– Jim Bearor
There are no certainties in life outside of death, taxes, and that the two wild card spots in the NFC East are locked up. Both the Seahawks and the Vikings sit at 8-5, two games ahead of anyone else who has even a reasonable shot — Falcons, Bucs, Washington, Giants, Eagles — and they look more like playoff teams than anyone left in contention. Minnesota’s stock has dropped slightly as of late, with two decisive losses against the Packers and Seahawks as well as a tough last second defeat against the Cardinals this past week. These are all playoff teams though, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. The Seahawks had difficulty being effective in the ground game after losing Thomas Rawls and their remaining schedule isn’t a cakewalk (Browns, Rams, Cardinals), but they have won six of their last seven games, and Russell Wilson is coming on as a late MVP dark horse.
As far as the other teams that haven’t been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, nobody is a complete product, and I’m not sure anyone really gives off that “they could be dangerous if they catch fire and make the playoffs” vibe.
The Giants can score points, but their defense can’t be relied upon when it matters – a trait that will likely doom them in their final stretch of Panthers, Vikings, Eagles.
The Eagles have won two in a row against New England and Buffalo, but also lost three in a row just before that to the Dolphins, Bucs, and Lions – and when you take into consideration that Sam Bradford is their quarterback (and even that could change again), the only certainty is that we don’t know which version of this team will show up from week to week.
Kirk Cousins has been lighting the world on fire in recent weeks, and Washington has played tough against everyone, but they play Buffalo at home followed by two divisional road games at Philly and Dallas to close the season and I would be very surprised if they won two of those games (remember, Matt Cassel’s Cowboys came into Washington and won two weeks ago).
Atlanta has lost six in a row after a hot start, Matt Ryan has been awful this season, and they would have to sweep Jacksonville, Carolina, and New Orleans to have a shot. I don’t think that is going to happen.
That leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who need to amass two more wins than Minnesota and Seattle over the course of these last three games – a tall order. This means the Bucs pretty much have to win out and beat the Rams, Bears, and Panthers. It’s not a very likely scenario and you probably won’t have a conversation with your buddy at the bar about Tampa Bay’s playoff chances this year – but did you know the Bucs have better odds to make the playoffs than my New York Football Giants? Since the three teams atop the NFC East all have the same record, divisional tiebreakers must be used to choose which one of them gets the wild card spot. DLT from Bucsnation.com explained it better than I could have:
“Philly eliminates the Giants based on head-to-head. Tampa Bay eliminates Atlanta based on head-to-head. That leaves Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, Tampa Bay beats Philly on Head-to-Head. Tampa bay gets the 7th slot. Atlanta claims the eighth spot because they beat Philly. Philly claims the 9th spot because they beat the Giants.”
This is all assuming the Bucs win out. Could you imagine? Don’t get your hopes up though, it will only hurt more. As a Giants fan, I’m trying not to as well (it’s hard). If you buy that Kirk Cousins is ready to carry Washington to the promised land, go ahead. All of these wildcard suitors are flawed to the point that it would be difficult to see them succeeding in the playoffs, let alone making it.
Yes, even the Vikings. They’re a good football team, but they only go as far as Adrian Peterson will take them. In Vikings losses, Peterson is averaging around 40 yards a game, and in victories, 126 yards. Teddy Bridgewater is not a bad quarterback by any means, but he holds on to the ball way too long, and he has a pretty weak arm for an NFL quarterback. This team looks the part of the physical “run it down your throat and play defense” team that thrives as weather gets worse, but when teams key in on the run, Minnesota is yet to come up with an answer, and I doubt they will before season’s end.
The Seahawks stand out from this wild card group like Eminem from the rest of D12.
I already mentioned that Russell Wilson is having a great stretch of games. I didn’t get into how great. Over his past four games, Wilson is completing 75% of his passes, and has 16 touchdowns, no interceptions. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were the only other quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to have those touchdown/interception numbers. Doug Baldwin has been a favorite target of Wilson’s for some time now, but as of late, his numbers are jumping off the page and may warrant a Pro Bowl selection. He has eight touchdowns in three games. I don’t care if three of those came against a putrid Ravens team, because the other five came against the Steelers and Vikings and he has been effective when targeted all season long.
The injury to Thomas Rawls could be significant to the offensive play calling, or it might not matter at all. When Rawls first stepped in for Lynch, nobody anticipated the level of production that he ended up bringing to the table, and it wouldn’t shock me if something similar happened with the next man up, whether that is Bryce Brown or Fred Jackson. This isn’t a slight against Beast Mode or Rawls, I’m just recognizing the fact that Seattle has been persistent and (somewhat) effective running the ball North-South regardless of who is in the backfield. Wilson’s mobility changes things – he forces defensive ends and linebackers to be honest in their coverage, otherwise he’ll keep the ball and attack the edges of the line. I don’t think this offense will change much with Brown and Jackson splitting carries, besides Marshawn Lynch should be back by the time the playoffs roll around.
Looking back, I can’t believe that Seattle took so long to find its way back into the national spotlight. They’ve been in the Super Bowl for the past two years, but it seems like they didn’t get much benefit of the doubt when they started their season 2-4. Maybe it was because we didn’t really didn’t think the Bengals and Panthers were that good yet, or we just flat out got impatient. Whatever it was, it seems very silly now, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is another Super Bowl caliber team.
I lean on Football Outsiders a lot for stats and analysis that can’t be found elsewhere, and their DVOA rating – a stat that measures each player against a league-average baseline for every single position on every single play – is as good as any for determining how individuals and teams stack up against each other. As of now, the Bengals hold the top spot, and that is completely understandable given the way they have been playing for most of the season. Carolina, Arizona, New England, and Kansas City are among the upper crust, and not many will argue that these are the best teams. It may surprise you – but it probably shouldn’t – that Seattle is ranked second, a mere .6% behind Cincinnati. If Andy Dalton’s absence slows down the offense even the smallest amount, it looks like Seattle will win the DVOA title this year. Big deal, right? Well, what if I told you that this would make them the best team in the league according to DVOA for the fourth straight year. I don’t care if you “don’t believe in analytics” (whatever the hell that means), this is significant.
Technically, the Seahawks will be a wild card team, but they shouldn’t be lumped in with that mediocre group. They’re not just a team nobody wants to face because they’re hotter than any team in the league and almost than Ivanka Trump is in the eyes of her father, they’re flat out better than everyone else.
– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)