Rams Eliminate 49ers, Set Stage for Winner Take All Primetime Game

-By Sean Larson-

The Seahawks have a long flight back from Tampa Bay after losing 38-15 Sunday. But this isn't about what happened in Tampa Bay. This isn't about the fact that Seattle has been in a total free fall, losing seven of their last nine games. This is about one thing, and one thing only; playoffs.

Regardless of what has happened this season, it all comes down to 60 minutes in Seattle on January 2nd. The winner of next week's matchup between the St. Louis Rams and the Seattle Seahawks will clinch the NFC West title, and will earn the right to host a playoff game the following weekend, while the loser's season will come to a cruel end. This is all thanks to the Rams, who eliminated the 49ers Sunday with a 25-17 win in St. Louis. If the Rams had lost today, the Seahawks would not only need to beat the Rams next week, but would also need Arizona to beat San Francisco. But now, these two teams control their own destiny.

Before the season started, if you had told Seahawks fans that they would be in position to win the division going into the final game of the year, they would have probably looked at you funny. If you had told the same thing to a Rams fan, they would have thought you were just plain crazy. Yes, these two teams that will fight for the division title next weekend are the same teams that finished 3rd and 4th in the division last season (The Seahawks finished 5-11, while the Rams finished 1-15). The source to the turnaround is easy to spot on both sides. The Seahawks got rid of Jim Mora, who had lost the respect of his team, and replaced him with a passionate coach that truly understood his players. Enter the Pete Carroll era. He made an immediate impact in the NFL Draft, as many experts said that Seattle had the best draft in the league, landing college stars such as Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, and Walter Thurmond. The turnaround of the St. Louis Rams can also credit their turnaround to their draft. With the #1 pick, they selected Sam Bradford, the coveted quarterback from Oklahoma. He would immediately become the face of the franchise, and as of now, he is one of only two quarterbacks in the league who has taken every single snap for his team. Bradford led the Rams to a miracle turnaround, and in just one year, they have gone from being the laughing stock of the league to division contenders.

As if the stage wasn't big enough next week in Seattle, the NFL just announced the game will be moved from the original 1:15 PST kickoff time on Fox to 5:20 PST on NBC. It is the first primetime game for the Seahawks all season. Not only will a division crown be at stake, but the entire nation will be watching. For these two teams, destiny awaits.

Seahawks In Best Position to Win NFC West

There are currently seven different playoff scenarios in what is unanimously agreed upon as the weakest division in football, the NFC West. Luckily for the Seahawks, it is not as complicated for them to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007. What do they have to do? Just win. If the Seahawks beat Tampa Bay and St. Louis, they will win the NFC West with a record of 8-8. Four of the seven scenarios would crown the Seahawks as NFC West Champs. Two of those scenarios that put the Hawks in the playoffs involve winnig out. So what about the other two? As farfetched as it sounds, the Seahawks could actually lose to Tampa Bay next week, and with some help from the Rams and Cardinals, could still win the division. So follow closely and take a break for some Tylenol if needed, because this gets tricky.
If the Seahawks lost to Tampa Bay, but beat St. Louis, a Cardinals win over the 49ers would result in the Seahawks winning the division with a 7-9 record, and St. Louis and San Francisco would finish 6-10. Now, if Seattle lost to Tampa Bay, beat St. Louis, and St. Louis beat San Francisco, the Seahawks and Rams would finish with identical records. So how does the league decide who goes to the playoffs? NFL rules state that in the case of two teams having identical overall records, the tiebreaker goes to the team with the stronger head to head record. In a case such as this, the Seahawks and Rams would split the season series with a win each. When the head to head record is also a tie, the tiebreaker goes to the team with the stronger divisional record. In this second scenario, the Seahawks would finish with a 4-2 record in the NFC West, and the Rams would finish with a 3-3 divisional record. Advantage Seattle.
However, a Seattle loss to Tampa Bay along with a San Francisco win over St. Louis would put the 49ers in the driver seat for the division. All San Francisco would have to do it that situation would be to beat the last place Cardinals in the final week of the season, and the 49ers would win the division with a 7-9 record. Right now, San Francisco's strong divisional record of 3-1 is just about the only thing keeping them afloat.
The Rams also control their destiny. If St. Louis wins out, they will clinch the NFC West with an 8-8 record. The Rams are also in a similar position as Seattle, where they could actually lose to San Francisco, and then a win over Seattle the final week paired with a San Francisco loss to the Cardinals would put the Rams in the playoffs with a 7-9 record. This weekend for both the Rams and 49ers, it will be the biggest game for the two teams since they last reached the postseason. The Rams last reached the playoffs in 2004 when they clinched a wild card birth with an 8-8 record. The 49ers haven't played a postseason game since 2002 when they won the division with a 10-6 record.
So what will next week's game between the Rams and 49ers mean for the Seahawks? If the Rams win, the 49ers are eliminated, and regardless of what happens against Tampa Bay, it will set the stage for the biggest game at Qwest Field since the playoffs three seasons ago. The winner will clinch the NFC West and host a playoff game the next weekend. The loser goes home and will watch that game from the couch. If the 49ers beat St. Louis however, things get a little more complicated. If the 49ers went on to beat Arizona the next week, Seattle would have to also win out to clinch the division. The equation is simple in that scenario. Two San Francisco wins plus one Seattle loss equals elimination. However, if the 49ers beat St. Louis, but lost to Arizona, that would bring us back to the winner take all scenario between the Rams and Seahawks on January 2nd in Seattle.
As of right now, the Seahawks have a 50% chance of winning the division, while the 49ers and Rams both have a 25% chance. So buckle up, these last two weeks of the season are sure to provide some fireworks. It's still anyones division. Criticize the NFC West for being perhaps the weakest division in professional sports if you must, but there is no denying this will be a thrilling finish that comes down to the final moments of the season.

-Article by Sean Larson-

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