Welcome to the 2010 NFC West, possibly the worst division in NFL history. In fact, if the favored teams win this week, it will guarantee that the NFC West divisional champion will be 7-9. During labor disputes we've seen 4-5 teams, but can it really be possible for a team to go two games under .500 in a full season? Let's look at the possibilities!
Let's make a tree. Despite there being three teams in contention (The Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams at 6-8, and the San Francisco 49ers at 5-7), there's only four games in total that influence the winner of the #4 playoff seed.
As of right now, the Rams control their own destiny (my personal favorite sports cliche). Not only do they currently hold the division lead by virtue of tiebreakers over the Seahawks, but they get to play their two divisional rivals.
If Rams win both games: Rams win division (8-8)
If Rams win against 49ers but lose to Seahawks: Seahawks win division (8-8 or 7-9)
If Rams lose to 49ers but win against Seahawks and 49ers win against Cardinals: 49ers win division (7-9)
Who will win the division?
If Rams lose to 49ers but win against Seahawks and 49ers lose to Cardinals: Rams win division (7-9)
If Rams lose both games and 49ers lose to Cardinals: Seahawks win division (8-8 or 7-9)
If Rams lose both games and 49ers win against Cardinals and Seahawks beat Buccaneers: Seahawks win division (8-8)
If Rams lose both games and 49ers win against Cardinals and Seahawks lose to Buccaneers: 49ers win division (7-9)
So, to summarize,
a) if the 49ers lose a game they're out.
b) If the Rams lose one game, whoever beat them will win the division provided rule a is satisfied
c) the Buccaneers/Seahawks game only matters if the Rams lose out and the 49ers win out.
If you're a fan of any team in the NFC West, you have to be cheering for the Rams and Seahawks to win week 16. This will guarantee that the division champion will be 8-8, which has been the record for plenty of playoff teams. Being the first division to send a champion with a losing record is definitely something we're not aiming for. Even you 49ers fans must realize being a playoff team at 7-9 is disgusting. One of those losses was against the Panthers for pete's sake. On the other hand, that 7-9 season might be the only way to save Mike Singletary's job.
By likeliness, I see all three teams winning to be about equal. The Seahawks might have the disadvantage though, as they are definitely looking weak against the Buccaneers as we all know how the Hawks do on the road. If they lose that game, the Hawks would have to cheer for the Rams to win against the 49ers at home only to lose to the Hawks in Seattle. This is probably likely on both occasions as all three teams are approximately equal and home advantage, especially for Seattle, will give the edge.
Since about week 10 it's looked like the Seattle/St. Louis week 17 matchup would decide the division. The 49ers might be able to make it irrelevant though if they can pull off a couple of wins and the Seahawks lose against the Buccaneers. If Seattle manages to beat the Bucs (which is seeming more likely after the Bucs managed to lose to the Lions in overtime), then the 49ers will have to cheer for the Rams in week 17 to hand the Seahawks a loss.
The Rams, meanwhile, are in with two wins. The only way they could make it without two wins would be is if they lost to the 49ers and then the 49ers went on to choke against the Cardinals.
Assuming each game is a 50-50 shot (not exactly the case since the Hawks are at the Bucs and the 49ers have two road games and the Rams are playing in Seattle) and there's 16 possible outcomes (for four games with two outcomes a piece),
The Rams have a 6/16 chance
The Seahawks have a 6/16 chance
The 49ers have a 4/16 chance
If any team wins out, it's in. So actually, every team controls its own destiny (even the 49ers, assuming the Seahawks lose to the Buccaneers). The Seahawks/Rams just get leeway in case the 49ers manage to lose to the Cardinals in week 17.
it has been suggested (including by myself) that none of these teams should particularly want to go to the playoffs. Going to the playoffs will mean the winner gets the 21st draft pick. This is compared to picking approximately 10th. On top of that, the chances are slim to nil of making any headway in the playoffs.
However, I must disagree. I think for the integrity of a sport, we must always support our team to win. Getting a better draft pick is nice, but watching your team in the playoffs is nicer. Even if they get embarrassed on their home field. Playoffs always get the fanbase excited, even if the odds are currently in the favor of the Saints demolishing whoever decides to invite them. Regardless, this is football. The Browns can beat the Patriots and the Panthers, Bengals, Lions and Bills can all win in the same week. Yeah, the NFC West has gone 0-4 on two separate occasions, but given homefield we might just be able to laugh at knocking a superior team out of the competition. As huge underdogs, there's nothing to lose. Plus, you've got to admit it gets pretty funny seeing peeved Buccaneers and Packers fans wishing they could have this playoff spot (as if they could really use it better).
So, NFC West fans, cheer for your champion to at least go .500. And cheer for them to not be completely humiliated. I mean hey, with a little (okay, a lot) of luck, we might just lose to the Steelers in the Super Bowl again.