Tiebreaker system could give 49ers edge over Seahawks
Sure, there’s a lot of football to be played, but if the Seahawks lose at San Francisco and each team finishes 14-2, the 49ers would win the NFC West — based on the fifth tiebreaker.
Seattle Times staff reporter
It’s buried in the DNA of football coaches and players to say they are taking it “one game at a time.’’ Woe to the NFL coach or player who admits to looking past the very minute they are living in, let alone the game that weekend.
It’s a birthright of fans and media, though, to peer into the future and see what it holds.
And for the Seahawks and the race for the NFC West, it’s suddenly intriguing as can be, bordering on potentially historic.
The 49ers, after a rocky start, have won their past four games to improve to 5-2, and should only get stronger the next few weeks as receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham return.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, are rolling right along at 6-1 and also with reinforcements on the way in Percy Harvin and Michael Robinson and — in a few weeks if all goes to plan — starting tackles Breno Giacomini and Russell Okung.
Each team plays a schedule that will be among the easiest in the NFL. Based on current opponent winning percentage, Seattle plays the second-softest schedule the rest of the way, the 49ers the fourth.
In fact, at the moment each would likely be an underdog in just one of their remaining games — San Francisco at New Orleans on Nov. 17, and Seattle at the 49ers on Dec. 8.
That sets up the possibility of a stretch run in which the teams just keep on winning — and from the hopeful Seattle perspective, with the 49ers unable to close the gap. The Seahawks, recall, were able to grab a two-game lead after three weeks thanks to their victory over San Francisco on Sept. 8 and the 49ers’ stumble at home the next week against the Colts.
Should the Seahawks and 49ers hold serve, losing only one game, then Seattle would be 14-2 and the 49ers 13-3, matching the record for the best 1-2 tandem in a division since the NFL merger in 1970.
Only once since then have two teams in the same division won 13 or more games — 1999, when Jacksonville went 14-2 to win the AFC Central, with Tennessee finishing second at 13-3 (the Titans, though, were the ultimate victors, beating the Jags in the playoffs on their way to the Super Bowl, before losing to the Rams).
If somehow, though, each finishes at 14-2, it would not only mark an NFL first, but also result in digging into areas of the tiebreaker system rarely used.
Before going further, it’s worth remembering that schedules are set on a formula, designed in part at creating parity. This year, teams in the NFC West are playing six games against each other, all four teams in the AFC South and all four teams in the NFC South.
The only variance is that each then plays two games against the teams that finished in the same spot as they did a year ago in the NFC East and North. For the 49ers, who finished first last year in the West, that means games against 2012 East winner Washington and 2012 North winner Green Bay. For Seattle, that means games against 2012 East runner-up, the New York Giants, and 2012 North runner-up Minnesota.
On the surface, that seems a positive for the Seahawks to play teams that weren’t as good a year ago, and are nowhere near as good now as they were then.
Come January, though, it might be bad news.
If the Seahawks and 49ers were to each finish 14-2 — with each having lost to the same nonconference team, the Colts — it would mean each would also finish tied in the top four two-team tiebreakers. Those are: head-to-head, record in division, record in common games and record in the conference.
That would take it to the fifth tiebreaker — strength of victory, which is the combined winning percentage of all opponents a team has defeated.
And there the 49ers would have the Seahawks beat, thanks to the fact Green Bay and Washington are almost certain to finish with a better combined record than the Giants and Vikings.
Green Bay (4-2) and Washington (2-4) are 6-6 while the Giants (1-6) and Vikings (1-5) are 2-11.
For now, of course, this is all just fanciful conjecture, with lots of games remaining to be played.
Or as Seattle center Max Unger put it this week when I tried to ask him if he’d thought about any of this: “That’s far out there, man.’’
Which, if any of this actually happens, might be the best way to ultimately describe it.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.On Twitter @bcondotta