Three NFC West teams in playoffs? Maybe

December, 16, 2012
12/16/12
12:00
PM ET

The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams could conceivably all earn postseason berths from the NFC this season.

This could happen if the Rams won their final three games to finish 9-6-1, edging out second-place teams with 9-7 records from other divisions. Under such a scenario, the Seahawks could qualify at 9-7 or better and the 49ers, currently 9-3-1, could qualify even if they failed to win another game this season.

It's all possible, and all calculable through ESPN's Playoff Machine.

Many potential scenarios exist. Some depend on results beyond the control of NFC West teams. Yet, while it's tough to say with certainty how NFC West teams' fans should root in games involving other teams, there are some general principles to consider.

Fans of the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams will obviously want to root for their teams every week.

The 49ers could improve their seeding in the conference if they continued to win and the Atlanta Falcons stumbled. Having Green Bay lose would also potentially help that cause. To be safe in the division, the 49ers should root against the Seahawks and Rams.

Seahawks and Rams fans can employ a two-pronged rooting strategy. They should of course hope for outcomes enabling their teams to win the NFC West title. But if the wild-card route appears more likely, they should wish bad things upon second-place teams from other divisions. For example, let's say Washington, Green Bay and Atlanta were to win the other NFC divisions. In that case, the Seahawks and Rams would be better off in the wild-card race if Dallas, Chicago, Minnesota and Tampa Bay finished 9-7 or worse.

The chart lists Week 15 games in the first column. The other columns show which teams fans for each NFC West team might want to support this week. I put them together based on general assumptions.

The first five games listed are straightforward. A look at my thinking for some of the others:
  • Green Bay at Chicago: The 49ers have beaten both teams, but Green Bay has a better record than Chicago, making the Packers a more immediate threat to the 49ers for one of the top seeds. The Seahawks have also beaten both teams. A Bears victory would leave Green Bay with five defeats, giving Seattle a better chance to move past the Packers. The Rams lost to Green Bay and Chicago. Their wild-card hopes might be best off if the Bears faded from playoff contention entirely.
  • Tampa Bay at New Orleans: The Buccaneers are a greater wild-card threat than the Saints. NFC West teams should hope for Tampa Bay to lose this game.
  • New York Giants at Atlanta: The 49ers and Seahawks could still overtake the Falcons in the seeding order. For that reason, I think they should root for the Giants in this game. The Rams cannot catch the Falcons, but they could wind up fighting with the Giants over a wild-card spot. For that reason, they should hope for a Giants defeat.

Again, these choices have not been mathematically verified to improve the corresponding NFC West team's postseason chances under every scenario or even under most of them. Please do point out any flaws you might see in my thinking. Not that anyone has ever needed any encouragement on that front.

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