news 3 days ago

NFL playoff picture: Seahawks take NFC West lead, have edge over 49ers in division race

Sporting News — (Vinnie Iyer)

The Seahawks (10-2) are now in first place in the NFC West after their 37-30 win over the Vikings to close the NFL's Week 13 on Monday night. They have the division lead by the slimmest of margins over the 49ers (10-2), whom they beat in San Francisco in the Week 10 Monday night game.

Both teams have four regular-season games left to determine who wins the division and advances to the NFC playoffs as a likely top-two seed, earning at least a first-round bye and potentially home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. The division runner-up is facing a hard playoff road as the likely No. 5 seed sure to draw a wild-card matchup at the eventual NFC East champions, either the Cowboys or the Eagles.

Breaking down the remaining schedules for the Seahawks and 49ers, the Seahawks have the slight advantage through the rest of December before the two teams meet in Week 17.

MORE: Updated NFL Playoff Picture

Here are the Seahawks' next three games: at Rams, at Panthers, vs. Cardinals. At the same time, the 49ers face this slate through Week 16: at Saints, vs. Falcons, vs. Rams. 

Seattle's opponents there have a combined winning percentage of .431 (15-20-1). San Francisco's upcoming foes have a combined winning percentage of .556 (20-16).

By far, the 49ers' trip to the Saints in Week 14 is the hardest game left for either team before facing each other. By far, the Seahawks hosting the Cardinals in Week 16 is the easiest. Both teams already beat the Rams, so those two rematches are a wash in terms of degrees of difficulty.

The Seahawks do have to come out east again to play Carolina, but they are undefeated away from Seattle this season, and the Panthers are in freefall again. The 49ers should also take care of business as heavy favorites when the Falcons visit San Francisco.

So then it comes down to Week 17, when the Seahawks host the 49ers to close the season. Should the teams win out before then, they will both be 13-2, with that finale becoming winner-take-all for the division. We know the only way the division will be decided ahead of Week 17 is if either the Seahawks or 49ers go 3-0 and the other goes 1-2 or worse.

The real question is, should the Seahawks hold a full one-game lead going into Week 17 and the 49ers win the rematch to even things up, who would win the division should they tie?

MORE: Takeaways from the 49ers' loss to Baltimore

The first tiebreaker is division record. The Seahawks are 3-0, while the 49ers are 3-1 because they lost to the Seahawks. Assuming Seattle beats Arizona, sweeping Los Angeles would be key for both teams. There's a fair chance both teams can end up an equal 5-1 in division play.

The second tiebreaker is common games. The Seahawks (Vikings, Eagles) and 49ers (Packers, Redskins) each went 2-0 in their two unique games. Both teams lost to the AFC-leading Ravens. The Seahawks lost at home to the Saints. So if the 49ers can win in New Orleans in Week 14, it would be huge for the tiebreaker scenarios; both teams already beat three-fourths of the AFC North, and are likely to beat at least three-fourths of the NFC South. The Rams also can be a difference-maker.

The third tiebreaker is conference record. Both teams are 7-1 now, and if they stay even, the tie won't be broken there, because both teams have only NFC games remaining.

Then, it comes down to strength of victory. The 49ers beating the 10-2 Saints would be a huge boost. That's also where the uncommon games come into play. For Seattle, Minnesota and Philadelphia are a combined 13-11. For San Francisco, Green Bay and Washington are a combined 12-12.

Because of the Eagles having an advantage over the Redskins, the Seahawks would be bound to get the fourth tiebreaker, if the 49ers, like them, lose to the Saints. Because the fifth tiebreaker is strength of schedule, the difference in level of NFC East opponent already gives the Seahawks the edge there.

Anything can happen over the last month, and usually does. But based on what we think we know about the Seahawks and 49ers now and who they play going forward, down to their rematch being in Seattle, the odds are with the Seahawks to take the division.