Seahawks control their fate in NFC West with Cards, 49ers slumping
The Cardinals’ 29-18 loss in Atlanta on Sunday accomplished two things.
First, it gave Seattle control of its own fate within the NFC West. If the Seahawks win out, they are the division champ.
Second, and probably just as important, it showed that even after Arizona won nine of its first 10 games, the playoffs are not an automatic. The Falcons had the worst record of any team left on Arizona’s schedule, and Atlanta just won by double digits.
Time to recalibrate things within the division.
Remaining opponents: vs. Kansas City (7-5), at St. Louis (5-7), vs. Seattle (8-4), at San Francisco (7-5)
The inside track: The Cardinals are in danger of a free-fall because while quarterback Drew Stanton won three of his first four starts in place of Carson Palmer, starting with three games earlier this season that Palmer missed because of a nerve injury, the Cardinals have lost their past two games by double digits. Not only that, but the Cardinals have scored fewer than 20 points in four games this season. Three of those have come over the past three weeks. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has missed the past two games with a sprained knee but is trying diligently to return. Maybe his comeback would spark Arizona. If not, the Cardinals’ remaining schedule is difficult enough that they might not win another game.
Remaining opponents: at Philadelphia (9-3), vs. San Francisco (7-5), at Arizona (9-3), vs. St. Louis (5-7)
The inside track: The Seahawks have the most difficult final four games of any NFC playoff contender judging strictly by record. But three of those final four games are also against teams that will be missing their starting quarterback. The Eagles will start Mark Sanchez on Sunday, and after a return engagement with the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick, Seattle will close out the schedule with a game against the Cardinals and Stanton and then St. Louis, which has been without starter Sam Bradford all season. Seattle has put together perhaps the best back-to-back defensive performances it has had under coach Pete Carroll, but if the Seahawks lose on Sunday in Philadelphia, there’s a very distinct possibility that they will face a rematch with the 49ers, both teams again holding identical records assuming San Francisco beats Oakland.
San Francisco (7-5)
Remaining opponents: at Oakland (1-11), at Seattle (8-4), vs. San Diego (8-4), vs. Arizona (9-3)
The inside track: The 49ers’ offense has hit the skids, scoring more than 20 points only once in the past six games. The 49ers aren’t out of it. Not even close. But San Francisco does have one factor stacking up against it: division record. The 49ers are 1-3 in games within the division and 6-4 against NFC opponents. Those are two critical tiebreaker factors, which are also going to make it difficult for San Francisco given the stiffness of competition. On the flip side, San Francisco does have head-to-head wins against both Philadelphia and Dallas, which could help in wild-card consideration.