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Clayton: What the state of the NFC means for the Seahawks’ playoff hopes

If the Seahawks are going to catch up to and pass the Rams in the NFC West race, they need to do it in the next two weeks. (AP)

An interesting NFL trend started to surface in the NFL in the past couple of weeks.

Overnight, the AFC became an inferior conference. Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson are done for the season. The play of Trevor Siemian went south in Denver and the Broncos dropped from a Super Bowl contender to a losing team.

Should the Seahawks be a pass-first offense?

Week 10 firmed up the sad state of the AFC when the NFC swept five games in inter-conference play. For the season, the NFC holds a 24-15 lead in inter-conference games and it should get worse.

This plays heavily into the NFC playoff picture and what’s ahead for the Seahawks. Let’s investigate.

NFC teams need at least 10 wins to make the playoffs. Take a look at the current standings. Ten NFC teams have winning records. There are only six in the AFC, and the Buffalo Bills are on a two-game losing streak at 5-4.

For the Seahawks to make the playoffs, they could get in with 10 games. If they want to a chance for a good seed and have a chance to win in the playoffs, they really need 11.

Looking at current forecasts, the Philadelphia Eagles have the best chance to get the No. 1 seed and could end up with a 12-4 record. Some forecasters have the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams getting to 11-5. The key for the Seahawks is winning five of their last seven games and getting to 11-5, but they need that second victory over the Los Angeles Rams to secure the NFC West. That second win would be the tie-breaker.

It’s not going to be easy for the Rams. Sean McVay is easily the top candidate for NFL Coach of the Year. He’s taken a 14-point offense to 32.9 points a game, the greatest jump in NFL history. He’s done that with a second-year quarterback (Jared Goff).

Where the Seahawks get a break is the Rams’ upcoming schedule. The way the NFL sets up the schedule, they gave both the Rams and the Seahawks 14 common games. That includes six division games, four in the NFC East and four in the AFC South. One of the interesting twists is the two non-common games. The Seahawks lost the opener to the Green Bay Packers. Their other non-common game is Monday’s home game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Rams non-common games come in the next two weeks — Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings and the next week against the New Orleans Saints, two teams with 7-2 records.

After those two games, the Rams host the Eagles and visit the Seahawks. If the Seahawks are going to catch up to, and pass, the Rams in the NFC West race, they need to do it in the next two weeks.

Injuries will play a big role down the stretch. The NFL is a game of attrition. The Seahawks know well of that with the losses of Richard Sherman and Cliff Avril, and the uncertain status of Kam Chancellor, Duane Brown, Jarran Reed and others.

Other teams are also getting hit. The Carolina Panthers, who are 7-3, traded wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin because they thought they didn’t get receiver separation on passing plays when they had Benjamin and Devin Funchess on the field at the same time. They wanted to use a quicker Curtis Samuel. Samuel suffered a season-ending injury so the Panthers are down two receivers. The Dallas Cowboys don’t have suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Green Bay Packers lost Aaron Rodgers and Bryan Bulaga. The Philadelphia Eagles can’t afford another injury along the offensive line after losing left tackle Jason Peters.

Getting back to the AFC-NFC factor. As I mentioned, the NFC leads the AFC 24 to 15. If that ratio continues, the NFC will go 39-25 against the AFC.

Looking back at one-side interconference seasons, I go back to 2004 when the AFC was 44-20 against the NFC, to 2006 when the AFC was 40-24 against the NFC, and 2012 when the NFC went 39-25 against the AFC.

In 2004, two 12-win teams — Indianapolis and San Diego — ended up with third and fourth seeds because the Pittsburgh Steelers won 15 games and the New England Patriots won 14. In 2006, a 12-win season in the AFC netted second and third seeds. In 2012, the Chicago Bears went 10-6 and didn’t make the playoffs because seven NFC teams had at least 10-win seasons. The Seahawks went 11-5 and earned only a wild-card.

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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