Pete Carroll recalled his first season as the Seattle Seahawks head coach – the year they won the lowly NFC West with a 7-9 record.
“Remember when we were playing in the playoffs, and we were the worst playoff representatives in the history of football, and then we beat the world champions?” Carroll reminisced with a smile, referring to Seattle beating the Saints (11-5) in the Wild-Card round at CenturyLink Field.
So much has changed since then. There’s an easy argument to be made that the NFC West has been the best division in football over the last eight seasons. It’s the only one where all four teams have claimed at least one divisional crown since 2012.
The overall consistency and competitiveness of the NFC West allows Carroll to hammer home his mantra that every game is a championship opportunity.
“I really think it helps us,” Carroll said. “We have to play up every week – week in and week out. You’re forced to maintain a high level, to hold your head above water and that’s kind of where it is again. Coming all down to it, the way we’re scheduled now so that we play these games at the end, it’s kind of fun. We’ve got everybody here in the closing stretch here.”
Three of Seattle’s final five games are against their division rivals – the Rams in Week 14, the Cardinals in Week 16 and the 49ers in Week 17. And with the 49ers sitting at 10-1, each of Seattle’s last five contests are essentially playoff games. Winning each game will be mandatory in order to keep pace with San Francisco as the Seahawks can’t bank on getting help from anyone else.
The fact remains that Seattle still controls its own destiny. Winning out will result in the Seahawks winning the NFC West and, in all likelihood, claiming a first-round bye as well. The alternative is to play on the road on Wildcard weekend against the Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) or Dallas Cowboys (6-5) depending on who wins the NFC East.
Carroll acknowledged that the Seahawks and 49ers are on a collision course for a Week 17 matchup that will likely decide the road to the Super Bowl for both teams.
“I think it’s fun to see teams come together at the end of the year to decide the division,” Carroll said. “I don’t know how it’s that much different than it’s been but, just the scheduling part of it is unique. I know they’re doing that for excitement and all that and I think they made a good choice.”
Football Outsiders gives Seattle a 98% chance to make the playoffs and a 33.8% chance at a first-round bye. The Seahawks odds of making the Super Bowl will entirely depend on whether or not they’re able to edge the 49ers at season’s end. They only need to look at the 2010 Saints as a prime example of the potential consequence of not winning your division.