay, which blew out Chicago on Sunday night, finishes with Philly, Detroit, Carolina, Tennessee and Chicago. The Packers (8-3) probably would need to win four of those to be in the hunt for the bye.
Per FiveThirtyEight, the Saints have a 53% chance of securing the bye, the Packers 25% and the Seahawks 18%.
The Rams have a tough road to compete for the NFC West, let alone the bye (4% chance, per FiveThirtyEight). They just lost to San Francisco and still face Arizona twice plus Seattle. The Patriots, who knocked off Arizona on Sunday, are no gimme either. That’s four tough games in the final five (the Jets are the other) – 3-2 looks like the best the Rams will do, which would give them a 10-6 record.
The Cardinals (6-5) don’t look to have a shot at the bye. Even a perfect finish would put them at just 11-5 (Seattle’s floor).
Tampa Bay (7-5) is out of the race for the top seed, too. The Bucs — who have lost to the Saints, Rams and Chiefs over the past four weeks — would lose any tiebreaker to the Saints (who swept them this season). The Bucs somehow were considered the NFL’s No. 2 team by DVOA heading into Week 12, but they clearly are not even among the top three in the NFC.
Assuming the Hawks take care of the Least, starting Monday, it will come down to them, the Saints and the Packers for the No. 1 seed. The stretch run has begun.