By Chris Cluff
One more win. That’s all the Seattle Seahawks need to make the playoffs. But it’s also what they wish they had as they go into a big prime-time showdown against the San Francisco 49ers. If the Hawks had somehow been able to pull out one of those five close road losses earlier in the season, this grudge game would have been even bigger — it would have been for the NFC West.
Yeah, yeah, they each have a game after this, but try to convince anyone the 49ers won’t beat the Cardinals in San Francisco and the Seahawks won’t take care of the Rams in Seattle.
This is the game that matters. It would have mattered more if the 49ers had not been able to hold off New England’s furious second-half rally — or if the Hawks had been able to win in Arizona (20-16 loss), St. Louis (19-13), San Francisco (13-6), Detroit (28-24) or Miami (24-21).
What if Russell Wilson had been able to hit one of his four passes to the end zone at the end of the season opener in Arizona?
Or, what if the Hawks had not given up that fake field goal in St. Louis?
Or, what if Wilson had completed more than 9 of 23 passes and the defense had not been run all over in San Francisco?
Or, what if the defense had not melted down at the very end in Detroit and Miami?
A win in any of those games would have made this one the equivalent of a playoff game — with the No. 2 seed and first-round bye on the line. As it is, the Hawks (9-5) go into this game 1.5 games behind the 49ers (10-3-1) and needing to win this one and the finale while the 49ers lose at home to Arizona in Week 17. Very unlikely. But that doesn’t mean this game is not significant. It is. For several reasons.
- The 49ers can clinch the division with a win.
- The Seahawks can clinch a playoff spot with a win.
- The 49ers have beaten the Seahawks four straight times, and the Hawks need to end that streak.
If the Seahawks managed to win out and the 49ers improbably lost to Arizona, the Hawks would need Green Bay to lose to Tennessee or Minnesota for Seattle to claim the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. More likely, the Hawks will end up as the No. 5 seed, heading to the NFC East winner (unless Green Bay improbably loses its final two games). The East might come down to Dallas-Washington, but the Hawks could go to New York if the Giants finish 2-0 and the Cowboys and Redskins each split their final two in some order.
If the Hawks end up as the No. 5 seed, the only home game they could play would come in the NFC title game — if they hosted the No. 6 seed, which likely would be Chicago, Minnesota or Washington. That would mean the wild-card teams would have dispatched all four division winners. More likely, the Hawks would end up playing every game on the road. But, after five road losses, they seem to have figured out how to win away from Seattle.
These days, the seeding is not as important as how teams are playing when the posteason begins. Just look at the 2005 Steelers, the 2007 Giants and the 2010 Packers. They all won three straight road games and then the Super Bowl.
If the Hawks lose to the 49ers on Sunday, they will have to beat the Rams in the finale to make the playoffs. And then they might end up as the No. 6 seed if the Giants win both games to tie Seattle at 10-6 (the Giants have a better conference record). As the No. 6 seed, the Hawks would have an intriguing first-round matchup against either the 49ers or the Packers. Of course, the Pack would be aching to avenge their controversial Monday night loss in Week Three.
For any of this to happen, the Hawks just need one more win — preferably Sunday against the 49ers.
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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.