NFC Wild Card Hunt

The Seahawks don’t play until tomorrow night, but there’s still plenty going on today that concerns them.  Even at 5-7, Seattle still has a chance to making the playoffs as a wild card team.  Granted, it’s not a great chance, and it requires several other teams to finish out the year on a losing streak, but after the way this season began it’s amazing the possibility is there at all.

In the NFC, two division races have already been decided: the 49ers have won the West, and the Packers have dominated in the North (and everywhere else, too).  Barring a catastrophe of some sort the 9-3 Saints should win the NFC South title handily, while the NFC East will go either to the 7-5 Cowboys or the 6-6 Giants — and as much as it pains me to say anything nice about Dallas, they do appear to be the better overall team at the moment.

So, who will get to join the 49ers, Packers, Saints, and (probably) Cowboys in the postseason?  As of this morning there are six teams in legitimate contention for the two Wild Card berths, including the Seahawks.  Here’s a quick look at those five other teams:

Detroit Lions (7-5)

Division Conference Home Road
2-2 5-5 3-3 4-2

It feels weird to even type this, but the Lions are a pretty great team this year.  Their offense is explosive despite having a mediocre offensive line, and on defense their front seven is disruptive enough to cover up some problems in their secondary.  Their punting is atrocious (31st in the league in net yards per punt), but the rest of their special teams efforts are respectable enough. 

Really, there’s just one thing holding them back from dominating, but it’s cost them several games this year: penalties.  Detroit is the not-so-proud owner of the 4th most penalized offense and the 2nd most penalized defense in the NFL, and from what I’ve seen the problem appears to be getting steadily worse, not better.  For Seattle’s sake, here’s hoping that continues.

The Lions play the Vikings today, which they should win.  After that, they play the Raiders in Oakland, the Chargers at home, and end the season against the Packers in Green Bay.  My best guess for their final record is 9-7 with a 6-6 conference record.  If the Seahawks sweep their remaining four games they would be 9-7 with an 8-4 conference record, which would win the tiebreaker.

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Chicago Bears (7-5)

Division Conference Home Road
2-2 6-3 5-2 2-3

As per usual, the Bears have a respectable defense this year, and special teams is always good when you’ve got Devin Hester as your return man, but that’s pretty much where the good news stops for Chicago.  Their offense, on the other hand, has been average at best, and now their starting QB and RB are both out with injuries.  The longer Caleb Hanie and Marion Barber stay at the controls, the better Chicago’s chances are of missing the postseason entirely.

Today they’ll be on the road playing the Denver Tebows and their bizarrely effective high school-level run option offense.   After that, they’ll head home to lose to the Seahawks, then finish the season with road games against the Packers and Vikings.

Atlanta Falcons (7-5)

Division Conference Home Road
1-2 5-4 4-2 3-2

Like the Lions, the Falcons actually have a pretty great team.  Sure, their run offense is having a down year, but their passing attack has stepped up nicely, and their defense and special teams may not be flashy but they’re good enough to get the job done.  Also like the Lions, the Falcons have a serious problem holding them back, but unlike Detroit it’s not one that has an easy fix like “hey guys, maybe we shouldn’t shove the officials next time.”  You see, Atlanta’s problem isn’t penalties, it’s underachievement.  The talent is there, but for whatever reason the players don’t seem to be working together as well as they have in seasons past.

That said, I think the Falcons are likely to earn one of the two Wild Card spots available, if for no other reason than strength of schedule.  Today they play the rebuilding Panthers in Carolina, and after that they play horrendous Jaguars at home, the Saints in New Orleans, and the imploding Buccaneers at home.  Atlanta could coast the rest of the way and still likely end the season at 10-6.

New York Giants (6-6)

Division Conference Home Road
1-2 3-6 3-3 3-3

After years of winning games with a great defense and a run-oriented offense that was just okay, the Giants decided to change things up this year by fielding an explosive pass-oriented offense and a defense that is good at getting sacks but terrible at everything else.  Go figure.

After playing the Cowboys in Dallas today, the Giants will play the Redskins at home, the Jets at home (I don’t care if the Jets are designated as the home team, the game is still being played in New York), and the Cowboys again at home.  The three-game home stand to close out the season is a definite advantage, but I’ve learned this season not to underestimate how terrible the Giants’ defense can be.

Arizona Cardinals (5-7)

Division Conference Home Road
2-2 5-5 3-2 2-5

The Cardinals started off the year 1-6, but since then they’ve won four of their last five to put themselves more or less in the same boat as the Seahawks.  Arizona is an inferior team to Seattle, but they’ve found success in much the same fashion, with a solid defense and a strong run offense.  They’ve also been able to score points on special teams as well, with first round rookie Patrick Peterson scoring four TDs on punt returns.

Today, the Cardinals will be playing the 49ers at home, and after that they’ll play the Browns at home, the Bengals in Cincinnati, and finish the year by losing to the Seahawks at home.  Between San Francisco and Seattle, I fully expect the Cardinals to end the year with a record no better than 7-9, but it seemed wrong to talk about the 5-7 Seahawks’ playoff chances and not mention the 5-7 Cardinals so here they are.

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