NFC North: NFC playoff standings*

NFC playoff standings* through Week 16

December, 24, 2012
To the chagrin of many, we've dutifully tracked how the NFC playoff standings might have played out if the Week 3 "Fail Mary" had been called the other way, giving the Green Bay Packers a 12-7 victory over the Seattle Seahawks instead of a 14-12 defeat.

The current standings as they would have looked, assuming the Butterfly Effect didn't exist and all my other geek stuff, are in the chart that accompanies this post. If you compare it to the actual standings on, you'll see there is no difference between the order and, well, the order*.

But there are two subtleties worth mentioning.

First, had the Packers won in Week 3, they would still be in competition for the No. 1 overall seed and thus home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In short, they would have been one game behind the Atlanta Falcons and in position to claim the tiebreaker (conference record) if both teams finished the season 13-3. UPDATE: Thanks to Jeremy Mills of ESPN Stats & Information, and NFC West colleague Mike Sando, for pointing out the Packers would have already locked up the No. 2 seed had the "Fail Mary" been called the other way.

Second, as many of you have pointed out and the Playoff Machine confirms, the Seahawks' victory in Week 3 puts them in position -- however unlikely it might seem -- to leapfrog the Packers and secure the No. 2 overall seed in the NFC.

For that to occur, the following would need to happen Sunday:
  1. The Seahawks defeat the St. Louis Rams
  2. The Arizona Cardinals defeat the San Francisco 49ers
  3. The Packers lose to the Minnesota Vikings

That combination would lift the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and the NFC West title. (The 49ers would finish 10-5-1.) If the Packers lose to the Vikings and finish 11-5, the tiebreaker would be that Week 3 head-to-head matchup. In that instance, the Fail Mary would decide not only a division title but it would also determine one of the two teams that receive a first-round bye.

It's hard to imagine the Cardinals beating the 49ers, so I'm not sure anyone should lose sleep this week over this nightmare scenario. Let's hope we can put the "Fail Mary" aside once and for all by Sunday evening.

NFC playoff standings* through Week 15

December, 18, 2012
For one week, at least, only one team's playoff standing is being directly impacted by the Week 3 "Fail Mary" game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

The chart shows our weekly look at how the NFC playoff race would stack up if the Seahawks' final play in that game had been ruled an interception rather than a touchdown. The only difference between the playoff standings* and the actual playoff standings is the Packers' positioning. Had they defeated the Seahawks instead of losing, they would be in position to claim a first-round bye in the playoffs.

As it stands now, the Packers are the third seed and would host the No. 6 wild-card team on the first weekend of the playoffs. The Seahawks, meanwhile, would hold the No. 5 seed whether or not they had won in Week 3.

Despite what you might think, I'm not rooting for the "Fail Mary" to impact any teams' playoff positioning. I hope this post is moot by the end of Week 17. That would be a fortunate break for all involved.

NFC playoff standings*: Week 14

December, 11, 2012
Some of you are interested. Some of you hate me for it. But as long as I'm the NFC North blogmaster, we're going to post weekly updates of the NFC playoff standings*.

The Green Bay Packers' loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3 ended in unique and singular fashion, as we discussed a few times last week. Officiating calls impact games every week in the NFL, but I think this is one instance where the ramifications are worth tracking.

As you can see in the chart, five teams' playoff positioning are materially affected by the Seahawks' 14-12 victory in that game. You can refer to the actual standings here. To explain the changes:
  • The Packers and San Francisco 49ers would flip seeds between No. 2 and No. 3 in the NFC, which is the difference between a first-round bye.
  • The Chicago Bears would be the No. 5 seed instead of No. 6, the difference between playing at the Packers in the wild-card round of the playoffs and playing at the New York Giants. You can decide if that's an advantage or a disadvantage, but it's different nonetheless.
  • The Seahawks and Washington Redskins would flip spots, putting the Redskins in the final playoff position as the No. 6 seed and the Seahawks one game outside the playoff circle as the No. 7 seed.

Thanks to Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats & Information for double-checking the tiebreakers*.
Golden TateOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesThe "Fail Mary" may cost Green Bay a first-round playoff bye and help Seattle nab a wild-card spot.
You knew it was going to come to this, didn't you?

You knew the minute Golden Tate shoved Sam Shields out of the way.

You knew as soon as the ball settled into M.D. Jennings' hands, only to disappear in a web of arms.

You knew the minute that one replacement official signaled for a touchdown while standing next to another who called for a touchback.

And you knew when commissioner Roger Goodell shrugged it off as an example of "the beauty of sports."

At the moment, the NFL's "Fail Mary" is directly impacting the playoff position of three teams in the NFC. There are four long weeks remaining before the postseason is set, but it's reasonable to believe that Tate's disputed touchdown reception -- a play that gave the Seattle Seahawks a 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers as time expired -- will weave its way into the 2012 playoff tapestry.

The chart shows how the NFC playoff standings would look if Jennings had been granted the interception, as the replacement referee in that game -- Wayne Elliott -- said later Jennings should have been. The NFL also acknowledged the play should have been overturned by offensive pass interference on Tate, but it drew no conclusions on whether what happened next should have been ruled an interception or a touchdown. (As we discussed at the time, reasonable people can disagree on the "simultaneous possession" aspect of the play.)

At the moment, the difference for the Packers is a first-round bye in the playoffs. For the Seahawks, it's a spot in the playoffs entirely.

Yes, with a loss in that game, the Seahawks would now be 6-6 and would lose in a tiebreaker to the Washington Redskins for the final wild-card spot in the NFC. As it stands now, however, they have the edge on the Redskins because the victory gave them a 7-5 record. The Packers are currently the third seed in the NFC with an 8-4 record, but a 9-3 mark would put them ahead of everyone except the Atlanta Falcons.

Look, I realize nothing in an NFL season is this simple. There are innumerable moments in the course of four months that cause permanent ripple effects. And then there's the Butterfly Effect, which suggests that a Packers victory in that game would have started a new timeline, thus making it impossible to make such a direct connection between an event in September and playoff standings in December.

(Sorry for the brief turn into geekdom. We'll carry on from here...)

There's no sense in hashing through the abomination of replacement officials, other than to say the "Fail Mary" was a unique moment in NFL history and one that came outside the course of reasonably expected variables. Calls from officials, good and bad, impact every game. But in this instance, and really this instance only, the NFL knowingly lowered the chances that the game would be officiated well by hiring unqualified replacements as leverage in a labor dispute.

There is no telling how much impact the decision ultimately will have. The worst-case scenario would leave the Seahawks and Packers tied for the NFC's final wild-card spot. The Seahawks would clinch by virtue of the first tiebreaker, which is head-to-head matchups. If the Packers wind up tied with a team it hasn't played, the next tiebreaker is conference record -- which is one game worse than it would have been had they defeated the Seahawks.

The Packers long ago left behind the disappointment of that game. They had to in order to proceed with their season, and it's worth noting they are in position to minimize its impact. They own the tiebreaker over the Chicago Bears in the NFC North and can cement it with a victory at Soldier Field in two weeks.

But as outside observers, we don't have to fall in line with such thinking. It's important to note the lasting impact of the league's replacement fiasco.

For the next few weeks, I'll post our own "NFC Standings*" for the purpose of tracking the bearing of that game. It's not because I'm a sore loser or that I hate the Seahawks or feel compelled to stick up for the Packers. To me, the league should be held accountable for risking the integrity of its process to win a battle at the negotiating table. Let's see how it plays out.