Breaking down the Seahawks’ different playoff scenarios

Dec 17, 2014, 1:13 PM | Updated: 6:47 pm
By winning out, Seattle would be assured of a first-round bye and could also finish as the No. 1 se...
By winning out, Seattle would be assured of a first-round bye and could also finish as the No. 1 seed. (AP)

The Seahawks are a virtual lock to make the playoffs by winning either one of their final two games, they are certain to get a first-round bye in the playoffs by winning their final two games and they’d be guaranteed the No. 1 seed if they win their final two games and both Green Bay and Detroit win this weekend.

Got all that?

Good. Because spelling out exactly why is a little bit more confusing with five teams already holding 10 or more wins in the NFC with two weeks to play. While three of the four division champions in the AFC have already been decided, each of the four NFC divisions is still up for grabs.

It’s a situation rife with tiebreakers of both the head-to-head and three-way variety. So here’s a simplified version.

Question: How do the Seahawks win the NFC West?

Seattle must beat Arizona on Sunday in order to have a chance to win the division. The Seahawks must then beat the Rams in the regular-season finale to guarantee the division. Seattle would still win the division if it beat Arizona, but lost to St. Louis so long as Arizona also lost to San Francisco in the regular-season finale. But if the Seahawks lose in Arizona on Sunday, they can only reach the playoffs as a wild-card team.

Question: How do the Seahawks get a first-round bye?

The Seahawks would guarantee themselves a first-round bye as either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed by winning their final two games. In that scenario, Seattle would be 12-4 and assured of having at least a tie for the best record in the conference. Of course, there could be as many as two other teams that could be 12-4: Dallas and either Green Bay or Detroit, who play in Week 17 and therefore can’t both finish 12-4.

If Seattle wins its final two games, it will be the No. 1 seed in the NFC unless the following happens:

1. The Cowboys also win their final two games to finish 12-4;
2. And neither the Packers nor the Lions win their final two games.

In that scenario, Seattle and Dallas would finish tied for the best record in the conference and Dallas would win the tiebreaker by virtue of a head-to-head victory over Seattle in Week 6. If Green Bay is also 12-4, however, conference record would be used to break the three-way tie, and Seattle would win based on its 10-2 record in conference. If it’s Detroit that is also 12-4, Seattle would get the top seed by virtue of its better record in games against common opponents.

There is no scenario in which Seattle wins its final two regular-season games but doesn’t earn a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Question: Is it possible for Seattle to win the division and not get a first-round bye?

Yes, but it’s not likely. For that to happen, Seattle would have to beat Arizona but lose to St. Louis. The Cardinals would also have to lose their regular-season finale at San Francisco. The Seahawks would then win the division with a record of 11-5. Seattle would be the No. 3 seed if:

1. Either Green Bay or Detroit wins its final two games;
2. And Dallas wins at least one of its final two games and claims the NFC East title.

Question: OK, enough with the division. Let’s talk fallback options. What does Seattle need to guarantee itself at least a wild-card berth?

The Seahawks have to win one of their last two games. Either one. With 11 wins, Seattle would be almost certain to claim at least one of the two wild-card berths in the NFC.

Question: Wait a minute. What does “almost certain” mean?

It means there’s only one Doomsday Scenario in which Seattle wins one of its final two games and still doesn’t qualify for the playoffs.

Question: OK. What is this Doomsday Scenario?

Ready? It would require both Green Bay and Detroit to win this weekend and then tie in Week 17. Not only that, but Dallas would have to lose one of its next two games while Philadelphia won each of its final two. Oh, almost forgot that Arizona would have to win at least one of its final two games.

In that scenario, the division champs would be Detroit, Philadelphia and Arizona. The Packers would get the first wild-card berth by virtue of a 11-4-1 record while the Cowboys would get the second berth at 11-5 by virtue of the head-to-head victory over Seattle.

Question: So if Green Bay and Detroit don’t tie in Week 17, the Seahawks would be assured of getting into the playoffs with 11 wins?

That’s correct.

Question: So the Seahawks are almost certainly in the playoffs with 11 wins.

That’s what I said to begin with.

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Breaking down the Seahawks’ different playoff scenarios