Packers-Seahawks outcome could have lingering effect on playoff race
Monday night’s calamity in Seattle caused enough of a stir in the short-term. But what if that game eventually impacts the Packers’ or Seahawks’ playoff fate?
There’s no telling how either team will react to their Week 3 ending. The way the NFL’s playoff tiebreakers are set up, though, Seattle’s win could become a huge factor down the stretch.
The first tiebreaker in the wild-card setup: Head-to-head.
The second: Conference record.
By virtue of Monday’s game, the Seahawks will carry the edge over Green Bay in the former and, with a 2-1 record inside the NFC, currently has a leg up on 11 other NFC teams. It’s pretty simple to craft a scenario where Seattle’s or Green Bay’s playoff fate depends on one of those tiebreakers, or to find one where the Seahawks sneak into the playoffs by a game or the Packers miss out by one.
What if Seattle finishes 11-5 and Arizona 10-6? Or Chicago finishes 10-6 and Green Bay 9-7? Monday’s game was just one of 16, but it’s easy to see how it may loom large.
Green Bay’s schedule presents an opportunity to put Monday’s loss in the past, but the challenge of recovering mentally from such a setback is a big one. The Packers’ next game is against the 0-3 Saints — a team that’s reeling in its own right and is even more desperate for a win than Green Bay. After that, it’s a three-game road trip to Indianapolis, Houston and St. Louis, followed by home games with Jacksonville and Arizona.
Maybe the Packers go 6-0 in that pre-bye stretch to get to 7-2, which probably would be enough to take control of the NFC North.
But keep in mind that last year’s two wild-card teams in the NFC, Detroit and Atlanta, each went 10-6. The Packers now need to finish the season 9-4 or better to reach that mark, with road games at Detroit, the Giants, Chicago and resurgent Minnesota still on the schedule. The good news for Green Bay is that neither of the NFC’s two undefeated teams (Arizona and Atlanta) reside in the North, but the unfortunate loss to Seattle still dropped the Packers behind both Chicago and Minnesota in the division.
On the other side of the coin, Seattle badly needed Monday’s game to keep pace in the surprising NFC West. Following up on San Francisco’s conference title game run from 2011, the Cardinals have streaked out of the gate with a 3-0 record that includes wins over the Patriots, Eagles and these very Seahawks. And the 49ers, despite a setback in Minnesota, look like a Super Bowl contender.
The Seahawks’ schedule takes a difficult turn here, too, so having a second win in the bank might ease the burden. Four of Seattle’s next five games are on the road, away from the 12th Man: at St. Louis this week, followed by at Carolina in Week 5, a stop home to take on New England, then back-to-back trips to Detroit and San Francisco.
Seattle closed last year strong but started just 2-6, so getting off to a good start was a focus heading into September. Golden Tate’s dramatic catch kept that hope alive.
The trick for both teams will be forgetting about Sunday as quickly as possible. Maybe that would be easier to do if, say, Seattle had recovered Cedric Benson’s late fumble and won the game that way, but the task is no different now.
Not only do the Packers and Seahawks face the challenge of a shortened week, thanks to playing on Monday night, but they must deal with the fallout from the game’s emotional roller coaster — one that surely will not dissipate much among the fans and media surrounding the teams.
There is a long way to go in the NFL season. If the Seahawks end up hosting Green Bay in a playoff game or the postseason field is close enough that one of these two teams is impacted by what many consider the wrong outcome, however, we’ll be talking about the Hail Mary drama all over again.