By Chris Cluff
As the Seahawks take a week off to prepare for a final two months that includes home games against their three NFC West foes, Seattle has a chance to make up some ground on division leader San Francisco.
The 49ers host the Chicago Bears on Monday in a game the Niners are favored to win because Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler is out with a concussion. Of course, the 49ers also might be without their quarterback, as Alex Smith is trying to overcome his own concussion symptoms.
Jason Campbell will start for the Bears, and Colin Kaepernick would start for the 49ers if Smith cannot go. Hard to say which team that would favor.
The 49ers are 6-2-1 after tying the St. Louis Rams last weekend. That made them 2-0-1 in the division. But the Seahawks are breathing down their necks at 6-4, and the Niners face a tough final two months, with four road games in five weeks after Monday.
With the Seahawks seemingly ascending and having an easier schedule in the final six games, the division seems destined to come down to Dec. 23, when the 49ers and Hawks play in Seattle.
Even if the Hawks can’t overcome the Niners, Seattle is sitting in good position to claim a wild-card playoff spot. If the playoffs started this week, they would be in — thanks to their win over Minnesota. They also own tiebreakers against Dallas and Green Bay, and they can add another if they win in Chicago in two weeks.
Here’s a look at the remaining schedules of the Hawks’ top competition for a wild-card spot:
Arizona (4-5): After a stunning 4-0 start, the Cardinals have stumbled into a five-game losing streak. And it doesn’t look like it will get better, with remaining games at Atlanta, vs. the Rams, at the Jets, at Seattle, vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago and at San Francisco. It’s easy to see them winning just one or two more games. They are no threat.
Chicago (7-2): The Bears’ only losses are to Green Bay and Houston. But the easy part of their schedule is over, as they play four of the final seven on the road and have home games against Minnesota, Seattle and Green Bay. They will have to fend off the Packers to win the NFC North, and they need only three more wins to almost assure themselves of a playoff spot.
Dallas (4-5): The Cowboys have been very inconsistent, but their schedule sets up pretty well, with five of the last seven at home. Even so, they don’t seem to be a threat to the Seahawks’ playoff chances.
Detroit (4-5): The Seahawks have to hope their bad loss in Detroit doesn’t come back to haunt them. The Lions have rallied after a 1-3 start and play five of the final seven at home. Of course, those home games are against Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Chicago. That’s quite a gantlet to overcome.
Green Bay (6-3): The Packers have won four straight and are making a run at the Bears. They would be the other wild card if the playoffs started this week, but as long as the Hawks keep pace with them, they should have the edge.
Minnesota (6-4): The Vikings have faded a bit since a 4-1 start and have a rough finish — four road games and home contests vs. Chicago and Green Bay. They do not figure to be a threat to the Hawks, who own that tiebreaker anyway.
New Orleans (4-5): The Saints have made an impressive rally from an 0-4 start and could become a factor in the wild-card race. The Hawks actually will be rooting for them when they play the 49ers in Week 12.
Tampa Bay (5-4): After a 1-3 start, the Bucs had won four of five. They’re on the road for four of their last seven, with a home game against Atlanta in there as well. They seem capable of winning nine games at most, which would be fine by the Seahawks.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.