Once again, the Seahawks gained on a Sunday by doing nothing.
Just like a few weeks ago after they beat Green Bay on a Thursday then watched fellow NFC wild-card playoff contenders lose, the Seahawks saw Carolina and Washington go down Sunday. That’s two more would-be competitors for a wild card falling further behind Seattle, and the Seahawks’ already-inside track to make the playoffs getting smoother. While not playing.
Sunday’s results boil down to this: No matter what else happens, including Monday night at home against Minnesota (6-5-1), if the Seahawks (7-5) win at San Francisco (3-10) next weekend and beat Arizona (3-10) at home Dec. 30 in the regular-season finale Seattle is in the playoffs.
In fact, any two NFC wins in Seattle’s three remaining conference games would do it. A win over Minnesota would leave the Seahawks one more NFC win away from the playoffs, heading to Santa Clara to play the 49ers next Sunday.
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Yes, Seattle could wrap up a place in the playoffs in the next seven days.
Seattle’s other remaining regular-season game is home against Kansas City (11-2) on Dec. 23.
Of course, the Seahawks will play Minnesota without thinking about the rest of the month. With Pro Bowl wide receiver Doug Baldwin a game-time decision to play because of a hip injury, they are seeking a fourth consecutive win. That would strengthen their hold on the fifth of six playoff seeds, the first wild card that would play at the four seed, the division winner with the worst record, in round one.
Monday, the Seahawks will be in a spot they’ve dominated: in primetime, and at home.
They are 24-5-1 in primetime games under coach Pete Carroll since he arrived to lead them in 2010. That’s the NFL’s best record at night in that span.
The Seahawks are 17-6 on Monday night in front of their roaring “12th Man” fans at always sold-out CenturyLink Field. Seattle had its 11-game winning streak on Mondays snapped by Atlanta in Seattle last season.
“The question is, can we get the fans jacked up and get the 12s ready to rock and roll and light this place up?” Carroll said this weekend. “We’ve got to do it by our play. ...
“We all grew up watching Monday Night Football and it’s always been that way... it is a big-time event. It’s always been unique and special and all of that. That doesn’t mean that you need to do something different because it is the only game in the world that’s going that night. It’s always fun because you know you get to share it with all your loved ones and your fans. There’s always been kind of a unique feeling about it when you’re out there.
“We love playing with those opportunities.”
They also love how their playoff opportunities are shaping up.
Dallas’ win in overtime over Philadelphia on a tipped-pass touchdown catch by Amari Cooper Sunday puts the Cowboys (8-5) on the verge of winning the NFC East. Dallas holds the fourth seed in the conference, after Chicago (9-4) beat the West division-champion Rams (11-2) Sunday night. So Dallas appears out of Seattle’s concern for wild-card contention because the Cowboys are about to win their division.
That leaves Minnesota, Washington, Philadelphia and Carolina as the viable threats remaining to the Seahawks’ playoff chances. Three of those four contenders are under .500. Two of those three losing teams are on lengthy losing streaks and in turmoil.
The Redskins (6-7) lost for the fourth consecutive time on Sunday, to the Giants. The Panthers (6-7) lost their fifth straight game, at Cleveland.
The tiebreaker for playoff seeding between teams that haven’t played each other is conference record.
Seattle is 6-3 vs NFC teams; it does not play Washington this regular season.
Washington is 6-5 in conference games with one more NFC game to play, at Philadelphia Dec. 30. So it can finish with a conference record no better than 7-5.
The Eagles and Seahawks do not play, either. Philadelphia’s loss Sunday leaves them 4-6 inside the NFC with two conference games left. So the Eagles can be no better than 6-6 in conference.
Even if the Vikings beat them Monday, if the Seahawks beat the 49ers for the second time in three weeks (they won 43-16 at home over San Francisco last week) and if the Seahawks also beat the Cardinals as they did in Arizona 20-17 in October, they are assured at least an 8-4 record in conference play.
That’s why beating San Francisco and Arizona, the two worst teams in the NFC and with Oakland tied for the league’s worst record, would be enough by itself for Seattle to make it to the postseason.
The first tiebreaker for playoff seeding is head-to-head results. Seattle owns that edge over Carolina, Dallas and Green Bay (5-7-1) after beating each. The Packers fired their coach, Mike McCarthy, last week. The only reason they are mathematically alive, barely, is because the NFC pack keeps falling back toward them.
For those thinking ahead to where Seattle might play the first week of January if it makes the playoffs, right now the Seahawks would play at Dallas Jan. 5 or 6. That could become a first-round game for Seattle at Chicago, where it lost in week two when it inexcusably didn’t run the ball. It would be Seahawks at Bears if Seattle slips to the six seed, or if Dallas catches the Bears for the three seed over the next three weeks.
Got all that?
The simplest way for the Seahawks is to just keep doing what they’ve been lately, what they’ve done as well as any team in the NFL since 2012: keep winning in December.
Russell Wilson is 20-8 in December. A win Monday would give him 73 regular-season victories in his career. That would be the most in NFL history for a quarterback in his first seven seasons.
And if Seattle is tied or within range of the Vikings in the fourth quarter, on a Monday night, at home, in December, history says Wilson is likely find a way to win. His 26 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter of overtime in his career are second-most in the NFL since 2012, one behind Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. Wilson beat Stafford in Detroit in October.
“In terms of the fourth quarter (of the season) and in terms of games in particular, it’s a mentality. It’s a belief system,” Wilson said. “It’s something that we’ve done for years now in terms of our execution and how we want to execute at the end of a game.
“Ultimately, you’ve got to have no fear. You’ve got to love being in the fourth quarter. You’ve got to love having the ball in your hands when the game’s on the line and everything else, no matter who that is. I think that’s always something that we thrive off of. ...
“It’s the time that people remember you and I think that in terms of being a football team, we want to leave a great legacy in terms of where we want to go and how we want to do it.”
As Wilson said, and as it shaped up yet again for the resurgent Seahawks on Sunday without even playing, it’s another “championship opportunity to do something great.”