The NFC West is the most intriguing division race in the NFL.
The Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams all have 6-3 records with seven games to play. The defending NFC champion 49ers (4-6) might have too many injuries to get back in that race. That doesn’t mean San Francisco can’t play spoiler down the stretch in the head-to-head matchups. The seven-team playoff format likely means all three teams will get in the playoffs – but there are some hitches to that plan, too.
Sporting News sizes up the NFC West race moving forward:
Remaining schedule: at SEA, at NE, vs. LAR, at NYG, vs. PHI, vs. SF, at LAR
Opponents’ records: 32-32-1
Lowdown: The Cardinals, fresh off a Hail Mary victory against the Bills, have yet to lose a division game. They have two home losses, however, to the Lions and Dolphins. There is a long way to go with four games against NFC West opponents remaining.
Projected finish: 10-6
Los Angeles Rams
Remaining schedule: at TB, vs. SF, at ARI, vs. NE, vs. NYJ, at SEA, vs. ARI
Opponents’ record: 33-32
Lowdown: The Rams have the toughest schedule of the three division leaders starting with Monday’s game at Tampa Bay. Los Angeles is 4-0 at home, however, and assuming they don’t trip up more than once on that remaining schedule another double-digit win season is in the cards. We’re counting a split with Arizona. If the Rams can win on the road Monday, we’ll re-evaluate our position.
Projected finish: 10-6
Remaining schedule: vs. ARI, at PHI, vs. NYG, vs. NYJ, vs. LAR, at SF
Opponents’ record: 24-40-1
Lowdown: The Seahawks are struggling on defense and Russell Wilson has turned the ball over more in the last three games, but they have the easiest schedule of the three teams. Seattle still is 4-0 at home, and even if the Cardinals win Thursday the schedule is set up for a division title. Seattle must split the home games against the Cardinals and Rams and avoid a road disaster to get there. We think the Seahawks are still the team that wins the division.
Projected finish: 11-5
Who wins the division?
Based on our projections, we’ll stick with Seattle. The Cardinals and Rams, however, can prove that wrong by winning at CenturyLink Field. This projection is thin knowing that it takes just one head-to-head game to shift the balance of the entire division. Circle these four games now:
|NFC West showdowns|
|Week 11: Arizona at Seattle|
|Week 13: L.A. Rams at Arizona|
|Week 16: L.A Rams at Seattle|
|Week 17: Arizona at L.A. Rams|
Will all three teams get in the playoffs?
Yes. A 10-6 record should be good to join the rest of the playoff field. At this point, Green Bay (7-2), New Orleans (7-2) and Tampa Bay (7-3) are the virtual locks, and the NFC East champion will also take a spot. Still, a 10-6 record should be enough to get in the playoffs.
The casualty of being in the NFL’s toughest division, however, is that the NFC West winner likely will not get a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Could the NFC East squeeze out a NFC West team?
No. It’s true that either the Eagles (3-5-1) or Giants (3-7) will likely win the division with a sub-.500 record, and those teams play the Cardinals and Seahawks down the stretch.
That should not affect the playoff field as far as the NFC West is concerned, but it will affect seeding. Philadelphia or New York will host a first-round NFC playoff game, and there is more than a good chance that will be against a NFC West opponent.
That is going to lead to some frustration for the team that has to travel for that game and call into question the NFL system of playoff seeding, but it should not keep a NFC West team out of the playoffs.
Who else could get in the way?
Another team out of the NFC North could make a second-half playoff run. The Bears (5-5) are the only other .500 team in the conference, but they have lost four straight and play Green Bay twice in the final six weeks.
Minnesota (4-5) has won three straight division games and is the hot team in the division, but a 0-4 start left little margin for error the rest of the season. Detroit (4-5) has been inconsistent from week to week, and they still have the Buccaneers, Packers and Vikings on the schedule.
Minnesota is the biggest threat the rest of the way.
Will an NFC West team reach the Super Bowl?
It’s safe to say it’s 50-50. The division has represented the NFC in the Super Bowl in six of the last 12 years, and all four teams have been there. That said, they have combined for a 1-5 record in the Super Bowl.
What does that mean for this year? The Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks will be battle-tested with all the big division games. The No. 1 seed is coveted knowing the Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams have a combined 8-7 record on the road this season.